At first glance, Playnation Games appears unassuming – just a small, independent gaming store opposite Croydon’s vast Centrale Shopping Centre. However, it is at the epicentre of a significant movement within the gaming industry. Since opening in late 2019, Playnation Games has worked tirelessly to promote diversity among its patrons, and nothing represents the store’s desire for diversity better than its owner, Daniel Grossett.
A queer black man of British-Caribbean decent, Grossett has been a trailblazer for diversity in gaming ever since he first began working in the industry 25 years ago. From a young age Grossett was often the sole queer black man in the room and had to forge his own path into the fandom. He earned respect by “being himself”, because “at the end of the day, all us gamers are a little bit weird so we might as well stick together”.
The 38-year-old Croydon local said his store not only creates a safe space for marginalised gaming fans, but also enlightens those with less progressive mindsets to the benefits of expanding their community. “It’s important to expand your horizons because no matter how much you love gaming, it’s a small, niche community,” he said. “You’re never going to be part of something as big as if you were a fan of football, or movies, or whatever…so there should never be an attitude of wanting to gate-keep things.”
Representation for minorities is a significant issue in gaming and Grossett said some people’s refusal to grow the community comes from an unwarranted place of fear. There is, he said, “a big diversification push” within the gaming world at the moment, “and I see so many people mad about it”. Elaborating, he said a lot of gamers’ regressive mindsets come from victim complexes and a belief that “this is our thing and you’re not one of us’”. That perhaps people who have been picked on because of their hobbies in the past “need to have their guard up”, but Grossett insists “it’s not like that anymore”.
“I got out of being mugged once because I caught a glimpse of a Dragon Ball shirt and asked the guy who his favourite character was, immediately we got to talking,” he said. “At the end of the day, common ground can be found by anyone, anywhere, if you give it a chance.”
To promote a community atmosphere, Grossett has broken the mould with his store and made it more than just somewhere people buy things. He said: “I based this store very much on the American stores I visited when I was out there. I wanted to create somewhere people could come and have it feel like home. Our tagline has always been, ‘we are you, we are the gamers’.”
From anime to GUNPLA, wargaming to Dungeons and Dragons and everything in between, Playnation Games is a sensory marvel. The store itself is a collection of bright colours and turbulent sounds, with myriad things for patrons to see and do. Shelves are packed with board games, character models and classic console games all available to buy, however, it doesn’t stop there. Playnation Games has a cafe, a classic American-style arcade and a ‘secret level’ in the basement which hosts several different events across any given week.
Grossett said: “I set this place up just before lockdown, so awful timing really, but the one good thing was I’d just come in and work on the shop all day, making plans for things to incorporate post-lockdown.”
“Since opening back up, our infamous secret level has been extremely busy. We’ve been hosting GUNPLA build competitions, tabletop gaming on Friday nights and recently started doing anime viewings. We do whatever we can to encourage people to come in and socialise.”
With almost three decades of experience, Grossett said in that time he has never seen as much momentum behind a push for representation in gaming as he does now. On his own role in facilitating growth, he said: “Me being a black person and me being a queer person, I just don’t tolerate nonsense, this place is built in diversity and I like to think we help those who have been previously more closed off and held a ‘this is our thing’ attitude broaden their horizons.”
“I push openness and I have no time for anything else. If you don’t like it, come down to my store and let me prove you wrong.”
Playnation games is at 44 High St, Croydon CR0 1UX, or visit their Facebook page for further details