The global gaming market is expected to be worth over £69 billion by 2020, a value that has increased by more than 15% since 2017. What is it about sitting in front of a computer with a headset on, playing a game for endless hours that appeals to the 2.5 billion video gamers around the world? 

“You can live a life on a game that’s completely separate to your own”, explains nineteen-year-old Daisy Hebblewhite, a Creative Venue Technician Apprentice and self-confessed gamer. Daisy first got into gaming as a young girl watching her dad play Shadow of the Colossus on the computer, still one of her favourite games to this day. “My whole  family is filled with nerds.” For twenty-three-year-old Creative Venue Technician, Kyle Jarrett, a love for video games also runs in the family. His dad was always into games and he soon found himself “insisting on playing the games my dad bought until my parents gave in and let me play them.” 

There is a sense of freedom in the anonymity of playing games online which enables you to connect with a community of like-minded people. “I’m not a very sociable person, but online I have my mic on and nobody knows who I am. I can just be me and not get judged for it”, explains Daisy. Although female gamers still face the challenge of not being taken seriously, perceptions are slowly changing. “My boyfriend and I play a lot of games together and he says ‘oh wow you’re actually doing well you’re in third place’, yeah but I don’t want to be in third place I want to be in first place; and he doesn’t realise how competitive girls can be. Sometimes we’re more competitive than the boys. Give us a chance. We just need to keep practicing.” 

It is the ability to “choose your own journey and make your own decisions” that appeals most to Kyle who started off playing Nintendo games like Mario and Sonic. The competitive sporting aspect of video games is another reason Kyle continues to be an avid gamer, with the rise of free-to-play games like Apex Legends being broadcast on dedicated streaming platforms like Twitch for viewers around the world.  

Tabletop games and comic books also serve an important role in the gamer universe that takes them beyond the screen. Both are bigger than ever and are driving growth in, rather than being swallowed up by the digital sector. As Daisy explains, “you read Manga books to appreciate the incredible art and understand the origins behind the anime adaptations.” 

Follow Daisy and Kyle as they show us their favourite gaming spots in Covent Garden and meet the people behind them.

First stop: Forbidden Planet 

Established in 1978 and with nine stores across the UK, Forbidden Planet stocks the biggest range of sci-fi, fantasy, horror and cult entertainment books and merchandise in the UK.  

Lou Ryrie – Deputy Store Manager, Creative Consultant & Library Sales 

How long have you worked at Forbidden Planet? 

I first started working in the Coventry store in 2000. I’ve been working at the London Megastore for ten and a half years. 

How did you first start getting into comics?  

My babysitter’s brother worked at the Forbidden Planet in Coventry. He always had comics lying around their house. I stayed over one weekend and found Gambit and X-Men comics down the side of the bed and just read them all instead of going to sleep. 

How do you work with libraries and schools? 

We advise school and government libraries on the types of comic books to stock. We also run presentations to teach kids about the creative process behind making comics. There was one parent who cried tears of joy because their kid never worked with other kids in a group, never won anything or read a book until we introduced him to comics. 

What changes have you seen in the store since you started? 

A greater diversity of people come into the store. More girls are reading comic books, with strong female protagonists like Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel. Elderly people still come in to read their sci-fi books. Black Panther has been amazing in positively representing a large percentage of society who only ever see themselves cast as the bad guys.

 

Next stop: Orc’s Nest 

Peter Wooding – Co-Founder

Why did you start Orc’s Nest?  

I used to play Dungeons & Dragons and historical war games when I wasn’t playing a gig. Games were a cheap way of passing time. When the record deal ran out and the gigs dried up, I had a few jobs in fashion buying which gave me retail knowledge. I thought setting up my own shop would allow me to go on tour whenever I wanted to, but there was more to running the shop than I thought! 

How do you choose the type of games that get stocked in Orc’s Nest? 

I get a list of 50 new games and I need to whittle it down to decide which ones go into the shop that week. I’ll visit respected game review sites like Boardgame Geek and Spiel des Jares but sometimes it’s a gut feeling that the game will do well with our customers. If people have been asking about the game, I’ll get it in. Sometimes if I like the cover, or it’s a different idea that isn’t too stereotypically nerdy, I’ll get it in. 

What are some examples of these ‘less nerdy’ games? 

There’s a game about growing flowers; a game about running an art gallery; a game about making your own patchwork quilt; a game based on being in a romantic comedy. I get them in because they are different to what people may have seen before. The game that won the ‘2018 Speil des Jares game of the year’ was Azul, a strategic and aesthetically pleasing game about collecting Portuguese tiles. 

Why do people love games? 

It’s entertainment without spending a lot of money and a way to get together. 

A lot of our customers are at university, they get their first or second job so they’ve got some money. They still want to keep up with their friends but don’t necessarily want to get completely rat-arsed at the pub every night.

 

 

Final stop: Wanyoo Esport Studio 

Zhaorong Chen – Director of Wanyoo UK

When did Wanyoo first open in China? 

The first Wanyoo opened in Shanghai in 1998. By 2015 we had 200 outlets and by 2017 this jumped to 1000 outlets with the help of a £21 million investment from the son of a Chinese billionaire. 

Did you play at Wanyoo café growing up? 

When I was 12 (I’m 24 now) I used to travel to Guangzhou and Shanghai and saw Wanyoo cafés everywhere. I spent my 18th birthday at a Wanyoo because my friends and I wanted to experience a gaming café, which has an age limit of 18+ years in China. Celebrating your 18th birthday there was a way to show the world you had become an adult. 

Why do people go to gaming cafés? 

People come to socialise. 80% of our customers are from Asia, particularly overseas students, and 20% are local (British, Italian, Spanish). London is a very global city with different languages and cultures. But the language of computer games is always the same no matter where you are in
the world. 

What are the most popular games at Wanyoo? 

League of Legends, Apex Legends and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG). The latter two are based on the popular ‘Battle Royale’ format, which plunges a large number of players into a fast-paced, last man standing match. The winner is the last competitor in the game. 

What was it like to play games competitively at university? 

We used to train five hours a day until 1am and wake up at 9am to study during the day. When I won a club tournament and sent my parents a photo of me holding up a trophy they said “Go and study. Why are you playing games?” This, despite me winning £10,000! 

What is the gaming culture like in China?  

We spend a lot of time studying. When I finished studying I wanted to play outside but my parents said, “it’s too late, you need to stay at home.” So, I only had two choices, read books or play computer games.

How do you become a professional esports gamer? 

You must have a gift from god I think!

Words Alison Tanudisastro

Photos Sara Lincoln