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A conversation with Philip Glotfelty

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Philip Glotfelty turned his youthful hobby into his adult livelihood. Nine years ago, he opened Game Masters, a store on Babcock Boulevard in the North Hills that not only sells gear for games like Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, but also provides a gamers' rendezvous in the store. Glotfelty also hosts a young gamer-in-training: his 10-month-old daughter, Alexandria. "She's a fixture here," he says.

 

 

How did you get into this?

After I got out of school, I worked as a fecal engineer at a pet store -- I shoveled poop. Then, I became a manager for a store that sold knives and swords -- martial-arts supplies. I said, "This isn't so hard." I got a loan from the community loan fund, and my wife and I started the store nine years ago. I figured, "Hey, it's better than sitting at home blind all the time!"

 

At the time, computer games were getting really big, and it bothered me that kids couldn't interface socially. These are social -- you sit at a table with other human beings. And if I give them a place to play, that's social, too.

 

I'm like a dating service for gamers -- I fix them up with other gamers. Someone wants to play a certain game, but doesn't know anyone else who does. I put up a sign, or I mention it, until he has the players he needs. We schedule a time, and if they're of like mind and they like the game, they'll keep playing.

 

What are your customers like?

I used to have mostly [ages] 12-25, now I have an older crowd, 18-35. Mostly, they have wives, kids, jobs. They want it organized for them: Every other Tuesday, I can get a sitter, my wife knows where I'll be. It's like a bowling night. Right now I have 18 role-playing groups going on, two card tournaments and some miniature tournaments [in which people play strategy games with miniature figurines].

 

And my demographic is mostly male ... for some reason. I find women gamers add something, though. It's interesting. They think differently. Their strategy is more subtle. Women are sneakier than men. No, I think it's patience; they can wait.

 

You must be here all the time.

Noon 'til 9 are my official hours, but I'm usually here 'til 10. On weekends, usually 'til 11 or 12. If you're a small business, you never figure your hourly wage -- "Hey, I could work at the 7-Eleven!"

 

Did you lose your sight, or were you born blind?

I have a genetic disorder, and [Alexandria] could have it, but it's a likelihood of one in about 30,000. It took them about nine years [in my teens] to figure out definitively what was wrong with me. I have retinitis pigmentosa. You slowly go blind from the outside of your eyes in, as your retina dies. There's a big debate: Some say if you're born blind, then you learn your environment [without sight], but if you lose your vision you have to learn all over again. The other people say, "At least you had sight." My stance is, either way, it blows!

 

How do you handle transactions -- such as telling one denomination of paper money from another -- without your sight? How do you keep people from stealing your 12-sided dice?

The bills, I have a machine that tells me [their value]. I don't use it: I just hold it up to my face and hope for the best! And there's a voice system on the computer [that reads the screen aloud], and a scan-code system. When I first started, I did everything with big black magic marker, and my wife would have to put it into the computer.

 

And I know who to trust. If it's someone I don't know, I'll just go stand near them. They don't know I can't see well!

 

Every once in a while, some religious people will accuse gaming of being evil sorcery. Has that ever happened to you?

The religious right, they think there's devil worship and such. You read Paradise Lost, or you watch a TV show like Xena, that's fine. But the same ideas in game form are evil?

 

Especially the role-playing games, they've been bought by big companies, and they make them so as many people as possible will want to buy them. Hasbro owns Wizards of the Coast. Hasbro doesn't care about devil worship, they just want to sell games.

 

People come in and look around the store. I've had people try to talk to my customers [about the evils of gaming]. Meanwhile, I get letters thanking me for giving their kids a wholesome place to come hang out for the night.

 

What's the best game and what's the geekiest?

The best is the geekiest! It's like a bad beer. If you're gonna do it, go all out. Put down the Budweiser and pick up the Blatz!

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