Q&A: Darrin Griffin of Warp Zone Games

From the July 17, 2014 edition

Tucked away in an unassuming Hilliard strip mall sits the mother-load of retro import video games. Darrin Griffin, owner of Warp Zone Video Games and Beyond, gave up his job at Chase Bank to pursue his life-long dream of opening his own video game store. But Griffin isn’t just specializing in retro and import games, he’s working to foster a budding community of gamers and bring a little bit of nostalgia back to the arcade generation.

It isn’t about selling video games; it’s about cultivating a community. I have three retro arcade consoles with 30 different game boards. I have them in my store so people can come and experience them. I could make money by selling games on the internet, but I wanted there to be a specific place people who are into gaming could come and hang out. The whole idea for the store was predicated on giving people an experience.

Today’s game design lacks the purity of retro video games. Today, games are like movies; they work as a storytelling vehicle. They are designed so you beat it in five hours and then go out and buy the next one. Classic games can be returned to and played over and over. You can play “Super Mario Bros. 3” a hundred different ways, and it never gets old.

Retro games are all about nostalgia. The kids that used to play the video games at the mall are now adults with disposable income, who want to share what they loved when they were younger with their kids. That’s why bars like 16-Bit Bar+Arcade are so great; you get to have a beer and enjoy games from your childhood.

I couldn’t sustain this store anywhere but Columbus. I didn’t know it when I moved here, but Columbus is a retro-video-game mecca. This store wouldn’t exist in my home state of Florida. I have never seen a more enthusiastic city for retro gaming. The demand here is unlike anywhere else, and I only see this market growing.

Dreams come true, but you have to work to make them stay true. Nobody ever tells you the part about all the work! I work harder at this than I ever have in my life, but I love it so much, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I get to meet new people and talk about video games all day. Sometimes I get so busy running the store, I don’t stop and take inventory of where I’m at with “my dream,” but when the first month’s numbers came in, it all became very real. Even still, my wife hasn’t stopped freaking out since I quit my job.

Photo by Meghan Ralston