On Lining Up In A Parking Lot In Order To Sit At Home Alone

Posted on November 11, 2011

Call of Duty is probably the most popular video game there is.  Chances are very high indeed that, even if you have no idea what it is, you’ve at least heard the name.  The basic facts are these:  Call of Duty is a video game series which puts players in various battlefield scenarios (WWII, the Cold War, the modern era) and turns them loose to murder each other ceaselessly.  Sure these games (and others of its ilk) have “campaigns” wherein players play out a story with various plot twists and action sequences, but the single player experience is fast becoming irrelevant.  The real fun is running around with guns and grenades like a maniac, trying not to die.

Killing time.

The newest Call of Duty game, subtitle: Modern Warfare 3, was released earlier this week.  A tuesday, to be precise.  Gamers around the globe couldn’t wait.  The buildup and anticipation were almost more than could be borne by this strange, sunlight avoiding subculture.  Demand was so great, in fact, that retailers the world over saw fit to hold midnight openings, so that the gaming legions could get the thing into their hands as soon as possible.  It is this strange morass into which I and my man Double M waded.

To hell with you, social life!

We pulled up around 11:30 PM to the Merivale Best Buy.  Humorously, said Best Buy is in a giant strip mall featuring EB Games and Future Shop games locations, so just imagine a desolate big box parking lot, with not one, not two, but three sad lineups of dudes waiting to have some fun.  There is nothing quite like a strip mall parking lot at midnight.  It takes something from you…  We rolled past the Best Buy line and counted furiously.  Seven females.  Not bad.  Probably a 30:1 male to female ratio, but hey, decent.  We drifted over to EB Games to see what the scene was over there.  The staff were all outfitted with Modern Warfare t-shirts, black toques and warpaint.  They looked terrifying.  I asked the guy at the cash how many copies they had, and he refused to tell me, which I found rather strange.  We saw a guy outside seated on a skateboard, looking bored out of his mind.

“Are you the first in line?” I asked him excitedly.

“No, I’m second, those guys are first” he responded with an undertone of defeat.  He had utterly no insights.  My questioning yielded nothing.

In the line there were some prepared people with chairs, and a gang of people working a sheesha pipe pretty hard.  I’m sure it was just tobacco.  They looked like they were having a good time.  Almost everyone looked to be about university age, or thereabouts.  Weirdly the line became considerably less dense as you followed the snake to its tail.  By the end there was about five feet between each person.  The EB Games line was okay, but it wasn’t really swinging.  We moseyed over to Best Buy.

I immediately sought out the first in line, which turned out to be a couple of kids and their dad.  They had been there since four o’clock that afternoon!  The second people in line had been there since six thirty, meaning that these kids had been the line for over two hours.  Serious dedication.  The kids were wired.  Sugar and anticipation and bloodlust and everything.  They couldn’t sit still.  I offered to buy their place in line, and they quoted me a price of $100.  I was half tempted to do it, just to say that I did.  But I didn’t.  Making small talk I asked the kids what style they played (it’s a gamer thing, you see).  They answered:

“I quickscope”.  A terrible, cheap practice, whereby one exploits the game mechanics to run around shooting a highly powerful sniper rifle from the hip.  I told the kid he sucked and that I hated him, and that everyone hated him.  I think this made him happy.

“I rush”.  I nod approvingly.  This means that you tear through the battlefield like a maniac, without heed for your personal safety, much less your comrades.  It works, if you’re good (i.e. not me).  The opposite is to camp, or stay in one place and wait for rushers to rush by and then blast them.  I don’t understand why, but most players absolutely hate campers.  Passionately.

Then one pale, brace-faced, far too small for his age, little kid – sort of a 21st century Tiny Tim – looks up at me and says “I’m a hacker” with enormous pride.  I do a double take.  Whaaaat?  His dad sort of shrugs and smiles goofily, like, hey kids these days!

Then they all start chirping about being hackers.  Turns out that the little guy has some $800 piece of technology which allows him to grief servers and generally wreck people’s games and online entities.  They laugh about this.  They can erase your character, or change the game rules to always win, or otherwise destroy the game completely.  And Evil Tiny Tim is thirteen years old.  Digital Bob Cratchit seems proud of his son, even as he details to me various details of his sociopathic crimes.  Where does a thirteen year old get eight hundred bucks?

Where is Scrooge when you need him?

More teenagers crowd around, and start talking over each other to tell me all about how they totally pwn noobs (this means “to own newbies” or to beat and humiliate players who suck; there is little worse than being a noob in this community.  It is very results oriented) and they give me some websites to check out if I want to learn how to hack.  I ask if I’m too old, and they assure me that I’m not.  A couple of weeks, they say, and I can start writing simple viruses.  Great!  I summarize by saying “so you guys are going to sit out here for eight hours, and pay lots of money so you can go home and ruin the game for everyone else as quickly as possible?”.  Right.  They beam.

