I’ve been playing games for about 25 years now. Over that time I’ve been into hundreds of computer games shops and bought who-knows-how-many games. Although I don’t have a current-gen console and hardly rush out of the door to buy new releases, I keep reasonably in touch with what’s going on (on top of the many years of accumulated useless retro-knowledge to fall back on) through the web and by gawping at the back of boxes in games shops.

So, then, why am I completely incapable of making even five seconds’ worth of small-talk with any of the customer-facing staff in these places? Awkward verbal exchanges have become such a common part of my experience when buying games that I’ve developed an anxious desire for the transaction to take place in total silence, bar an acknowledgment of the total to pay and a ‘thank you’ when it’s all done.

Whether this comes across, or not, I don’t know, but I almost feel like I’m about to rob the place; that the first utterance from the sales assistant’s mouth that doesn’t meet the criteria specified above will prompt me to bellow “PUT THE GAMES IN THE BAG. NOW! QUICKLY! DO IT! DOOOO ITTTT!” into their face while brandishing the nearest available blunt object in a vaguely threatening manner.

I’m perfectly content to lay most of the blame at my own door here – I’m not the best at idle chit-chat at the best of times – but I do feel that the nature of some retailers’ attempts to engage the customer can only result in a stilted and embarrassing conversation that would have been better best avoided. Take this recent example:

GAME Man: So, er, buying a few games today then, buddy?
Me: Yep.
GAME Man: Cool, cool.
Me: …
GAME Man: Oh, wow, that’s our last copy of Gran Turismo! He-heh.
Me: Oh, right.
GAME Man: Okay dude, with the PC games there, I do have to just make sure you’ve double-checked the specs on the back to make sure it’ll work on your computer?
Me: [Nodding]
GAME Man: Cool, bro. Hey, wow, you’ve saved a bit of money on those games! Er, that’ll be £19.99 then, please.
Me: [Hands over money]
GAME Man: Take care, buddy!
Me: [Avoiding all eye contact, mumbling] Thanks.

Now, that’s not a lot to work with. I mean, sometimes, after an awkward conversation, or an argument, you immediately think of a hundred things that you could have said that would have been infinitely preferable to what you actually did say. Here, though, barring a mild improvement in my body language and a slightly more cheery goodbye, I honestly can’t see how that could have gone any better.

At other times, I’ve been slightly more culpable. I once purchased a couple of CSI games, which were shoved into a bag without so much as a glance by a sullen teenage girl who then announced flatly, and with no visible enthusiasm, “they’re good, them.” Instead of just politely nodding, and feeling a combination of unease at what seemed like a blatant lie and a level of defensiveness at buying a couple of fairly mediocre games based on a TV show in the first place, I decided to challenge her: “Are they? I heard they got better once Telltale took over the franchise, but I’m not expecting much from them.” Without blinking, she replied, “Nah, they’re good, all good, got ’em all. Completed ’em all.” Clearly, anything further from me was only going to lead us even further down a conversational cul-de-sac, so I paid and made an uncomfortable exit. (What was I trying to achieve with this? Did I expect to interrogate her further and, at best, expose a harmless lie and at worst, reveal that she was actually telling the truth and was being berated for simply offering her thoughts on my purchase? I don’t honestly know.)

Incidentally, I have absolutely nothing against shop assistants (especially not those working for a chain that’s not doing so well – and believe me, I don’t want games shops to disappear from the high street) who are only trying to do their job. But the whole ‘commenting on your purchase’ thing doesn’t really happen elsewhere, such as a supermarket (“Diet Coke, today, sir? Excellent choice! And 30p off as well. We do just want to check, though, that you’ve read up on the potentially dangerous side-effects of artificial sweeteners”) – mainly because it’s not necessary: you’re at the till, wallet in hand having already made your decision to buy something.

Even so, there’s a part of me that’s disappointed that I can’t come up with anything good to say, because I like and know about games, and should therefore be fairly comfortable having a brief conversation about something that interests me. I guess both myself, and the shops, are stuck in the mindset that playing games is still a niche hobby, rather than an increasingly popular way for people to pass their time. I can’t, for example, remember ever having a conversation at the till about a DVD or CD that I’ve bought. People watch films, people buy music – it’s normal, and they don’t have to be connoisseurs of either to do so. Games aren’t quite there yet; we seem curiously attached to the odious ‘gamer’ label (and equally unappetising sub-groups, the ‘hardcore’ and the ‘casual’).

Anyway, I’m not really trying to make a serious point here; my main consideration when going into a shop is ‘do they have what I want at a price I’m willing to pay’ and everything else is largely immaterial. Hell, I even go into Computer Exchange on Tottenham Court Road during my lunch hour, which is the kind of experience that makes one pine for a forced verbal exchange with an over-friendly shop assistant. If there is a central argument here it is, mainly, that I’d really rather not talk to anyone, ever.

I’ll leave you with one final example, which is by far the worst (or best, depending on your perspective). I bought Test Drive Unlimited in Zavvi and the shop assistant, a pretty young girl with an Eastern European accent, examined the box and commented, with a smile, “This looks like a fun game, driving around in fast cars in the bright sunshine, with lots of beautiful scenery and women everywhere,” in a manner that suggested reasonably genuine gratitude for my custom but also utter bemusement that the product I was buying actually existed and that people gleaned enjoyment from it. With no obvious response presenting itself, I’m afraid to say that I simply flushed red and felt more embarrassed than if I had been buying a selection of pornography, a diarrhoea remedy and some haemorrhoid cream.