When I sat down to watch Not For Resale, I hadn’t done much research beforehand. I’d heard that it was a documentary about video game stores, and honestly, that was good enough for me. But as it turned out, the subject matter went much deeper and was more varied than I’d expected going in.
Directed by Kevin J. James, whose previous work includes Computer Fighters and The Creed, the film kicks off by giving us a look at several video game stores — small mom ‘n pop operations — from all across North America. Some have been around for quite a long time, advertising in the pages of GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly, whereas others seem to be a little more recent. We find out from some of them how they came to be, what led the proprietors to open them, and more.
This is only a piece of the overall puzzle that is Not For Resale, however, as the subject shifts from simply running the business to the competition faced by digital distribution. For many, particularly independent game developers, the ability to bypass physical distribution channels has been nothing less than a godsend, though not without its own challenges. While you might be able to get your game out there for everyone to see, so can everyone else.
Then things move toward the ongoing matter of video game preservation. As video games join music, movies, and more in a world shifting towards digital distribution, we hear how this affects everyone from the store owners to the people making the games to the customers themselves. While purchasing a video game is now as easy as a few presses of a button (or less), we hear how it nevertheless comes at a cost as everything from iteration to the end of a service can effectively threaten to erase some games from existence, and something as simple as sharing an experience with a friend or family member now has a barrier to it that wasn’t there previously.
Another matter which is addressed is that of how some places in the world, including within the United States, are simply not primed and ready for a digital future. One game store owner reveals how he provides a service for owners of newer platforms to be able to come into town and hook up their console and download the latest updates and software while they go run some errands.
The Library of Congress Packard Campus’s Audio Visual Conservation department lends some additional insights into the matter of video game preservation. Noting that while their mission is to keep a record of all the creative output of the United States, the passage of time has made some things — including most movies produced before 1929 — impossible to record, as they are no longer in existence. They receive a wide range of contributions, with donors as notable as The Walt Disney Company, yet their video game archives are relatively meager when compared to other mediums.
From there, we get a look at some of the efforts which are being made in the name of video game preservation, including the work being done by The Video Game History Foundation and more recent efforts by companies to preserve their pixeled past with releases such as Capcom’s Mega Man Legacy Collection and The Disney Afternoon Collection. We also get a look inside the National Video Game Museum, which has gone to great lengths to not only preserve the history of video games, but even recreate the kinds of home and arcade environments they were originally enjoyed in.
Throughout the film, we get to travel to a number of destinations, including PAX East, The Portland Retro Gaming Expo, and The Game Developers Conference. A number of people weigh in on these different aspects of game preservation; the owners and employees of video game stores such as GameZone, Digital Press Video Games, Classic Game Junkie, Lost Ark Video Games, Luna Video Games, Control Freak Video Games, Thrillhouse Games, Arch City Gaming Company, People Play Games, Iceman Video Games, 8 Bit & Up, Pink Gorilla Games, and Robot City Games & Arcade are all featured. There are also a number of people from within the industry and preservation advocates like What’s Good Games’ Andrea Rene, historian and game director Frank Cifaldi, author and collector Pat Contri, IGN and Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller, Psyonix Chief Executive Officer and founder Dave Hagewood, Cinemassacre critic and filmmaker James Rolfe (of Angry Video Game Nerd fame), Limited Run Games publisher Joshua Fairhurst, Library of Congress processing technician David Gibson, and many more. Suffice to say, it’s not just a handful of perspectives here.
I’m no film student, but as near as I can tell, the production values seem to be pretty spot-on. It seems as polished and professional as I would expect a good documentary to be, featuring a number of nice and interesting visuals (seriously, I’d love to know the story behind the run-over copy of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!), and a good soundtrack as well (including one track from Timecop?).
On the whole, I enjoyed the nearly hour and a half I spent watching Not For Resale. A lot of the subject matter and what was said was already familiar to me, as video game preservation is something I’m a firm believer in, but I feel like there might have been some nuances of it missing — such as how Nintendo might be able to keep Super Mario Bros. available in perpetuity through various means, but we’ve yet to see a re-release of the licensed Popeye or Kung Fu.
Even so, some of what was shown here was new to me as well. Specifically, delving into the Library of Congress’s part in this and seeing what the National Video Game Museum has to offer were unfamiliar and welcome. With that said, those who are less familiar with the ongoing discussion of video game preservation are bound to get a lot more out of this.
Plus, for what it’s worth, this is one of those pieces that may very well serve as a well-documented snapshot of a specific moment in time. The video game industry is constantly changing and evolving, and the era of physical retail stores that carry them — big and small — may soon be at an end. As someone who appreciates smaller businesses, I enjoyed getting to see a lot of the game stores featured here.
Not For Resale is available to purchase on Blu-Ray and digitally here.
(Editor’s note: Mega Visions was provided a copy of the film for review purposes.)