As a videogame journalist, I don’t often attend midnight launches for videogames anymore. I mean, I generally either receive a free copy of whatever game I need for my review in the mail, or I’m too busy playing whatever I’m reviewing to go out of my way to wait in line at a midnight release. Or I’m having sex. But since I’m a game journalist by trade, you’ve probably already called my bluff on that last one.
But I did make a few exceptions last year.
The first one was for Portal 2. I was scheduled to review it, but there was some mix-up where my review copy never showed up. So I did the only other thing I could think of: I attended the midnight launch so I could play it all night and have a review up the following day. (I literally did not sleep that night. I started Portal 2 shortly after midnight, and turned in my review at about 5 PM the following day. Yes, that’s almost 17 straight hours of Portal 2. In that time, I finished the entire single-player campaign and got about 75% through the co-op portion.)
Now, those of you with good memories probably remember that Portal 2 came out the same day as Mortal Kombat. Some even went as far as to call this day “Portal Kombat,” but those people are far too easily amused by stupid things.
But the guy standing next to me in line was there for SOCOM 4. That’s right, what were, if memory serves, the two most anticipated titles of the first half of 2011 were both coming out that night, yet this guy is standing in line for fucking SOCOM 4.
We got to chatting for a bit, and I felt tempted to say something like, “I hate to break it to you, buddy, but SOCOM 4 is getting really bad reviews.” But that would have been pointless. It’s not like anything I said would have actually deterred him from buying the stupid game. I mean, he was already standing in line with a bunch of Valve fanboys and thirty-year-old fat men who remembered Mortal Kombat on Genesis and were excited to play the series again. And anyone determined enough to put up with that isn’t going to be dissuaded by one journalist’s opinion. (An opinion, I must note, that I only gleaned from other people’s reviews; I never actually played the thing for myself.)
But this got me thinking about this whole midnight release thing. I mean, why do we do it? I can justify my own presence at this event because I was legitimately doing it as part of my job. But what about SOCOM Guy?
Then again, it’s not like I’ve never attended a midnight launch that wasn’t work-related. I actually showed up at midnight to pick up Modern Warfare 3. But I didn’t go alone. My buddy Pete, a guy who’s absolutely obsessed with the Call of Duty franchise, came with me. As the biggest launch of 2011, there was an absurdly long line. They even had to hire extra help to guide people across the street this line was blocking. (Apparently GameStop has very little faith in the intelligence of CoD players. I guess I don’t entirely blame them.)
What really stood out to me about that night, though, was that one man drove up in a Rascal (yeah, one of those electric scooters that are typically made for old people and morbidly obese women) that was tricked out with an HD TV and an Xbox 360. I swear I’m not making this up. Mr. Rascal scooted around the parking lot playing Modern Warfare 3. He was literally the first person in the Central Time Zone to play the game. (With the exception of reviewers. But I’m going to argue that that’s not entirely accurate, as the reviewers of Modern Warfare 3 were flown to California to play the thing. So they were actually playing it in the Pacific Time Zone. Hell, I played it at E3 in June of that year, which was also in Pacific Time. So I technically don’t count either.)
Needless to say, Mr. Rascal was a happy camper. (He seems like the type of guy who would be a camper too, doesn’t he?)
The other midnight launch I attended last year was for a game I was incredibly excited for: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. And this launch ended up being the most disastrous of all.
You see, I wasn’t even sure there was a midnight launch in my town. But I got that reassuring text that GameStop always sends out before these things, assuring me that I would indeed be able to pick up my copy of Skyward Sword at 12:01 AM.
I showed up at 10 PM (the time I was instructed to finalize my payment), but there was no one at GameStop. Well, there was no one inside GameStop. There was one guy standing outside the shop in the freezing Minnesota winter wearing a damn pillowcase on his head. I guess it was supposed to be his Hylian-type hat or something. Oh, and his girlfriend was there to show him support, but apparently she forgot her pillowcase at home. Or else she just wasn’t completely fucking insane.
I got to talking with Pillowcase-Head for a bit, and I probably don’t need to convince you he was a big-time Zelda fan.
Now, the way I’ve described this guy so far probably has you assuming he was totally bonkers—and that’s probably a fair assessment—but he seemed normal enough to at least carry on a coherent conversation. Mostly about Zelda games and how damn cold it was, but he also had this tendency to throw these not-exactly-subtle sexual remarks toward his girlfriend. I imagine any dude willing to wear a pillowcase on his head in public is probably not all that secure about his sexual prowess, and this guy was obviously showing off the fact that he had a girlfriend supportive enough to stand out in the cold with him on a Saturday night (yeah, Nintendo games tend to come out on Sundays for some reason) for an early copy of Skyward Sword. Good on him.
Needless to say, I left a bit exasperated with the whole situation. I went home and played Metal Gear Solid. Where it was warm.
I returned just before midnight, and not really to my surprise, Pillowcase-Head and Slightly-Less-Crazy-Better-Half were still waiting there. No one had even come to allow us to finalize our purchases. Every time a car pulled into the parking lot, it was assumed it was a GameStop employee, and that person would be hounded by disgruntled Zelda fans until they either drove off in fear or joined the mob.
And that’s really what these things are: mobs. I mean, these people are herded like cattle into these places to pick up a copy of some videogame they’re excited about. And these things often get violent. It’s not completely unheard of for people to get shot and stabbed at these things. (Unfortunately, that actually wasn’t a joke; these things do happen.)
Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume I was the sanest person at the Skyward Sword midnight launch. I mean, the people I’ve described so far aren’t exactly shining beacons of hope in a nation of under-educated b-holes, right?
So I did what any sane person would do: I went home, I went to bed, and I picked up my copy of Skyward Sword on Sunday morning.
So what’s the point of these stories? I don’t really remember. I guess it just goes to show, though, that the people who attend midnight releases of games are insane, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting. And really, I don’t mind hanging out with interesting people, even if I have to stand in the Minnesota cold at midnight to do so.
Oh, and sometimes they have pizza, which is awesome.