This place was a real eye-opener for me. I have been by this rather nondescript retail shop for over a decade with nary a thought. Two things drew me to investigate. One is that it is a retail game shop surviving in 2011. There have been others in the Village, but all are now long gone. Two, there always appeared to be a large gathering of customers socializing and/or playing. Peering inside, it appeared that this was some sort of fantasy game environment, ala Dungeons and Dragons. And it is.
One second in the Game Workshop and it is immediately clear you have entered a world with passionate participants. The cultish feeling was not new to me - in High School, I was a player of both chess, the strategic board games of Avalon Hill and Wffn Proof. The games attracted the nerd crowd, which according to my sister, I was clearly a member of. However, a close friend and fellow game player from those years recently pointed out to me that I had girlfriends (who were not nerds) - I am not sure if that disqualifies me from full membership in nerdom.
The camaraderie of Games Workshop had the feel of the chess world - indulgence, extreme focus and lively banter - the conversation here was dominated by analysis and commentary on military capabilities of other countries and what-ifs. I was very surprised to learn about the history of this company. Founded in 1975 in the UK, there are now over 380 stores in 19 countries worldwide with thousands more that sell their products. The British based corporation is traded on the London Stock Exchange. Yearly revenues are in excess of $200 million.
I found this statement from their website:
A hobby is something people make time for. It is not a pass-time and therefore not usually analogous to watching TV or playing computer games. In our case, as with most hobbies, it involves commitment, collection, craft or manual skills and imagination. Someone who is involved in the Games Workshop Hobby collects large numbers of miniatures, paints them, modifies them, builds terrain and war games with them in our imaginary universe. This involves huge amounts of time.
Games Workshop Hobbyists play war games with large numbers of metal or plastic miniatures they have carefully chosen and, usually, painstakingly painted, on a table top face to face with their friends. It is a social and convivial activity loved by Hobbyists the world over.
The game involves a lot of activity rather than passivity - making and decorating figures, creating playing space and learning the daunting amount of information and rules. Much like fantasy role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, the games become an alternate world.
I asked the sales staff if they minded I take photos. The response was essentially No Problema and I was already feeling this was another place with a policy of No Negativity. I stayed for some time watching the game playing and work, chatting with the sales staff to get some insight into this world. Game Workshop provides free space for customers to paint their figures and also play their signature proprietary games - Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000 and the newer Lord of the Rings. The wall space displays merchandise for sale - all the various figure model sets and also the voluminous manuals and magazines like their own, White Dwarf. I was told that the shop at 54 East 8th Street is the only store in the Northeast and is one of the largest revenue grossing operations in the United States.
There are worse ways to spend time than to be actively involved in a social activity and strategic game playing requiring a skill, memory and imagination. I think the entire experience drew out the nerd deep inside because my first reaction to this place was: These "boys" (and girls) are too old to be playing with toys. They have too much time on their hands. There are much better things to do with one's time. However, I found myself answering Really? Like What? :)