The Modest Proposal

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The Funcoland Flyer Kevin M. Flanagan

Before the rise of eBay and the rampant overvaluation of the used games market, old videogames circulated a bit like wildcat currency. Few knew what a game was worth. Most kids treated their games as ephemeral things, and as such shed few tears at eventually getting rid of them. Games for the big cartridge systems of the 1980s and early 1990s (the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, etc) often circulated as loose carts, with stains of pizza sauce and names scribbled in shaky font. These games were lent out and forgotten about; sold at yard sales by the handful; bartered in bulk for newer games, comics, or firecrackers; and, occasionally, but only occasionally, held onto and collected.

Enter The Funcoland Flyer (some call it a "price sheet," but other names give it a dignity it lacked during its lifespan). For isolated game collectors without internet access, a large group of enthusiast friends, or many choices for comparison, this Funcoland circular was a godsend. Updated monthly, these broadsheets listed the price of everything in Funcoland stores. Before GameStop and Play & Trade, Funcoland pioneered a standardized approach to the used games market. Titles were listed by system, appearing in neat, orderly columns. In theory, prices were the same at all Funcoland stores across the nation, even in the face of local trends and tastes.

These flyers had two main functions for me. They told me what games were worth a lot of money--not just "good," in-demand games of the main franchises, but also rare titles by obscure companies, some of which only circulated at the end of a system's life cycle. These were games to ask for for holidays. Expensive games that could be played and shown off with pride. The Funcoland Flyer also told me what games were cheap. My main interaction with Funcoland was in the mid-to-late 1990s, before I was old enough to work. Like many my age, spending money came from a weekly allowance, often hoarded over the months for a looming purchase. I'd often want to return home with something. Thankfully, a cheap game at Funcoland (on, let's say, the NES) could mean several things. It might have been overproduced to the point of near-worthlessness (so many copies of Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt per store pushed their cost below 50 cents apiece). It might be a bad, borderline unplayable or broken game (the game adaptation of Wayne's World, for example). It might be weird and generally unpopular because of its genre (T & C Surf Designs), or strange because its genre isn't well represented on the system (Desert Commander). But, thanks to Funcoland, I could zero-in on something strange, buy it for a few dollars, and be my own judge.

The Funcoland Flyer taught basic economic lessons such how things are valued and how that value changes over time. It helped standardize the used games market at a time before online sources consolidated everything. It made for good reading on its own, since it mentioned so many titles, some obscure, some misprints (a fun puzzle on their own), and some previously encountered. It feels like such a relic today. It prefigured the trustworthiness of buying goods online, but it also represents a first step away from truly local, one-off game stores, forecasting as it does the standardized, corporate model of GameStop. This circular is now entirely obsolete as a delivery medium for information, since its prices would no longer react quickly to accommodate factors of immediate demand and scarcity. The Funcoland Flyer, where it exists at all, is a snapshot of what videogame collecting looked like on the eve of Y2K.

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