Class for the day had just ended, and I was driving home in my beat-up black Jetta. Living next to a large shopping center, like I did at the time, can mean one of two things — either you never have to really go anywhere to get what you need, or it’s all too easy to open up your wallet when temptation strikes. Best Buy is not my favorite store, but having one right across the street made indulging my nerdy passions all that more convenient, and as I passed by it, I saw people. A line of people, starting to stretch from the employee smoking bench all the way to the corner of the building.
I drew in a breath, my eyes agog. Grabbing the hand of my girlfriend (who had been riding shotgun), I looked at her for a split second and belted out, “HOLY… well, you can fill in the blank.”
It was the middle of November, cold as a snow witch’s nipple and slated to rain at least twice in the near future. These people were already queuing up, in this weather, for the launch of the Playstation 3, which would arrive two days later. I had to join them.
Insane? Waste of time? Maybe. I had planned to camp out anyway, but didn’t anticipate having my hand forced as soon as it was by these Ernie-come-earlies! I would later become even more disparaged when I learned that many farther up in line had planned to flip their purchases on eBay, and at least one Mr. Moneybags straight up paid a dude 500 Washingtons for his number three spot. I’ll cut to the end of the story because that’s what matters least. About 38 hours later, shivering, hungry, and with little shut-eye, I practically crawled home without a shiny new console to call my own. I was far from the only one to walk away empty-handed that morning, but what really twisted the knife was that I was only a couple of people away from actually buying one. Oh, and I did it all again several days later for the Wii.
But here’s my point: the lining up, the midnight launches? It may seem stupid to some, but this is pure, unfiltered geek heritage. This is part of what we do and what we live for. To show our dedication to the hobbies we love, even at the abuse of our own bodies and waste of our own sick days! Attending a midnight or console launch is tailgating for nerds, and the experience is unlike anything else. Dispelling the myth that we’re all shut-ins, I encountered a lot of interesting people, chatted up new friends, and had a patently good time while freezing my ass off.
Even better, and perhaps more relevant: the retail debut of Wrath of the Lich King. This time at the local Gamestop, and pre-ordered long beforehand. I had a decent night, verbally sparring with people who actually enjoy playing Alliance, answering trivia questions, dancing like only the whitest of people can, and partaking in free noshables like Mountain Dew and leftover movie popcorn (seriously, the theater next door brought over huge bags of the stuff).
But that was the spectacle at its glorious peak. Retail establishments have eliminated much of the (enjoyable) chaos that surrounds such events, taking the fun out of the gamble (pre-order, or you’re boned), and more and more people are simply purchasing their copies online or through direct download. The crowd, and the pomp and circumstance, are dying. Even the aforementioned Wrath launch might have been a dud if it wasn’t for all the simple festivities the employees had actually bothered to plan.
Tonight, in just a scant few hours, I’ll enter the fray once again. StarCraft II launches this eve, and there’s a copy sitting in the back room of a food court Gamestop with my name on it (sadly, not a Collector’s Edition). But the feeling, the excitement just isn’t there. It’s all been downhill since the last console release, and may not pick up again until someone’s ready to launch a new one. It saddens me to think of standing around in some moribund line with a bunch of people staring at their feet (waiting inside a mall just isn’t quite the same as camping outside of it), waiting to shuffle into the store and pick up their guaranteed copy of the game like bald, grey-suited automatons hypnotized by a big head on a giant screen. If I’m lucky, maybe I can find someone to trade maps with in Dragon Quest IX.
Doesn’t a game more than a decade in the making deserve better? Enjoy your convenience if you want, but I like the thrill, the camaraderie, of sharing a little quality time with my fellow nerds (as long as they’ve put some deodorant on, of course). But hey, who knows? Maybe I’m just being a fuddy-duddy and things will turn out alright. After all, good experience or not, I’m driving home with StarCraft II in my grubby, little mitts.