Photo by Jon White Prince George went without a locally owned video game store or arcade for over a decade. That all changed in September 2013 when Kelsy Polnik, decided to open a shop that would appeal to video gamers of all ages and skill levels. Kelsy’s shop, appropriately named Game Quest, is packed with video games from most systems one can imagine. He has also snuck in a few classic arcade machines and hosts video game tournaments at least once a week. The times of being unable to go to a locally owned video game shop have initially come to an end.
The response has gone over quite well and Kelsy is pleasantly surprised about how well the community has responded to his shop. When asked if he was concerned about finding a fanbase in town, he replied, “Absolutely. I was a little concerned that there wasn’t a market. Talking to a few shop owners around town and potential customers, doing some surveys I got similar responses that it’s not likely going to work.” Despite the pessimistic advice that Kelsy received, the shop has exceeded his expectations, “It’s been insane. With all the negative responses we figured we’d maybe have ten to twelve people on the first day because no one knew we were open and I couldn’t afford to advertise much, but when we opened we had a lineup around the block and the store was packed full. Like, it was uncomfortably full for the whole day.”
Along with the varied selection of video games, there are some arcade machines spread out across the store. These arcade cabinets are a reminder of a time when these machines were found all over-in fact, it was hard to find a place that did not have a cabinet. While those days are gone, the machines bring back memories for some of the clientele. Kelsy told me that, “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles machine actually used to be at the Wendy’s here, in town, at one point. I even had some guys say ‘I remember this exact machine.’”
The spirit of competitive and cooperative gaming is strong in the store. Kelsy holds weekly ‘Friday Night Fights’ where anyone can drop in, pick a fighting game and then battle it out with friends or strangers. It is very reminiscent of the old “winner stays, loser pays” mantra, only that you do not need to have a pocket full of quarters to compete. The whole competitive gaming focus was not an accident, “I definitely wanted to encourage people to play the games they were picking up and what better way to do that than by hosting some events,” Kelsy said. “I’ve always been into the competitive side of gaming and I thought I’d see if there was a market for that in Prince George.” As it turns out, there is a community of gamers that is happy to fill that market, “I didn’t know there was a big Smash Bros community in this town but they’ve been showing up in huge numbers to all our tournaments. It’s been great.” These title-specific tournaments happen at least once a month and they do have an entry fee, but all the money goes towards the prize pool for the winners instead of going towards the store’s income. Some of Game Quest’s tournaments have included classic competitive games like Halo 2, Goldeneye, Super Smash Bros. and Tetris. When asked if there are any particular games that he would like to see in the upcoming tournaments, Kelsy responded, “So many I’d like to do: Mario Kart, Nintendo World Championships, and Mario Bros.” It seems that the biggest problem that these tournaments have to contend with is space. Due to the limited space inside Game Quest, tournaments are generally held around the block at The Armory, a store that specializes in board games and collectible card games.
With digital distribution and online gaming steadily increasing in numbers, it may seem that a brick and mortar store that specializes in physical copies of product and human interaction may have problems sustaining itself in the long term. On the subject of physical copies of games, Kelsy said, “I’m more worried about the younger generation growing up without an attachment to [physical copies]. Like, my age group getting close to thirty, grew up with that attachment to rental stores and saving up your allowance to go purchase a game. It’s a little different when you don’t grow up with that. So I’m not sure if I’ll be able to bring up that younger group, but there’s definitely a quarter of that age group that’s over their twenties already that I think will always be looking for those physical kinds of things.” While digital distribution is on the rise, there will always be a place for people to come by and purchase the items they held dear to them when they were young. Gaming is a huge part of some people’s lives and those cartridges hold a lot of memories. There is something about holding that piece of one’s childhood that means so much more than a bunch of data stored on a hard drive.
With weekly in-house tournaments and a huge catalogue of video games, there is something for every type of gamer at Game Quest. The tournaments and arcade games do an excellent job of bringing people together for events and for being social. The antisocial stigma that is attached to video gamers is very inaccurate, when in fact most gamers are inherently social beings, gathering in groups to conquer a video game or battle each other. At 423 Dominion Street there is a place that helps promote the social aspect of video gaming. Oh, for anyone curious about what an avid gamer Kelsy is, he currently holds the world record for the fastest completion of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the original Nintendo.