North Oakland game store builds community through love of play
When you come inside It’s your motion games on 49th Street and Telegraph Ave, you feel like you’ve been transported to a fantasy world.
The right side of the store is lined with shelves filled with every type of board game you can imagine, from classics like “Settlers of Catan” and “Risk” to out-of-print obscure titles like “Stalin’s Tanks,” a game 1980s. war game. The left side of the store is filled with an assortment of fantastic card games like “Magic: The Gathering” and “Pokemon,” as well as a dedicated shelf for role-playing books.
The role-playing section is a favorite of co-owner William Kreber-Mapp, who fell in love with the cult classic RPG “Dungeons & Dragons” while growing up on Kodiak Island, Alaska.
“There was no place like this. There was no game store that we could walk in and open and have the store owner explain to you how it works,” Kreber-Mapp said. “Whether you are at school, at work or at home, there is stress in these places; everyone needs a third place like [It’s Your Move Games] where you can de-stress.
Kreber-Mapp and his ex-wife Rue Mapp founded the store in 2003 with the intention of creating a relaxing gaming environment. Their friend Sally Amsbury ran the store for six years before William returned in 2010 alongside co-owner Chris Specker. In addition to selling and renting games, the store also hosts weekly community game nights and special events. Currently, It’s Your Move hosts a summer camp program for young people, where children learn to play card games and role-playing games. Events have kept the store open during the pandemic.
“Most of our business comes from events, and community members run the events,” Specker said. Some events like Scrabble Club are a labor of love, while others, like Dungeons & Dragons, are chargeable.
As a lifelong RPG enthusiast, Kreber-Mapp said he believes kids can learn valuable life skills through intense fantasy campaigns that simulate life-and-death situations. “It gets people staring each other in the face, talking, joking and experiencing real-life moments together. In our society where everyone’s face is glued to their phone all the time, we lose that [community building skill].”
Volunteers organize most gaming events and some, like Aaron Waters, have become part-time employees.
“When they first opened, they ran ads on the Sci-Fi Channel and Comedy Central because they thought that would cover most of their audience,” Waters laughed.
After one visit, Waters never left. The East Bay native grew up playing board games but often traveled to San Francisco as there weren’t many table game stores in the area. “Here we always have gaming events and we try to get people involved so they don’t just watch other people,” Waters said. “We try to be inclusive.”
Although they sell games in-store and through their online service, the store’s business model may feel more like a community center than a real business. Sometimes that involves taking care of customers in a way that goes beyond the game. asked if she had gauze; the child’s milk tooth had just fallen out.
“80% of the time, it’s amazing,” laughed Specker. “It’s this chaotic, happy, just cool environment.”
The store also serves as a UPS delivery site and they started offering the service at the start of the pandemic to generate additional revenue. Most of the people who deliver there live in Temescal and that’s how new residents discover this neighborhood staple.
The game has always been a passion for Specker and Kreber-Mapp, but it was never meant to help pay the bills. Kreber-Mapp had held a multitude of jobs in Alaska, San Francisco and Oakland before the idea of starting a game store came to fruition. He was a cannery worker, a commercial fisherman, a sailor on a boat, a domestic helper and even a sous chef and a line cook.
“I had this desire to experience as much as possible,” Kreber-Mapp said. “In 2003, I had an accident at work and had to find something to do because I was unable to hold a regular job. Rue and I had talked about it, put some money aside, got that space, and opened it up as It’s Your Move Games.
Over the years, it became increasingly apparent to Kreber-Mapp and Specker that they needed to double down on the community aspect of the store. Specker started by increasing the size of its games library and included more games from local manufacturers.
“You can get all of this online now, and we’re not going to compete with Amazon with Catan or Monopoly,” Specker said.
The increased library of games has also given them a larger inventory for rentals and in-store games.
Before Specker became a co-owner, she worked as a real estate agent and was a member of the Green Party.
Specker was already an avid customer of It’s Your Move Games and attended because she didn’t find most Bay Area play spaces welcoming or diverse. “I went to a few game stores and there weren’t any good stores for women who wanted to do role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. It was all men,” Specker said. Sexism and also widespread racism in the tabletop game industry is nothing new.
“Women game designers have faced a lot of discrimination and people of color in the gaming world have faced a lot of issues,” Specker said. “I think because of my experience seeking out these few welcoming spaces, it’s really important that our space is welcoming.”
Bill Huang, an Oakland native who has been volunteering at the store for a year, joined the store’s gaming community because of Specker’s welcoming attitude. “When I was growing up in Oakland Chinatown, there was this place where I used to hang out with my friends and play video games, but it’s been closed for a long time,” Hong said.
Specker said it was important to her and Kreber-Mapp that the store was not just for North Oaklanders, but for anyone who lives in Oakland and loves to play games. Most of their outreach is done through local schools and they also advertise their business in the pink pages, an LGBTQ business directory. “It’s really important that this space be welcoming,” Specker said, “and we have to work to try to bring all of these communities together.”
Huang got into software design, but it’s clear that his real passion lies in working in the store and helping to build the community that Specker, Kreber-Mapp and the previous owners had worked so hard to create. . “I’m just here to do my part,” Huang said.