When I was 17 years old, the coolest thing in the world was to work for EB Games. I want to say that is a hard revelation to admit to, but it really isn’t.
When I was 17 years old, video games were everything.
To be able to go to work at a video game store made me feel like I was part of some secret society, as if I was allowed into the inner sanctum. A door had opened for me that let me see behind the curtain of this industry. It was thrilling. I really wanted to go to work, for the first time in my life. I could spend every minute thinking about video games.
Then one afternoon the manager called me, catching me at lunch, in between lectures.
"Hey man, what’s up?"
"Yeah, hey. I’m ... sorry but ... I have to fire you."
I got fired from EB Games because I posted a video of myself on the internet.
The staff at our store were excellent — all of them I would still consider friends. I was lucky enough to work with human beings that made going to work easy.
The manager was a portly, affable guy with an enviable amount of brainpower. Intelligent and witty, he was absolutely wasted in that position. The assistant manager was caustic, a stick of dynamite ready to burn the entire place down if it came to that. His heart and head were in their respective right places, and like the manager, he had an intelligence that far surpassed that necessary to open boxes and put games in drawers.
He was over the droll, day-to-day of retail.
Chasing those Key Performance Indicators, asking for Game Guarantees. Customers that placed empty “pre-order now” boxes on the counter, expecting us to magically release their game of choice months ahead of its scheduled release date.
He was done with that.
The rotating cast of sales assistants all carved their own niches in my memory too. There was one guy who absolutely killed it in the group interview. He was hyperactive, cracking jokes, hitting every beat like the interview was the final scene in Whiplash. He controlled the room.
They hired him, put him in our store and it was a complete 180. It was like watching Whiplash in reverse. This ultra-talented guy devolving into a shy husk that didn’t know how to communicate at all. He had it in him, whatever it was, but the job never really clicked with him.
Hey, I mean, I wasn’t always the best employee either, I will readily admit that. I lived less than five minutes from work, but I can’t remember the amount of times I was late. There was no point counting. One morning in particular, hungover and tired, the assistant manager questioned yet another late arrival. I responded with a ‘fuck off’, jokingly, because that’s the kind of attitude we usually carried in the early morning.
But this morning was different. I put my bag out back and came back to the counter terminal to sign in, bleary-eyed but smiling. The AM exploded, and rightly so. I didn’t take much of a ‘joking’ tone when telling him to ‘fuck off’ at 9am in the morning. Twenty minutes later, we were best friends again. But I did my job. Often, I started that job minutes later than I was meant to — but I did it.
It’s not hard to work at EB Games, and it’s even easier if your 17 year old heart is set on selling games forever.
The job is simple: you sell a product that people want to buy. They come to the store, coins and notes coalescing in their pockets, and they hand over those coins and notes they have spent time earning to buy video games. Some even use those coins and notes to reserve a video game that is coming in the future with special features. Others use them on gift cards or accessories.
In any retail space you are required to be hitting targets, ensuring you get the right amount of game guarantees, ensuring you make the right amount of money, ensuring the store is making as much revenue as possible. There’s little heavy-lifting going on in the brain though. Your job is to get the product from one side of the counter to the other.
I was Good at performing this task.
In 2007, the internet was not the internet of today. I don’t think Presidents were really tweeting all that much. YouTube was the domain of funny home videos and cats, not a juggernaut of teen entertainment featuring Actual Humans Playing Video Games, making tons of money. In 2007, the Wii was just changing the nature of who was playing and how.
In 2007, EB Games employees didn’t wear blue polo shirts — they had to wear a button up and a tie. It was a different time.
In 2007, I upload a video to my YouTube titled "ForfeiturEB". That’s a portmanteau of the words ‘forfeiture’ and the title of the store the video was shot in — ‘EB’ — for those playing at home. ‘Forfeiture’ is a song by the hardcore band ‘House vs Hurricane’ from Melbourne. When I was younger, I floated around a lot of the local hardcore gigs and these guys always seemed to pop up as an opener for some of the biggest international acts.
Forfeiture was, by far, their most popular song. It’s video clip is filled with long-haired band members doing guitar windmills and headbanging. About halfway through the growling vocals give way to slower, more melodic tones. A gradual build occurs, before synth pierces through the breakdown. Then, you get hardcore’s version of The Drop — synth keys and a dancing drum beat. There’s something a little Metroid Prime about it. I used to love hearing that.
In 2007, I played the song ‘Forfeiture’ on my Sony Ericsson K800i mobile device, which, compared to the wonder devices that currently sit in our pockets, was a terrible audio and visual recording device. But hey, it was a SpaceX Rocket in 2007.
