Lucy Zee recounts the worst job she ever had: working as a sales assistant in video game retail.
Every so often, a conversation topic will come up: “What is the worst job you’ve ever had?”. I couldn’t name one, I could name six. When I worked clearing tables in a Chinese restaurant? Or when I was an office assistant for a massive law firm? How about the time I had to stand at closed bus stops and tell drunk racist rugby fans that the bus was a five minute walk down the street?
As much as all of these jobs were bad, they were kind of dull too. So instead I answer with this: “The time I worked at a video game store that went into liquidation three weeks after I got fired.”
Sometime in the mid-00s I got a job at a video gaming store at the local mall. I needed cash, I was estranged from my parents and I wasn’t really sure what I was doing with my life. I had my job interview at the food court, where I pretended that I loved games, anime and people. The following week, having got the job, I donned my uniform t-shirt, the brand name of the store stretched comically over my large boobs.
My first job was to tidy the Nintendo DS games, alphabetise the anime DVDs and move the hentai. And so I began restocking Nintendogs and Mother Knows Breast, unaware that I was beginning the worst job of my life.
The majority of our customers were men aged 15-35. I loved when a woman gamer came in – I knew nothing so they’d always clue me up on different games. I owe so much to them for getting me through the many harrowing months of working at that store. Thanks to them, I also I learned how to deal with male gamers who would strike up conversations with me just to test me on my knowledge.
It didn’t matter if I knew anything, they were sure they knew more – and that tiny interaction of being “smarter” than a woman was an ego boost they could carry all the way to Unichem pharmacy to buy their extra small condoms.
Every day a gangly, sickly pale, Dax wax hair, Rip Curl t-shirt wearing male gamer would strut in and ask, “What do you think of the new Saints Row game?”
“I don’t play video games,” I would reply. “I have sex instead.”
Then everyone in the store would laugh and the Mayor of Auckland would come in and start cheering my name, all the customers would join in and I’d be hoisted in a chair, then a parade would follow me through the mall, chanting my name over and over and over.
In reality, the male gamer would snort at me in disgust and say, “Why did you get a job here if you don’t know anything?”
I wondered why too.
Being a girl in a video game store
When I started I was very friendly with customers but I soon learned that was a mistake. One guy followed me around the store for around an hour, talking at me while I tried to remain polite. After that he came into the store every day for a week looking for me. One time he told me he wanted to draw me and asked if I could give him a photo. I just laughed and said no.
The next day he walked in with a camera. I hid behind the boxes of unwanted Bioshock promotional t-shirts, praying to the Gods of War 2 that he would get the hint and leave. He kept coming back, hanging around for longer and making weirder requests.
One of the regular tasks at work was to call anyone who had ordered a game to let them know it had arrived. One time a woman picked up and I did the usual “Hello, it’s Lucy from [name of store] here, just letting [name of person] know that their game is ready to be picked up.”
“Oh my goodness Lucy!” the woman replied. “My son has told me ALL ABOUT YOU! The new girlfriend! It’s so lovely to finally meet you over the phone. [Name of customer] has been talking about you non-stop for the last week, please come over for dinner sometime soon!”
After that experience I decided never to be nice to male customers again. No more jokes or smiles. It really worked – I know this because I came across a video gaming site where someone described me as “a sour Asian bitch in the store”.
A good day at work was a day I wasn’t yelled at or got a single stupid complaint. And the complaints I’d get were more stupid than you’d think.
I once had a mother who came in screaming at me, and I mean SCREAMING. The moment she stepped foot under the bright fluorescent retail lights she was red faced, sanpaku eyes, red wine teeth. She beelined towards me, the embodiment of “I NEED TO SPEAK TO THE MANAGER”.
My reaction was like any other time an aggressive, unhappy customer came in: Dead.
I felt nothing. I was weathered and done. I could not count how many times I had been yelled at by a customer who thought because they’d spent $60 in the store they had the right to be angry at me. Sixty dollars, an amount worth degrading a person for working minimum wage. Sixty dollars to belittle a human being by questioning their mental intellect and education. Sixty dollars to yell spittle in the face of someone who thought they were going to be safe working in a mall.
My manager arrived, and asked the mum what the problem was. She was here because we had sold her 13 year old son a game. “An incredibly disgusting violent game. I can not believe this is allowed to be sold to young children. Why would you sell such a vile thing in this store. I want an explanation!”
The game was probably Worms: Open Warfare or something else with a G rating.
I still can’t decide if this customer was worse than the one who came in and threw a Playstation 2 at me demanding a refund because I didn’t tell her it was $6 cheaper at Dick Smith. She screamed that I was required to price check our competitors for her and that I should have WARNED her. It didn’t matter that she got two free games in our deal or that we had the limited edition colour. She went full “I’ve seen an episode of Fair Go and I know my rights” mode and wow did I get the berating of my life.
If I got a dollar for any time a customer said “WELL IN THE CONSUMER GUARANTEES ACT YOU HAVE TO BLAH BLAH BLAH” I would have been able to afford buy lunch from St Pierre’s Sushi every week.
“This must be a dream job, you get to play games all day.” Yeah, no. I didn’t get to play a single game at work.
I did get to serve customers though, I got to dust the shelves every day, wipe down video game cases, stock up, pick up empty Burger King cups and straws off the floor, stress over daily sales targets, lend games out to my fellow mall workers, eat a sad Hollywood Bakery sandwich alone in the food court, get told off for wearing the wrong shoes, get told off for being late, get told off for not smiling, get told off for not talking enough, get told off for talking too much.
My time at the video store came to an end when I got caught giving fellow mall workers store discounts, not snitching on my team mates who did the same, and losing the company “thousands of dollars of profits”. A few weeks later the company went into receivership and closed down around the country.
I was a terrible employee. I knew nothing. I was really bad at the job. I honestly should not have been hired in the first place. I absorbed a lot of information about games, but knowing only about specific video games that were popular during a short period in the mid 2000s added suprisingly little to my adult life.
I did learn a lot about people though. I learned how to talk to strangers, a challenge given I had intense social anxiety. I learned how to swallow my pride and lose my ego. I learned that being on the other side of the counter meant that you become a punching bag for everyone else just trying to fight their way through this upsetting world.
I have an incredible career now and I’m glad I once got to experience working retail. I now go out of my way to be kind and respectful to people working in retail, no matter how exhausted and over it they may seem to be. And I will never, ever be rude to someone working behind a counter.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pour one out for those who work in retail – and another one for women who play video games.