The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession, what there is of it. - Mark Twain, Following the Equator
The day before, I got a call from a peppy girl named Ashley who was ecstatic to tell me that I could "pick up my copy of... Rockband 3... on mOnDaY,... oCtObeR... 25th at... midnight". She continued on to describe all the cool stuff that would be happening at their big launch event if "I joined the line starting at... tEn PM". I hung up on her, I'm afraid. I've heard the rest of her spiel with other games.
Five minutes later I get another call. It's robo-Ashley again. Oblivious to my rudeness, she is incredibly happy to tell me my copy of Fable 3... will be available on mOnDaY, oCtObeR 25th at midnight...
Fast forward to the next evening. We've got the first real storm of fall blowing in, it's 11:25pm on a work night,and I'm standing on the sidewalk in front of a mall with 300 or so of my closest strangers and friends.
Why in the name of all that's Whole-ly do I do this? It's not like I haven't discovered the existence of Amazon.com.
Let's Go Around the Room...
In my little corner of Nerdvana, it's not a binary choice - to go vs. not go. You also have to choose where to go. Everyone gets into the act; even the big box stores around here have midnight launches for the tent-pole releases.
If you want a higher chance of random marketing swag, you go to the big EBX in the mall and hang out with all the quasi-geeky scene kids. Most of that crowd is there just to be there and make a big noise and the local marketing gang know that makes the best pictures and the biggest splash in the media outlets they care about. Warning: Silly String will probably be involved.
The stores that dot our exurbia tend to have the local neighborhood crowd. Mostly adult gamers, and the youngest kids whose parents are not going to drive them all over heck and gone in the middle of the night for Mario or the Master Chief's sake. While they're no less fervent than the gang over at the big mall, it's mostly about the geek stuff like pack-ins instead of the fact that they got their left bicep signed by Joseph Staten.
That's where I go - the smaller Gamestop by my usual grocery store. I know the staff, and most of the gang who shows up by sight if not by name.
In contrast to the stereotype of gamers as loners, very few of them show up alone. And even if they do, there's always someone to talk to while you're standing there. Individual people ebb and flow, depending on the genre of the game in question, but there's a core group who always seems to show.
Up by the front is one big guy I know from church - a huge Call of Duty and Lego freak, but he would line up at the opening of an aspirin bottle if IGN told him it had a game inside. A few groups back is four guys who hang out together I know from when I worked with a contracting agency back in the day. We usually touch base about wives/kids/jobs for a bit. A few spots farther back I see another old comrade, and notice that his hair is green. His team must have made an important milestone again; it's a tradition to make him dye his hair the color of the product's logo if they pull off something awesome. Then we get to two kids from my kid's school I haven't seen in a while (one of whom is my daughter's ex boyfriend), a kid who lives across the street with a sleepy mom in tow, and a couple of our forum regulars. The line of old friends and nodding acquaintances to greet continues on around the corner as I trudge back to whatever place my tardiness has allotted me.
The Glitch for this Mission...
This time it went pretty smoothly. But it's not always the case. When they did the launch for Final Fantasy XIII, our chirpy friend robo-Ashley and the kids in the red polos behind the counter hadn't been clued in that they should tell us all when to show up. That omission combined with the peculiarities of the people who play this particular game gave us a bit of trouble.
As an unabashed Square Enix fangirl, I'd been doing a gamer potty-dance for this one for over two years. I'd had the game preordered since it had been announced as a launch title for the PS3. The kids used to tease me about my zero-interest loan to the game store. So we decided to show up and just see what was going on. We weren't the only ones. There were about 30 people there, milling around the store and the sidewalk in front of it trying to pretend they were there to buy something else.
We hung around until I had to give my daughter a ride to work and then I went back. Some friend-of-a-friend of my son's waxed rhapsodic on his undying love for the Final Fantasy franchise at me and everyone in earshot for a very long while. Nice kid, but a little loopy. He was so earnest I couldn't bear to shut him up.
Around noon the mall rent-a-cop got sick of it and told everyone to move along but I could tell it wasn't going to stick. I came back at several points during the day, each time to find another growing flash-mob and an increasingly annoyed security guard. I got kicked out with some extra relish the second time when I pointed out, quite reasonably and politely, that he was trying to kick people off a public sidewalk that wasn't part of the mall. I felt bad but I was a little of proud of it. As a mom I have to spend most of my time being a good example so that sort of constructive naughtiness is rare and to be savored.
Not so our little proto-fuzz. He lost his temper and started filling out forms to ban me and several others from the mall permanently. The harried manager of the store stepped in at that point and stopped the security guy, and he started sending out an employee at regular intervals to tell everyone to come back at 10pm. By then it was six or so, and I went and grabbed my daughter and we repaired to the Dairy Queen across the street, ate, and played Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories for a while. And then we went back. I really did forget that I needed a new DS stylus. Really. And yes, I did need to look through all of them in the rack to find it.
Eventually it really was time to line up, and we got in pretty far up with some others we know and spent the time chatting amiably and shivering - we had a late spring storm blowing around our ears. Happens most of the time. It's like the weather knows something. You can imagine old Aeolus turning to his posse and saying, "See those idiots standing out there in the middle of the night? Let's have a little fun."
This launch was for three big games at the same time: Rockband 3, The Force Unleashed 2, and Fable III. And they all had their own attendant special editions and preorder extras. The staff has it down to an art now; even with my lame-o late place in line and all the Harmonix hardware madness I was on my way by 12:20am.
That list of games made for a weird cross-section of people, though. A lot of the older FPS crowd also play Rockband, and the RPG gang was out in force for Fable and The Force. So it was a lot of the old gang, but in a different arrangement. The guy from church was there, showing off his new truck and going on about his latest Lego sculpture. My daughter's ex was back, playing the Halo 3 soundtrack out loud from his car's speakers for everyone's delectation. That one kid who so passionately bent my ear off about his love for Final Fantasy back in March is several clumps back with his girlfriend. Mr. GreenHair is blond again.
I always get a chuckle watching the parking lot empty backwards. The spaces by the door empty first. Then as people file in empty-handed and out over-loaded,the rest of the cars fill and then head home in an ever-expanding ring. And while I'm watching, I do ponder a bit about the whole thing. Am I getting too old for this?
For me, it always comes back to the people. This is a subset of my friends and acquaintances I don't get to see much of any other time. Other people get their gaming community-fix over XboxLive or on the internet, but I've always had a live person component to mine that these sorts of events cater to.
It's also important to make this feel like it's important. For those two hours we have carved a niche out of our busy lives to stand with others and make an event out of something important to us. Just picking it up out of the mailbox doesn't give you that.
And if nothing else, I go for solid, photographic evidence that while I am weird like chicken-mittens, I'm definitely not alone (and not the weirdest, either). I'll stand in the cold for two hours just for that.