A documentary about Calgary’s Sentry Box, the world’s largest game store

Store visitors are greeted with 13,000 square feet of geekdom heaven

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In Garry Snow’s documentary, Friendly Local Game Store, a number of game enthusiasts who frequent Calgary’s The Sentry Box talk about their first experiences at the store.

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This usually involved simply soaking up all the wonder and awe that came with their first glimpse. Dubbed the world’s largest game store, visitors are greeted with 13,000 square feet of geekdom heaven with a mind-boggling abundance of games, books, miniatures and other collectibles.

Snow does not put himself in the documentary. But he had a similar experience in 2013 when he first arrived in the city from British Columbia, where he had grown up as a dedicated Dungeons & Dragons player.

“That was me,” Snow said. “It really touched me. Because I walked in and the first thing I did was stand there and take it all in. I took a picture and sent it to all my old teenage friends from Dungeons & Dragons and I said “Look at this place!” in a text. I couldn’t even believe it was in Calgary.

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That’s the popular, if not singular, sentiment in Friendly Local Game Store, an hour-long documentary that consists mostly of talking heads praising the Calgary institution that’s been lovingly overseen by owner Gordon Johansen. for 42 years. What stands out is the strong sense of community that Sentry has fostered among the city’s dedicated gamers. There is no conflict or drama here, just a network of customers, employees, bloggers and family members talking about how important the Sunalta store has been to them over the years.

Snow traces the origins of the store, which started modestly in a 450 square foot space on the corner of Crowchild Trail and Kensington Road in 1980. It moved to two other locations, both in Marda Loop, before Johansen found his home current 27 years ago. The sprawling space was further enhanced when he established another store next door dedicated to cards, adding 6,000 square feet.

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All of this seems to make it not only the biggest game store in Canada, but in the world. This is certainly how he has been marked in recent years. But beyond the rows and rows of treasures found there, the Sentry has also become a meeting place for gamers. Game nights are held regularly on the property, which has only heightened the sense of community at the store.

Although Johansen’s success can hardly be attributed to luck, the documentary shows how he showed a keen sense of timing when it came to the store’s many expansions. In 40 years, the gaming world has grown from military-themed board games to the rise of Dungeons & Dragons and later Magic: The Gathering, a popular collectible card game that began in the 1990s, and now to a sprawling subculture that includes headlines. But good timing alone cannot explain the store’s success.

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“Every other store around the world had this great timing as well,” Snow says. “I tried to stick with it. I asked a few questions about the cold weather in Calgary, about us spending more time indoors. But I think it just hit that critical mass and it became this very special place and (Johansen) made the right choices at the right time, when it coincided with the growth of things There are ups and downs in the gaming industry over 50 years that he was there. He just had a knack for timing well. Whether you want to call it intuition or luck, he was the one who led him through that time.

The film also shows how changes in the local community reflect the broader evolution of the gaming world. It has become increasingly welcoming to anyone who wants to participate, including members of the LGBTQ+ community and, in particular, the women.

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“I know from my own interest in the gaming industry that it has changed dramatically over time,” Snow says. “When I was growing up, and it didn’t really end up in the movie, teenagers who were geeks like me would talk about playing Dungeons & Dragons in low voices. You didn’t share that until someone was inside and you could trust them because it was an embarrassing, geeky thing to do. Over time, geek culture has become more important than you can say out loud. L The other aspect was that when it became more popular, it appealed to wider groups of people. Everyone started to see the value in the gaming world and what they could do with games. to bring people together.

Friendly Local Game Store will make its worldwide debut on April 28 as part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Snow started making films upon arriving in Calgary during that festival’s 48-Hour Movie Making Challenge and now works as a freelancer making marketing and corporate videos. He also hosts the Dieku podcast, which allows him to conduct interviews with game designers.

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It certainly gave him an insider’s glimpse into the world of gaming. Johansen, who appears prominently in the documentary, said he didn’t expect the filmmaker to get as much content as speaking to store patrons. Johansen made the decision seven years ago not to sell the building as he originally planned to when he reached a certain age, which put his retirement on hold. He hopes to run another eight years to celebrate the store’s 50th anniversary.

Watching the film reminded us of how vital the store has become to many of its customers.

“The funny thing is he was constantly trying to get emotional reactions out of me,” Johansen said. “He did it with a few people with the question, ‘Can you imagine life without the Sentry Box?’ He hit me with ‘What would you have done if there hadn’t been a gatehouse?’ It’s like ‘I guess I would have gotten another job and done something else.’ But people were literally crying in some cases. They just couldn’t imagine it.

Friendly Local Game Store screens Thursday, April 28 at 6:30 p.m. in the Calgary portion of the Calgary Underground Film Festival. It will be available on demand from April 29 to May 1. Visit calgaryundergroundfilm.org.


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