Movie Review: Not for Resale: A Video Game Store Documentary
I love video game documentaries. I even wrote the foreword to the DVD and Blu-ray release of one called The Bits of Yesterday. So, when I heard about Not for Resale: A Video Game Store Documentary, I was pumped. When I heard that some of my friends were going to be in the film, I was even more excited. After watching the movie yesterday, I can tell you I was not disappointed. Not even a little bit.
As everyone knows, physical media is dying. At least it’s on life support. It will probably never go away entirely, thanks to niche projects and the need to put something on the shelves at Walmart, but more and more people, especially younger folks, are consuming music, movies, and video games through downloads and streaming services.
Not for Resale examines this phenomenon in fine fashion. By interviewing retro game store owners like Joe Santulli (Digital Press) and James Ainesworth (Thrillhouse Games), viewers get the inside scoop on what the lack of physical media may mean to the future of their retail outlets, which largely deal in used games. There will likely be relatively few physical releases for the next big consoles—the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X—resulting in a dearth of used product to sell for these systems a few years down the road.
As Santulli says in the film, “Most kids are getting games from their couch.”
As such, many retro gaming stores could suffer the same fate as Blockbuster Video. The problem is concerning, but there are potential solutions. For example, Pink Gorilla co-owner Kelsey Lewin says in the film that it’s important for her stores to diversify the stock to include peripheral merchandise, such as Mario, Sonic, and Pokemon plushies.
Not for Resale does an excellent job explaining the positives as well as the negatives of physical media dying off. Downloaded games have little to no resale value (hence the title of the movie), and slow internet speeds in certain rural areas make downloading games difficult. However, as Frank Cifaldi, the director of the Video Game History Foundation, explains in the film, it’s much easier and cheaper to produce downloadable games, giving independent programmers the ability to “make games for Nintendo consoles out of their homes.” Console Wars author Blake Harris adds that there’s no need to worry about chip shortages, like what happened with the NES in 1988.
Some documentaries have a bit of a cheap look and feel, even while providing useful information, but Not for Resale has very nice production values. The visuals are crystal clear, and director Kevin J. James makes sure to relieve the potential tedium of such subject matter with a variety of camera angles and a variety of indoor and outdoor shots, including a major Sega Saturn transaction between a customer and Santulli. He also infuses the film with personal stories (I love the scene where the interviewee talks about having used rolls of pennies to purchase Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600, then crying because the game was so difficult), which are always welcome for these kinds of films.
Not for Resale: A Video Game Store Documentary is not only a look at what the death of physical media means for the industry moving forward. It’s also a history of the encroachment of digital games into our lives and what video games in general mean to the culture at large. Fittingly enough, you can rent or purchase the movie streaming via Amazon Prime.