I SWEAR THIS IS THE LAST TIME. The rain hits the road in fast, angry sheets. The night is cold, dour and windy. I can barely make out shapes in my windscreen. Why am I doing this?
My car trip feels more like Rockstar’s L.A. NOIRE than the sunny optimism of Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos setting. I could turn the car around and join the rest of the sensible, full-time working adults. All fast asleep. But against all reason and despite the weather, here I am, driving the weary twenty minutes to JB Hi-Fi.
10.55 As a veteran of the midnight launch, I hedge my bets and opt for an hour waiting time. It’s a balancing act between getting a good spot in the line and mind-numbing boredom compounded by a) being surrounded by strangers and b) the absence of furniture to wait on. Shopping centres are designed for pedestrian traffic, not pedestrians in lines. I’ve packed a Nintendo 3DS (along with Animal Crossing and Pokemon Black 2) and a notebook. I considered dragging my laptop and my DSLR with me. I could finally fulfil my romantic notions of gumshoe journalism. I’m glad I didn’t. In fact, I recorded all my notes and pictures on my iPhone.
11.05 I start to panic. Earlier in the day JB Hi-FI had sent a terse text message to get my ass to their (optional) midnight launch, but, they didn’t tell me where I could park my car. Logistical problems worry me. It occupies my thoughts for the rest of the dour and tired drive. Which is a better prospect than the ongoing monologue telling me how I could be asleep. Warm. Dry.
11.08 I approach the car park entrance with some fear. However, the ticket machine is obedient. I don’t need to drive through it. That’s a disappointing thought. Wait… does this mean I’ll have to pay later? 3 hours of free parking the backlit sign answers back. Those eager gamers who arrived at 10pm should be covered. I drive past a crowded car park that gives gamers easy access to EB Games, the other retailer doing a midnight launch tonight.
11.10 Travelling down the escalator, I see the line of gamers waiting for midnight. It’s a young crowd, early twenties, predominately male. My presence is pushing the market demographics to ‘depressingly old’.
11.11 I give the JB Hi-Fi security guard some cheek. He’s of islander descent, like me. He proudly wears a Waiktao Chiefs Super Rugby jersey. They beat the ACT Brumbies in the Championship this year, further souring Aussie/Kiwi rugby relations. Last week when I placed my pre-order, I told him I hope the All Blacks lose against South Africa (he was sporting an All Blacks jersey then). He reminded me of Samoa beating the Wallabies. Yeah, that hurt. He grins upon my entry and asks if I’m happy that the Wallabies won. Ignoring his snark I give off some false confidence and bravado, “Of course they had it in the bag”. In reality, I was actually praying to every existing deity to give thanks for the close win. It’s all in good fun and it’s working on lifting my spirits.
11.12 There is no one in the store browsing the JB wares. Lost opportunity. The extensive range makes the browsing more interesting than EB Games midnight launch. There are some deals on games and accessories. Staff push the official game guide during the receipt check. I turn it down, I’m all done, for now. I just need to line up like everyone else. I decide this is a good time to check out what EB Games is doing tonight.
11.13 Gamers are comfortably spread out on the food court furniture. They’re all waiting patiently for midnight. There is a small line inside the store as customers square off their pre-orders with staff. No fake cocaine on the counter top. It’s not a bad set up for a midnight launch. Toilets and vending machines are close by, the mood is calm. Not enough hype guys.
11.14 There are some cosplaying EB staff, gamers who have gone the extra step to organise some activities for their aloof and shy demographic. We have a Hitman type and a sassy female cop that takes me back to PAX Australia. The Hitman staff member announces that they’re going to run the final competition for the night.
11.15 It’s a graffiti competition! Tag our shop windows! Do the best tag to get first position in the queue! Intriguing. As soon as he announces the prize, we have instant nerd discontent. Now he is offering either first place or a free guide book because one dedicated fan was here before everyone else and is really mad about being potentially second. Just tag the window you idiot.
11.17 I decide to grab a few pictures of the customer graffiti. It’s fun, most of the crowd seems into it. Others are discussing things like the upcoming Pokemon game, Kanto starters… Wait a minute. You guys look kind of young. The crowd at EB Games is pretty similar to mine, late teens to early twenties, mostly male. I take from this data that many of these gamers were kids when they played the previous GTA games on the PlayStation 2. I note that everyone here seems to have posters. I would like a poster. Posters are cool.
11.20 Walking back to JB Hi-Fi (on the same floor, just on opposite ends of the mall), I decide I will browse the Blu-Rays because there is so much time left. Even now I am procrastinating on weeding my town in Animal Crossing. Figures.
11.21 I am thirsty. Thank god for vending machines! Thank god for vending machines that take cards! Hooray!
11.23 Browsing the Blu-Rays I get a weird sensation. I am not being constantly interrupted by people wanting to get past me. I’m browsing JB Hi-Fi’s wares as if it were a library. Quiet and like I have all the time in the world. It’s an odd and relaxing experience. You can hear your thoughts clearly, like, maybe I do want that Into Darkness box set with the model Enterprise from Hot Wheels. Wait, didn’t you hate that movie? Yes, but Benedict Cumberbatch… KAAAAAAAHHHHNNNN!
11.38 After talking myself out of a dozen Blu-Rays and second hand NDS games, I wander outside to find a pew. The line has expanded out of no where. It snakes all the way from the opening of the store towards Target (who aren’t open tonight, but are selling it for a kiss and a handshake…) and doesn’t seen like stopping. Great. Just great.
11.39 I resign myself to a modest Green Storm Mother Energy Drink and a comfy leather sofa. Not long now.
11.47 I get up instinctively like a trained rat. I am such a chump. I am cursing myself for standing up, when I could be sitting down. They haven’t left the air conditioning running and the mass of patient gamers starts to feel a little sweaty and tense. Not long now.
11.49 Check my Nintendo 3DS for Street Passes. It’s the fifth time I’ve done this. No one. It’s not surprising to learn that the GTA demographic may not vibe with your average Nintendo fan. Most gamers are gaming on their smart phones. Bejeweled and Candy Crush seem popular. I return to my town in Animal Crossing. Sure are a lot of weeds…
12.00 No count down. No cheers of joy from the crowd. It’s a patient line of gamers that braved wild elements for a hundred bucks worth of video entertainment. They just want their thing and to get out of here. The line is moving quickly. We’re told only ten in the store at a time. I’m agitated. My jumper feels superfluous, I’m getting tired and cranky. I want this night to end. AND WHY ARE THERE SO MANY WEEDS…
12.24 I’m homeward bound. Thank. God. My bleary eyed state means the cashier could have put rocks in my bag. I don’t care any more. I want to go home. Oh, they also gave out posters on the way out. I saw more than one gamer take more than one. Come on guy…
12.26 I make my way to the car park an the cool air is a welcome relief. The rain was good for something after all. Parked next to my car is a tired young lady playing Bejeweled, oblivious to the activity around her. I suspect she’s waiting for her boyfriend. I give her some mental kudos. She deserves a dedication trophy. Time to go home.