My son now falls into that demographic Limbo known as "tween" -- a new market segment crammed into the space between "kid" and "teen."
It´s a little disturbing -- like squeezing a new letter between "M" and "N." What I find perplexing is that a few years ago, "tweens" didn´t exist. Then retailers started marketing to this prepubescent group and suddenly there´s big bucks to be made.
I don´t dispute this slice of humanity exists. Retailers are wise to recognize the legions of 12-year-olds out there clamoring for video games, handheld controllers, and all things Matrix. Without them, I doubt Keanu Reeves would even have a career. (Have you seen him act?) No, I don´t dispute their existence. I just don´t think retailers are charming the folks who really control the cash.
Take my son´s and my last shopping trip together. Since "tween" is that developmental stage where his interest is no longer piqued by festively wrapped birthday gifts, we just schlepped over to VIDEO INSANITY so he could pick out what he wanted.
Once inside, Ryan looked like he might implode from excitement. I was less enchanted. Speaking as someone who doesn´t know a pixel from a poke in the eye, it felt rather like I´d received a shot of Novocain to my cerebral cortex.
The décor was game-store clone-esque -- a guts-of-a-computer motif with eye gouging wires hanging everywhere and flashing seizure-inducing lights. While my son drooled over his options, I stood there like I was waiting for the next trolley to arrive.
Now if I were a game aficionado, I might have been enthused about the newest version of "Blood-Spattered Mayhem," or the fact that "Super Explosive Annihilation" was now available for Gameboy, but I wasn´t. So, I stood there. I stared at the wall. I stared at the frightening tattoos crawling up the arms, face and neck of the 16-year-old clerk. I asked him a question. He merely frowned and shook his head, looking at me as if I had the IQ of a hamster.
Of the whole experience, I can honestly say that I´ve had more fun chewing ice cubes with my front teeth.
Savvy retailers should recognize that getting "tweens" into the store is only half the battle. The next levels to defeat (to a gamer´s way of thinking) are the parents. So why not foster a little goodwill from those who considered "Pong" to be the pinnacle of electronic technology? How about a complimentary latte? A free foot massage? A little Dido on the stereo and a few chocolate truffles handed out by perky seniors? That kind of treatment would go a long way toward loosening my grip on the $49.99 they want for "Interplanetary Extermination."
It´ll never happen. I´m destined to move onto the next phase -- hanging out in the music store and bleeding from the ears while the latest pop/funk/rap/heavy metal music blasts out the store´s speakers. And while clotting may not sound like much, at least it´ll be something to do.