Retrocenter: The Gamekeeper

Tucked in the southeast corner on the lower level of Metrocenter was a little store that had the power to inspire wonder and fear — and fun.

There be dragons.

It was called the Gamekeeper, and it’s where my mom bought my older brother his first polyhedral dice and rulebooks for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st Edition (which I now hold and cherish), and where I cleaned up on 3rd Edition books over 20 years later as it closed its once playing-card styled doors for the last time.

Yes, the doors were designed like giant King and Queen cards (I forget the suit, but I bet it was Hearts), and the large display window backed up onto a glass cabinet full of the strangest and finest chess sets anyone could ever covet.

It was beautiful.

Accounts differ on whether the name of the store was Game Keeper, Gamekeeper or GameKeeper. It’s tough, even with the wikisphere, to track down official info on a store that has been out of business for so long — and changed names in many markets long before it was shuttered. No offense is meant if the name is presented differently from what you remember.

The game store in the 1984 Dabney Coleman-Henry Thomas vehicle “Cloak and Dagger” was a Gamekeeper (it wasn’t ours; the film used a location in Glendale, Calif. … although “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” was filmed at Metrocenter — a topic for another post, surely.)

The Gamekeeper was eventually bought by Wizards of the Coast, the company behind the popular collectible card games Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering that was later bought by Hasbro and would absorb the Dungeons & Dragons empire of TSR. The Metrocenter location was renamed after the Washington state company, but some locations (such as in California) retained the traditional Gamekeeper name.

The stores were charming for their inventory and atmosphere, if not the friendliness or knowledge levels of their staff. I remember asking one clueless clerk at the Fiesta Mall location in Mesa about a Wizards of the Coast product that was due out that very week; she had never even heard of it! Still, when the lights were on it was a place you could rely on to find the basics.

But the rise of big-box toy stores and, later, Wal-Mart would squeeze this quaint chain out of business. The last Gamekeeper location closed down in 2004, after Wizards of the Coast announced it was ending its retail experiment and would focus on game design.

But at Metrocenter, games still go on where the Gamekeeper fell. A GameStop electronics entertainment store sits in part of the space; the rest is a vacant storefront — an all-too-familiar sight at the mall these days.

And, of course, the mall now has a very similar store: Game Nightz, just a few storefronts down near the elevator, right across the way from where Waldenbooks used to be.

But that’s another story, and shall be told another time.

Originally published March 25, 2010, at the author’s Metrocenter Watch blog, which he nearly forgot about. Of course, Game Nightz is now closed as well…

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Jayson Peters

Digital, social and print media pro. Nerdvana's founder, curator and editor.

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