Gamers of a certain age have fond memories of that first time they played Super Mario 64 or another Nintendo classic at the demo station in the mall. It felt like you were touching a piece of the future. Maybe you played for hours. What they probably don’t remember is how much it pissed off the person paid minimum wage to work there. Years later, GameStop is one of the last places you can still find video games in the wild, and employees say they’re tired of parents using it as an excuse to drop off their kids while they go run errands.
“Yeah, a lot of us are getting tired of parents thinking that they can basically just dump their kids into our care while they go shopping,” one current employee told Kotaku in an email. “Like, if you’re going to leave your kid somewhere while you shop, then leave them at home with a babysitter. Your kids are not our problem. We already have enough to deal with.”
Frustration came to a head recently on the GameStop subreddit where staff come to blow off steam about a business in which executives get golden parachutes and investors see unprecedented meme stock windfalls, but the rank-and-file see hours cut, work loads increased, and wages stagnate. “So what do you guys do when kids randomly walk in while their parents are shopping elsewhere? Or when parents just drop their kids off?” one user asked. Suggestions poured out, raging from calling mall security to trying to sign them up for Pro Memberships. “Literally had a mom walk in [and] ask ‘did they behave?’ after leaving her kids here,” responded one user. “But like for real? What the fuck.”
But it’s far from the first time employees have complained. “Literally ran a daycare tonight,” posted an employee three years ago. “Why is it that we’re considered a daycare service?” someone wrote back in 2016. Some call it “GameStop Daycare,” a phenomenon where minors of varying ages are left to roam the racks of games and Funko Pops until their parents come back from shopping elsewhere. Sometimes it means fixing a bunch of carefully organized shelves that just got ransacked. Other times it means dealing with an angry parent when they return and their kid already decided to wander off somewhere else.
“We have Switch demos,” one current employee said. “Someone stole one. Mostly they play them quietly, but they don’t put them back. Kids tend to take all the games off the shelf and not put them back, which our games are alphabetical so we have to reorganize after. The plushies get spread all over the store as well. That tends to happen even with the parent present though.”
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Often employees just try to convince parents not to leave them there in the first place.
“There was one instance in particular in which a woman came by and asked me if she could leave her kids here while she went to get her hair done,” another current employee said. “I told her that not only could she not leave her kids at the store because it is a retail space, but that it’s illegal to knowingly leave your children unattended. She didn’t take too kindly to my answer, and I was a bit more aggressive with my wording at the time if I’m honest.”
The staff Kotaku spoke with said the children left in their store were roughly between six and 12 years old on average. It usually happened more in the summer months when school was closed, and again around November and December when parents were shopping for their kids for Christmas. “Every holiday season we have issues where a child is left unsupervised and the parent comes back much later on and the kid is gone from the store,” said a long-time employee. “Thankfully, to my knowledge, they’ve always been found safe.”
While kids bothering them with a ton of questions and making a mess in the store was the most common complaint, a larger concern was those kids leaving the store, unattended. “One time I did have a kid come in, ask some questions and play on the demo kiosk for a little bit,” said one former employee. “He was polite so it didn’t bother me. He left the store, which was in a strip mall. Next door was a beauty salon. The mom comes into my store asking where her kid was and I told her that her kid isn’t my responsibility and he walked out five to 10 minutes ago. She tried to blame me for not watching her kid, but I told her we aren’t babysitters, let alone for free.” He added that GameStop would probably even fire him if he left the store to go search. GameStop did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Another couldn’t believe anyone would trust their kids to a video game store clerk in the first place. “I’m not a parent but I’ve had small children in my family for years and the oldest just recently turned 12,” they said. “If any of those kids were left alone in the ‘care’ of a GameStop employee, I’d be livid.”
But no one, it seems, is more livid than the GameStop employees who are fed up with other people’s kids. “And here’s the worst part of it, the parents can feign ignorance and blame us for not doing our jobs,” said one employee. “Well sorry Karen, but I’m not your kid’s babysitter. I have a job that I’m supposed to be doing, but I can’t do it because your little brat keeps making a mess of my fucking store.”