I got the phone to play the song ‘Forfeiture’ and then set it up on the cupboard that encased our Xbox 360 demo unit and TV. As the song was reaching its synth-filled conclusion, 2 minutes and 25 seconds in, I decided that I would record myself ‘dancing’ around the store.
So, I did. That video — which lasts 46 seconds — got me fired from EB Games. It features me jumping over a stack of computer speaker boxes from brands I don’t even remember and then dancing, briefly — or rather, shaking my hips at — a customer clad in blue and black Fubu gear.
On the counter is a copy of Army of Two. It was a pre-owned copy. The customer eventually returned it.
"Yeah, hey. I’m… sorry but... I have to fire you."
I laughed. Of course this was some sort of joke that the guys were playing on me. They’d hang up any minute now, wait for me to panic, then call back, right?
"No, I really have to fire you. They found your video."
In 2007, my YouTube video had about 1000 views. A lot of those views no doubt came from employees at other stores. The video spread slowly through the company, and people I had barely met would know me, by name, when I called their store asking for transfers. It was hardly a ‘sensation’. I like to think that maybe I was a little ahead of my time, and that a story like this one would have been local-TV-newsworthy in 2016. I was enjoying my job, enjoying customer service, enjoying being a real human being at a workplace where interactions with people are key to success and it was all taken from me because I jumped over some boxes and shimmied next to a customer.
The video itself had garnered a lot of positive comments. This was before the times of "SMASH THAT LIKE BUTTON GUYS." Random people who stumbled upon it saying that they’d definitely want to shop at the store, and friends calling me a dreamboat (cheers, guys). I can’t recall a negative comment being posted.
Eventually, my masterpiece was found by our Area Manager, who was already feeling the pressure and was swinging the axe all over the place. He phoned my manager and gave him an ultimatum — ‘fire this guy, or you’re getting fired’ — so down the axe came once more, right over my neck. And, really who can blame my manager anyway?
Actually, no, who can blame anyone but me? It was a stupid thing to do.
So, in 2007, I got fired from EB Games for jumping over boxes and dancing with a customer.
Losing my job in 2007 wasn’t horrible. Sure, it sucked. There was a few months of uncertainty between jobs. But it wasn’t horrible. Under the terms in my casual contract, EB Games was well in their right to fire me. Some of the horror stories I’ve seen from other employees — my story pales in comparison to theirs. I feel stupid even comparing them. They aren’t on the same planet.
I’m not here to pile on — it’s easy to hate on EB Games, their inflated RRPs, the trade-ins, pre-order bonuses, dodgy website and broken ‘promises’. I don’t have to add to the chorus of woe. Merely, it’s obvious to me, some ten years removed, how my relationship with video games has changed and how the internet's relationship with video games has changed, too.
Video games are important to me. There’s no shame in that. I have no doubts about their ‘goodness’ — the inherent ability of art to make us think, to change how we feel, to captivate us, to make us better. Smarter. More open. Accepting. Understanding.
Getting fired from EB Games was a necessary kick in the ass. Initially, I was bitter. That gave way to acceptance and then, upon reflection, wanting to stay in this industry — not the retail video game space, but the industry of writing, creating and being involved in all aspects of enjoying video games. The idea of wanting to communicate that and share that with other people.
Upon reflection, that was the joy of working in an EB Games store. The ability to connect with people who enjoyed the same thing you did, on a day to day basis. The ability to help them decide what to play next, hear them get angry when a game didn’t live up to their expectations, watch them smile about an indie sleeper that exceeded their expectations.
Now, I am lucky enough — and have worked hard enough — to be able to share my love for video games as another Real Job.
When you’re 17 years old, working at EB Games is The Dream Job.
Now, in 2017, the pathways to video games are far more open, far less complex or skills-based. You can buy a webcam and a microphone and, with enough charisma, get people to watch you play video games online. Perhaps, if you're really good at a competitive game, you'll even enter a competition or an esports league. It's amazing how far the industry has come in ten years, how it has evolved from this niche passion where the only job you can get is selling the games in a store in the middle of the suburbs.
Working at EB Games is no longer The Dream Job.
It’s all about gutting stock, and filling shelves and returning scratched disks and doing extra hours you never get paid for and trying to make sure you hit your performance targets because, hey, there’s always someone who can come in and take your job if you don't want it!
Getting fired from EB Games was the best thing that could have happened to me.
This story was originally published in January 2017.