When I was a kid, I left my Game Boy Color at my elementary school, where it was stolen. This Game Boy was my most prized possession, and I was devastated it was gone.
I still had my Game Boy Advance, but the GBC was a special system to me. It was given to me by my father when I was around four or five in one of our first years living in London. It couldn’t be replaced.
Years later, a 12-year old me made the miraculous discovery that you could buy used games and systems from every era imaginable at Gibraltar Trade Center on weekends.
After obtaining a few old games over a few weekends, I decided to suck it up and purchase a Game Boy Color out of nostalgia. Browsing the glass cases one weekend, I came across a battered old GBC.
It was a special edition with Pikachu and other cute Pokémon on it, the same model as the one I had as a child. But it wasn’t in great shape. It was missing the back cover for the batteries, was very scratched up, and upon testing it the speaker was broken.
I remember holding it in the light and feeling a tug at my memories of playing Pokémon Yellow in the middle of the brown out in 2003, awkwardly holding a flashlight over it in the pitch black at my grandmother’s house in Peterborough, illuminating the scratches on the screen like the overhead lights in the flea market did here.
This was my old Game Boy, reunited with me after all these years.
I bought it for $20, and the lady at the shop threw in a battery cover from one of the less valuable models for me. It didn’t take long for me to adorn my old friend with a cell phone strap charm of a happy Pikachu, and I’ve kept it ever since.
This is probably my first major memory of used game stores in London.
As I grew into my teens, I frequented Gibraltar less and less. I was introduced to more used game stores that weren’t just open on weekends. While Gibraltar had the best stock in the city, there prices weren’t always in my jobless, teenaged price range and they didn’t have the best trade-in rates.
However, one day on a trip to Gibraltar in about ninth grade, I did managed to purchase a cheap knockoff NES. The goal of buying this, despite it being rather cheap and flimsy and me not especially liking a lot of 8-bit video games, was to obtain a copy of Final Fantasy – the first Final Fantasy, not one of its seemingly thousands of sequels.
On the hunt
I asked a friend of mine, who at the time was more in-the-know about used game stores than I, if he knew where I could find a copy, and he suggested I check Xmonster Console Repair. While nowadays Xmonster is a repair shop, in those days of my mid-teens it was also a small scale used game store that had a knack for finding exactly what I needed.
So, I found my way there and met the very deadpan owner of the shop, a genius at repairing games with a seemingly somewhat bitter love of older role-playing games. He told me to come in the next week for a copy of Final Fantasy, and lo and behold next week he had three copies for me, apparently all his own.
While I would have loved the in-box copy, I could only afford the cartridge on its own, and purchased it. I kept going back to Xmonster after that and formed a reasonable friendship with the owner, who helped me repair even the most obscure games over the years, occasionally chatting to me about older RPGs and which I should play.
As I went through high school I formed many friendships like this with the owners and employees of game shops, some I have kept to this day. I did much shopping at Dundas Discs and Music and Video Place before it closed, and of course Game Cycle is where most people go nowadays. All of these places treated me well as a customer, no matter what I came to sell or buy.
A lot of people know about Gibraltar, but there are plenty of smaller businesses that are just as good.
If you’re a gamer in London looking for something obscure or common, new or old, I recommend checking out Dundas Discs or Game Cycle for games and systems, and Xmonster if you need something modded or repaired.
All of them are run by friendly and reliable people, and they deserve your support as local businesses.
As to how my story ends, while I sold that knockoff NES years ago, I held onto the copy of Final Fantasy and the Game Boy. There’s a certain magic to the memories attached to them, and a certain magic to the journey tied to them. I started going to used game stores in London originally in hopes of obtaining a copy of Earthbound, a not exactly rare but quite sought-after game, and I still haven’t managed to find a copy I can afford yet.