It wasn't my first visit to an EB Games, or Electronics Boutique as it was called then.
Back then, the store had an even split between PC and console games – PC was at the front of the store in those days. The layout hasn't changed much over the decades since, but the experience was different.
When you walked in, it was a journey. Sometimes you'd read about the games and wanted to see it in the flesh. Other times, you walked in to discover something new, excited about what you'd just found.
Either way, every trip to the local mall meant a trip to the local EB.
One time, I'd gotten fascinated about a new tennis game on PC, Tennis Elbow. I'd read about it in the UK version of PC Gamer - they had more reviews then - and it sounded like exactly my jam. So I wandered into the local EB store, barely tall enough to stand over the counter, and asked: "Do you know when Tennis Elbow is coming out?"
The guy at the desk just stared at me, not even bothering to check the database.
I don't know why this particular EB memory has stayed with me for so long. We visited that south-west Sydney store plenty of times, bought plenty of games, and had the occasional chats with staff over the years. Maybe it's because it was the first indication that there was a world of games beyond what we could get in Australia; maybe it was the reason I started looking, unconsciously even, at abandonware.
But EB was a place for discovery even after ubiquitous ADSL2+, cheap games on Steam, online forums and blogs. It wasn't a place to find something new. It was a place to find the thing you already wanted, or as I found later in life, a place to reminisce about the things you had.
It was a source of comfort - a childhood, perhaps even a place of belonging, particularly in a small town where most people were more interested in sports than games or tech. So when I moved out of home to a new area, an area I've lived in almost entirely since, one of the first things I checked out was the nearby EB store.
The images of EB most burned into my memory over the last decade have been one of capitalist warfare: the store lathered in signs, the YOLO SWAG SALE, every inch of the store covered in wallpaper.
Visiting my local EB store, it was a shell of its former self. It wasn't as dire as the closure of Dick Smith, where ravenous mobs haggled over cardboard signs, fittings and tables.
All the same, a piece of my childhood - or at least a connection to it - was shutting down. EB will still have a presence in the area, down the road at the slightly larger and more trafficked store in Hurstville. The store manager and assistant told me Rockdale was one of the more fortunate stores too, with all the staff being placed in other EB stores around the state.
There are some things you grow up with, sights that your childhood brain assumes will go one forever. One of those was the legendary preowned tables at EB games, filled with versions of FIFA four or five years old, Xbox 360 games, and occasionally some Xbox and PS2 classics.
Someone actually brought in a ton of original Xbox games, a whole plastic bag with about 11 or 12. The two EB staffers tipped them out on the table, and started sorting through. Store policy wouldn't let them do trade ins - and they told the customer as much.
So the customer gave them the whole bag anyway.
One of the games that fell out on the table was Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith, the action-adventure that plays a little like Force Unleashed. It's not a bad game - certainly better than some of the prequels - but Revenge of the Sith was never added to the Xbox backward compatibility program.
The EB staff were happy to call dibs over it, though.
In the half an hour I was in the store, different groups kept filing in. Some were staffers at nearby stores on their lunch break, others groups of families just doing their daily shopping. It was mostly families trucking in, some taking out their phones and sending back video via Facebook to see if others wanted anything. Others just quietly checked the shelves, some in the preowned bargain tables.
While I was chatting to the store staff, everyone who came up asked the same question: were there any consoles left? They didn't really care that new consoles were coming out later this year: they just wanted a console for cheap today. Some wanted the Switch, others happy for just a new PS4 or Xbox, but the desire was the same. If a box was being flogged for bugger all, families wanted it.
But EB didn't have any. The store got cleared out of consoles the day the closures were announced. And, surprisingly, there was more on the shelves than I expected. Still lots of 3DS games, almost a full shelf of Nintendo Switch offers, probably helped by the full sticker price still listed on them all (even though you could get a discount on everything, it just wasn't expressly noted on the packaging).
In one of the back corners a bunch of amiibo, Disney Infinity and some Skylanders figures were hanging out on their lonesome, some discarded to a box below before their inevitable relocation to a more permanent pile of waste.
The one section of the store that was completely bare was the PC corner. It was astonishing to see, given how bare the store's supply of PC games and equipment was in the early years when I moved into the area. But it made sense given how heavily discounted all the keyboards, mice, headsets and hardware were, and they were also the items that have the most utility once all the consoles had ran out. Sure, copies of FIFA 16 might be fun for someone, but everyone who wanted to play FIFA already has it. A headset or keyboard? You can use those with everything.
The store manager told me it was a likely sign of the times, too. EB's main competition comes from JB Hi-Fi - not Amazon or the other retailers like Target and Big W. So as margins on the console games gets more and more squeezed, there's a stronger impetus to stock smaller, more niche titles that you wouldn't normally find at JB. With no competition, there's no need to price match. If it's also stocked in a corner that encourages people to think about a keyboard, headset, or maybe even a pre-built gaming PC - which the bigger EB stores are pushing into - then perhaps the company can survive the tidal wave of digital for just a little longer.
So maybe the EB store of my childhood is due for a renaissance, one where the split of games on the shelves represents a more diverse offering, from AAA blockbusters on consoles and PCs to random niche indie titles from smaller distributors. It's probably more likely that EB will just reach out into more physical merchandise instead, or start competing with stores like Good Games by stocking more notable board games where they can use their store footprint to push for better margins (particularly on the bigger miniatures games).
Maybe the next kid that wonders into a EB Games in three to five years will ask about their Tennis Elbow game, and the staffer will say, "Yeah, we can get that in for you. It'll take a while and it's not coming out, but I know that game. We can make that happen."
Maybe. It's unlikely, but not impossible. Except for Rockdale. There are no dreams to be had there any more. On the bright side, at least I got a nice parting gift, two pieces of EB Games Rockdale for $20.