Pricey Games: Moms Don't Play

Isaiah Thompson, 7, shops at CD Game Exchange in Northwest with mom CaShawn and sister Taahira.
Isaiah Thompson, 7, shops at CD Game Exchange in Northwest with mom CaShawn and sister Taahira. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 21, 2005

With just four days before Game Day, also known as Christmas, there's many a mom such as CaShawn Thompson trapped inside a video game store. A mom speaking in a pointed, resolute, it-ain't-gonna-happen tone. A mom drawing the line.

"Oh, no, no . You will not spend more than $30 on one game," Thompson tells 7-year-old Isaiah as they stand in the gaming aisle of CD Game Exchange in Northwest Washington. "Sorry, little man, but no way."

The days leading up to Christmas are the hottest time of the year for games. Last year, nearly 30 percent of the $9.9 billion in sales were made in December, according to industry watchers at the NPD Group. Most new games cost between $35 and $50, which makes them one of the most expensive units of mass entertainment out there -- more expensive than most books, CDs and DVDs. And moms (and, to a lesser extent, grandmas) do a lot of the shopping.

"I can't be alone in this video game thing," says Thompson, 32. " I know I'm not the only one looking around, going to this and to that store."

Salespeople at the game stores, as amused as they are a little agitated, say they can easily spot the three types of game moms: the indifferent, the clueless and the hip.

"I've been getting the mom with a list -- clueless, but with a list," says Sara Pitts, store manager at For Your Entertainment (FYE) in Georgetown. "They can't tell a PSP [PlayStation Portable] from a GBA [GameBoy Advance], but at least they have a list from their kids," says Pitts, laughing. "And don't even get me started on grandmas. I could go on and on."

There's the annoyed mom in Georgetown who hands her 14-year-old son $55 and says, "Get yourself a game" as she skedaddles out of FYE and heads over to the nearby J. Crew. She doesn't care about the rating system, and the price be damned. Then there's the frazzled mom who steps into EB Games in Pentagon City and says in desperation, "I want a game system" -- you mean an Xbox? Or a PlayStation? Or a GameCube? It's like walking into the massive Total Beverage in McLean without knowing a cabernet from a merlot. But at least she's trying. Then there's the up-to-speed, in-the-know mom who can tell you the difference between a T-rated game and an E-rated game, bids on a GameBoy Advance on eBay, compares game prices on and, and scours the shelves at CD Game Exchange, a small indie store in Northwest Washington's Tenleytown section, for used games, some of them for $12.99 and $9.99.

Isaiah turned 7 last month, and he has $32 of his very own birthday money to spend on games.

"Oooh, look at this one. You like basketball games. It's like Street Balls. It's $8," Thompson tells Isaiah, who's tiptoeing, neck stretched way up.

Isaiah says, "I want that one," his right hand pointing to Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, priced at $47. Thompson shakes her head. "If you get the basketball game, then you can get at least one other game, Isaiah," she says with a sigh. "But I want that one," Isaiah says again.

The salesclerk, Gustav Seestedt, doesn't help settle matters when he says, " 'Tis the season to be jolly."

Thompson is hardly alone. Across the street from CD Game Exchange, at a packed Best Buy, past the kiosk for the new Xbox 360, past somebody else's 11-year-old boy in a bright yellow football sweater that says "Born to Play," there's Diana Dial, trying to remember which hockey game her 31-year-old son asked for. She's lost, puzzled, overwhelmed, clearly out of her element.

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