Close Encounters of the 3rd Grade Kind
Career Day at Daughter’s School Provides Fun and Insight
by Adam Pratt, Game Grid Arcade & ArcadeHeroes.com
I have a bit of a different column for you this month. You see, it was time for the “What do you for a living?” day in my daughter’s classroom and I want to talk about my interactions with the kids about games and how I run my mall arcade. I hope you enjoy this recap as much as I did being there. What a great opportunity to interact with my customers in this very different way! (Yes, it turns out that a lot of them have already been to my arcade.)
“How was everyone’s day at school so far?” I asked the third graders. The response was a cacophony of “good” mingled with some other chit chat that was hard to sort out.
“I’m happy to hear it,” I said. “So before I get into what it is that I do for a living, let me ask a question. How many of you like to play video games?”
The hands of almost the entire group shot up into the air. Just a couple held back, either because they were too shy or games just aren’t their thing.
“Almost everybody! Same here. In fact, when I was about your age, this is what it looked like when we played video games,” I said while placing an image up on the projector screen (top right). It was an ad for some Atari 2600 product that was being sold in the early ’80s. In it, two children stare intensely at the screen while a moustached father belts out a laugh hearty enough to make Santa Claus jealous. The children and the teachers chuckle, although some of the comedic timing was lost when I had to fumble with a Mac I wasn’t familiar with to keep moving the pictures along on the screen.
“Okay, so that might be a little bit of an exaggeration. Let’s try this,” I said. Now an image of myself playing a Texas Instruments 99/4A computer at the ripe little age of two jumps onto the screen (right). I go on to explain that game playing in the ’80s was a little different from now. There was no such thing as a tablet or a smartphone to play games on, and everything had to be connected to a TV set.
Setting up the next slide, I found a picture of myself when I was 10 years old running a little stand for selling stuff outside my home. I asked the kids if they’d ever set up a selling stand before and less than half of the hands went up, along with some chatter. This might not be as relatable to the kids as playing video games, so I made sure to detail why I did something like that and what things I sold.
“It was around that time when I remember adults asking me what I wanted to do when I grew up. That leads me to the next influence for my career, the Disney movie TRON,” I said as a picture of the original TRON poster is pops onto the screen. “How many of you have seen TRON?”
Surprisingly, most of them said yes, although I had a hunch that they meant the more recent 2011 release of TRON: Legacy. It was shortly after this brief discussion on how the character of Kevin Flynn influenced my path into the arcade business that a boy asked me if I have any games from Wreck-It Ralph in my arcade.
Getting back on track, I revealed a slide with a strange word on it that is hard for many of the kids to pronounce: “entrepreneur.” I asked what an entrepreneur is and get some interesting responses:
“It means you make video games?”
I mentioned that it certainly involves those things, but it does go a little deeper than that. I tried to sum up what a business owner does in a general sense while pointing out that I had to learn about budgeting money and creating a business plan before I could get started.
“Now who can tell me what this is?” I ask as I put up a picture of an old Namco/Atari Assault that I have at the arcade.
“An arcade game!”
“Awesome, that’s right! Now what makes an arcade game different from a home game?”
I was interested to hear how kids might describe an arcade machine. One tried to explain it as having a smaller screen than home, another as a box you stand at to play, and yet another as a game you have to pay to play which you don’t have to do at home. I commended them for their descriptions and moved onto an image of my business storefront.
“Ohhhh! I know that place”
“I’ve been there before!”
“I was just there on Sunday. I think I saw you behind the desk!”
The loud response that I got from the group was a little surprising, but satisfying at the same time. You rarely get a chance to hear feedback on your marketing or what word-of-mouth might actually be doing for you. Granted, it helps that I’ve been in business for nine years at this point, longer than some of the kids in the group have been alive!
Another slide showed the arcade busy and filled with customers on a Saturday afternoon, and then I transition into how I’ve had to move around the mall a few times since opening. That isn’t terribly exciting so I switched to talking about what I do for the business: budgeting, choosing games, attending trade shows, cleaning games, talking with customers, fixing games, and setting them up when I get a new one.
Unfortunately for the trade show and game setup parts, the technical difficulties reared their ugly heads again as I attempted to use videos to show IAAPA and unboxing and setting up a game. I had to cut the IAAPA video short because as soon as they saw Flappy Bird, they went crazy with chatter. (They also weren’t really paying attention to what I was saying as it played either. They were third graders, after all.) I couldn’t get the other video to start so it was useless.
That said, I was still able to move on and pointed out areas where things I learned in school help me in business today: math for budgeting, reading/writing for marketing, and computers for troubleshooting and doing my own tech support. I closed my presentation with a little bit about marketing my business and pointed out that we’ would be at the Salt Lake Comic Con the following. Then I opened it up to questions:
“How come you fix all the games yourself instead of hiring someone else to do it?”
“Has the power ever gone out at your arcade?”
“Do the people who work for you have to pay to play the new games you get?”
“Where do you get the games from?”
“Which game is your favorite?”
And while it wasn’t a question, the best of all: “You’re awesome!”
(If you could look at me right now, you’d see that I’m beaming.)
Adam Pratt is the owner and operator of the Game Grid arcade near Salt Lake City, Utah. He also publishes the Arcade Heroes blog site and serves as an advisor for the web-based game supplier BMI Worldwide. He can be reached at email@example.com.