I have a couple days off for the holidays and the first place I think of going is my favorite local game shop. I got a little Christmas cash that’s burning a hole in my pocket, so that’s part of it. But the main reason I think first about my FLGS is because it’s relaxing for me to spend even 30 minutes browsing through the shelves and flipping through the comics, even though I might not purchase a thing.
Many of the local game and comic shops here in Minneapolis do an excellent job of utilizing third place theory, and I’m sure it’s true of local game shops in your area as well.
Third Place Theory and Comic Shops
But you might be asking, what is third place theory? Third place theory is the idea that it’s essential for us humans to have a comfortable, accepting social environment that is separate from work (school) or home.
Decades ago we had bowling alleys, arcades, supper clubs, and those little lounges where the characters from Mad Men made smoking Marlboros look so glamorous. But third spaces became a little more rare, until the void was replaced by coffee shops. This is the primary reason that Starbucks had its meteoric rise, spawning a ton like-minded cafés, all of them aiming to tap into third place theory.
Us nerds? Well, we’ve always had our comic shops, our third space that served as a comfortable social environment outside of work or home. Even if we felt like getting away for just an hour, many of us gave first thought to our local comic or gaming store.
Third Place Theory and Comic Shops: Feed the Nerds
If you want someone to stick around and socialize, then you need to feed them. So that’s why concessions are all the rage with game shops now, as the food and drink anchor people to your store. Sure, there is financial incentive to keeping customers in your store, as the longer you stick around the greater likelihood you’ll splurge on a pack of card sleeves. But it is equally true that game and comic store owners are geeks themselves, so it makes their heart happy to see a community of nerds in their shop enjoying one another’s company.
The alpha game shop in Minneapolis is likely Fantasy Flight Game Center (although the Twin Cities is fortunate that there are several really strong shops with easy access). Fantasy Flight doesn’t just offer Coke and Snickers bars; they have a full service restaurant with burgers, salads, fries, sandwiches, and beer on tap. Instead of working remotely from a coffee shop, I spend the day at Fantasy Flight, soaking up their WiFi while writing a couple of posts for Nerds on Earth (like this one). Of course before I leave I’ll often spend a few dollars on mini paint.
Many of these venture will unfortunately fail however. While it might seem logical to combine food and gaming, those two things are entirely different business models that can easily spread an owner incredibly thin. This is why we typically only get Cheetos and Mountain Dew, as the thought of operating a grill and maintaining a liquor license while also keeping shelves stocked with Warhammer proves to be overwhelming.
Third Place Theory and Comic Shops: Let the Nerds Play
But our local FLGS has long used another model to employ third place theory: gaming space. Another Twin Cities great, Level Up Comics and Games, does so well in creating community around gaming space that we interviewed them right before they expanded to double their number of gaming tables.
But hosting tournaments, encouraging drop-in gaming, and utilizing organize play come with risks as well. After all, the owner is covering rent on square footage that us nerds expect to use for free. On top of that the shop owner has to cover costs of cleaning and maintenance for that space as well, often despite a small minority of geeks who feel entitled to treat the space with less respect than it deserves.
Third Place Theory and Comic Shops: Bottom Line
What’s the point I’m getting at? Comic Shops and Game Stores are an important part of being a geek. Not just that, they are an important part in our socialization as human beings. While work and family responsibilities (coupled with my social anxiety)prevent me from visiting my local FLGS with the regularity needed to form friendships, I still love nothing more than anonymously browsing through the books, games, and everything else my nerdy heart loves.
Having a third place is vitality important to use as social beings, as we are much more than commercial creatures. So let’s thank our local game shop owner for working so hard to provide us nerds with the places we love.