What Place for Misericord Among Misers?
The most remarkable thing about Capcom's Resident Evil 4, to my mind, is not the game's creepy atmosphere or visceral combat, but rather the circumstances under which I first attempted to purchase it. Normally, I am happy to spend money on the things that I desire, and those who sell such things are, in turn, pleased to take my money. If I understand the rudiments of economic theory, that's the way the process is supposed to work. But the crappy GameStop franchise located in LaPlace, Louisiana, likes to play by different rules. By the time my trip to that GameStop had ended, an unnamed employee stood dumbfounded behind the counter, an elderly woman had regained more than two hundred dollars, and I emerged from the store empty-handed, but nonetheless victorious.
I needed a new game for my 'Cube to keep me occupied through a week of house-sitting, and the LaPlace GameStop had only recently opened its doors for business, so I decided to give it a shot. I stepped inside, happy, at first, to escape the muggy February weather (this was southeast Louisiana, recall). The store's near-complete lack of a PC-game selection made it a simple task to locate the GameCube section. I grabbed a copy of RE4 and headed for the counter, naively expecting the man behind it to accept gladly my $49.99. But first, I had to wait my turn.
There was an old woman in front of me, small, bespectacled, and obviously intimidated at the prospect of purchasing a PlayStation 2 for her grandson's birthday present. The porcine salesman could smell her trepidation even through his own oppressive musk. He didn't bother with trying to convince the woman of all the accessories she should buy; he just stated them as plain fact. "You'll want to buy a used system instead of a new one. We test out all of the used systems to make sure that they work, but we don't test the new ones, so they might be broken. The PS2 uses four controllers, so I'll be sure to add those, along with a Multitap adaptor. You'll need a memory card, and also a second one, for when the first one fills up. Plus, it's always good to have a backup in case the first one breaks. And you'll need the extended warranty, just in case anything goes wrong. Oh, and an RF modulator, so that it'll work with your TV. . ." He included a few more items, too, none of which were essential to this woman's grandson's enjoying his gift.
Eventually he glanced past the old lady and noticed that I was waiting to check out. "While I'm getting all that ready for you, why don't you go pick out a few games? The used section is along that wall, right over there." She shuffled away from the counter and stared confusedly at the plastic patchwork that adorned the length of the store.
I was shocked at the ease with which he'd managed to bamboozle this poor woman out of hundreds of dollars in extraneous accessories. Part of me wanted to speak out against the outrage I had witnessed, but I was suffering from a kind of mental overload that prevented any action. Plus, I reasoned, on what grounds could I mount any objection? Sure, confused elderly seem more prone to relinquish money than paralytic babies do candy, but that doesn't mean old people are as defenseless as babies. I was prepared to pay for my game and abandon this woman to her fate--until, that is, the salesman tried the same underhanded tricks on me.
"Oh, RE4, huh? A shame you can't buy it used; we sold our last copy earlier today. You could have saved two dollars that way."
"Yes, a shame."
"Well, you should definitely buy the strategy guide. You save fifty percent on it when you buy it at the same time as the game."
"No, I don't want one."
"Are you sure? This is a hard game. You basically need a strategy guide in order to beat it."
"I simply don't believe you. I've been playing games my whole life. I think I'll be up to the task."
"That's probably not a good idea. We get lots of phone calls from people complaining that this game is really hard. With the strategy guide, you won't have any problems."
It was when he actually reached for a strategy guide to add to my order that I awoke from my daze. My blood quickened its pace, and I became filled with the yearning to inflict terrible pain upon this rude, belligerent creature with the dark, curly hair. The earth beneath me seemed to flex in anticipation of combat, and my pounding ears enjoyed the primal song of the wrath of Peleus' son.
"I must now weigh in my mind two probabilities, one against the other: that your customers actually call you on the phone, looking for hints to Resident Evil 4; or that you and your masters, out of a misplaced conception of how to run a good business, are desperate to tack whatever accessories you can onto any purchase, even when the customer has already twice declined. Do you sense the depth of my quandary?"
The sarcasm in my voice was lost on him, but he must have comprehended my frustration. I stepped forward, and he stepped back, only then conscious of his miscalculation. I set the game on the counter and turned to leave--when the old woman caught my eye, helplessly examining the covers of used PS2 games, which may as well have been tablets engraved with Linear B, for all she could divine from them.
"Ma'am, I listened to what this man said to you at the counter a minute ago, and I say with authority that he is attempting to cheat you out of hundreds of dollars' worth of things you really don't need to buy."
At this news, her eyes lit up. Until that point, nothing inside that GameStop made any sense to her at all, but she had inhabited this world for a long time, and she knew what to do in the face of a con. And indeed, the con's face told her everything she needed to know when he failed to meet her gaze. She promptly exited the store, leaving the PS2 and its pile of accoutrements on the counter, and I followed in her wake.
I purchased RE4 with no problems whatsoever at the Wal-Mart across the street. How sad, that I must turn to the most generic of supermarkets for an inoffensive shopping experience.
Poor customer-service is more common today than in the past, but it is not limited to games retailers. Any store for which the principle merchandise carries a profit margin thinner than the paper money used to express it, can only survive by nefarious means. Wal-Mart is so nearly omnipotent that it sets its own margins, but most other stores suffer from comparative impotence in this regard, whether they deal in games, electronics, appliances, or other mass-produced goods. An employee at Best Buy once tried to convince me to take out a warranty on a joystick in case the springs should happen to break (which, she insisted, happens all the time). A salesman at EB Games once asked me to pay for a "disc-protection" warranty, in case my CD were to "malfunction" (his word, not mine). Hell, I shopped at a local grocery market last week, and the girl who rang me up asked me if I'd like to add a package of Jello pudding to my purchase for only a dollar more. Foul tendrils of greed extend to every aspect of the modern shopping experience, and to be a conscientious consumer is harder than ever before.
On that wet winter's day in the LaPlace GameStop, I won a slight victory for the forces of light, but I harbor no illusions as to my (or my readers') power to oppose the scourge in force. I nevertheless urge you never to appease any retailer who crosses the line of common courtesy. Do this, not for the sake of the world at large--there is no saving that, I'm afraid--but for yourself. Cultivate virtue within yourself, and do not ever surrender it to any who fail to appreciate its value. They're not worth it, and neither is the shiny new game that they're selling.