Back in the 1990s, in that long-ago Pleistocene era when I was at secondary school, we were taken on a trip to the small Peak District village of Cromford. There, aside from pulling strange faces at bemused locals, we were regaled with stories of noted industrialist Richard Arkwright, who in 1771 snapped up a modest section of land in the village and built a cotton mill. People a lot smarter than me argue this was the birthplace of modern manufacturing - triggering a centuries-long chain that led to the creation of... well, pretty much everything we buy today.
But its significance to the industrial revolution is not why I love Cromford. I love it for something much more prosaic: its fabulous little bookshop.
What a place.
From outside, Scarthin Books looks like any old shop from early in the 20th century. Nicely tessellated brick the shade of a rusk biscuit. Grimy, white sign with suitably old typeface. Stained awning to keep the rain off the heads of those ducking inside. Handwritten village notices plastered over the windows.
But head inside and you stumble into something special. Anor Londo. A Zelda dungeon. Yarnham. A dimly-lit maze of tall, faded bookcases filled with cracked leather tomes, oddly-placed pillars, twisting staircases with barely enough space to squeeze by, geometrically impossible rooms filled with old records and music sheets and oddities.
Wander around and you'll bump into the stern-faced, bespectacled owner, with a book perched in his hand and a sneer for anyone not browsing Will Self. Take a walk right to the top and you'll even find a café - one that officially sells the best coffee in the world. (Not official at all.) It truly is a remarkable little bookshop and well worth a trip if you're in the area.
My last visit to Scarthin Books got me thinking. This bookshop - and many other good ones I've visited down the years - are basically just computer game levels in disguise. Perhaps on a smaller scale than some of the locations we visit in games. Perhaps a little less fiery or icy. But the same architecture. The same topography. The ups and downs, lefts and rights.
And so, a challenge. To all budding game creators.
Make a game in an old bookshop. Take one well-designed hero - perhaps a wizened old academic searching for a long-missing tome - take one twisty, turny Dark Souls bookshop, add some fireplaces with comfy chairs on each floor where our would-be-hero can refill his flask of tea and sit back with a book, add some grumpy-eyed booksellers and too-large-to-fit-through-the-narrow-aisles browsers as end-of-floor bosses, scatter some famous literary costumes throughout the building, and stick that long-missing tome right at the top, behind the hardest of bookshelf mazes, and I think you've got yourself a pretty darn good RPG.
Or maybe not.
Either way, when the time's right - and when it's safe - get yourself down to your local bookshop. Search out new ones, even. And you never know, if you're lucky, you might find yourself wandering into your own real-life Anor Londo.
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