I ask the kids if they plan to stay up late playing.  Of course!  In fact, their mother has given them permission to take the following day off of school to murder people online.  For real.  I leave them and go to the end of the line to wait my turn.

There I make some new friends, and we talk strategy and such.  They brag incessantly about their style, and their favourite guns, and which video game system is better.  I asked them insistently but not one could explain why they had such hatred for the systems that they don’t play on, oh but they do.  These are angry people, in their way.  If they don’t like something, they don’t like it a lot.  One guy in the line (whose fly is rampantly undone the whole time; I don’t have the heart to tell him) insists over and over that he’s not even going to buy a copy.  He’s just here because his friend is, you see.  Naw, he doesn’t even really like Call of Duty that much.  Later he dutifully purchases a copy, for which I razz him.

It’s almost twelve when my favourite part of the evening transpires.  A truck pulls into the parking lot and slowly creeps down the length of the line.  The dudes inside have some kind of PA system and the driver grabs a microphone and crouches down so that we can’t exactly see him.  His amplified voice rings out across the desolate parking lot:  “Operation No Pussy is in full effect!”.  The geeks in the line chuckle and the ones without girlfriends shuffle nervously.  The truck dudes drive off, having come all that way, and rigged up a sound system for one quip.  It’s awesome.  Now I feel a certain solidarity with the nerds.  I want to rally my brothers in arms against the jocks.  They are unmoved.

Then the doors open, and to my great disappointment there is no fanfare, no excitement, no nothing.  Ten at a time.  Right this way.  Thank you.  And in they go.  The line creeps forward glacially.  And of course people start to emerge with bags in hand.  They bow their heads and try not to draw attention to themselves, betraying no emotion whatsoever.  Until, that is, they make it unmugged to their cars.  Then they start honking and drive past the line holding up their copy, taunting us.  I scream “you’re not better than us!!” at them.  I offered one of the guys twenty bucks if he could grab a game from an open window.  He tries halfheartedly, his resolve affected by the massive amounts of dope he’s obviously consumed.

We move along a bit more and then a black Tahoe comes creeping into the area.  It’s a big, intimidating truck.  The windows are blackened.  The driver’s side window slowly descends to reveal a tough looking white gangster type, with a black flat-brimmed hat and plaid jacket (who know, the kind Mexican gangsters like).  The line gets real quiet.  “Hardened Edition for sale.  I’ve got three copies”.  This is a special, limited edition version, which comes with crappy extras and costs way more.  No one stirs.  Except me.

“How much?” I inquire.

“How much do you want to pay?” he smells blood in the water.

“Nothing, I’m just curious”.  He’s really not happy about that.  Then I notice that has a poster in one hand.  One of my dope-smoking buddies expressed interest in a poster.  “How much for the poster?”

“I’ll give that to you for free”.  I run up like a seal seeing how close he can get to an orca.  I grab the poster without getting knifed, run back to my spot, and present it to my new friend.  Thanks man!  The Tahoe slowly crawls over to EB Games.  I don’t think their brilliant money making scheme netted the results they were after.

The perfect vehicle for selling methamphetamines to children.

More time passes, I yell at more people, and finally it’s our turn.  We’re pressed up against the locked door.  One of my companions is getting antsy.  He starts hitting the door with the poster I gave him.  The zoo animals are restless.  A Best Buy worker drunk with power waddles over and turns the key.  We’re in.  The entire store is cordoned off (too bad, I was thinking of looking at TVs or Friends DVDs just to waste time and make people crazy) except a lane funnelling us directly to a table.  You say what system you want, and they give you the drugs and a wonderful free t-shirt, and send you off to the cash.  I’m wearing the shirt now.  Pretty nice, eh?

Phalanx of party girls not pictured. They get so shy when the camera comes out.

There’s a very pretty girl directing traffic.  I ask if any of the dudes have tried to ask her out.  She seems genuinely surprised and says “no!”.  I ask the guy at the counter if there were any fights or trouble.  Nope.  Nothing.  I whoop with satisfaction when my transaction is finished and emerge into the cold, dead night.  It’s past 1 AM now.  The line is done, and almost everyone has dispersed.  Double M and I head over to the car chuckling about the bizarre evening we’ve had, and steeling ourselves for the derision we’ll have to endure.  There are almost no cars left, just a few stragglers upon the orange-lit asphalt sea.  There is a car directly beside ours.  It’s the guy with the poster and the guy with his fly undone.  They ask us if we want to smoke up in their car.  I politely decline.  We exchange gaming handles, but it turns out we’re on different systems so we can’t play one another.  Alas.  We head off to our homes, after an unsuccessful pit stop at a closed Wendy’s drive through.  We stay up until 2:30 playing, and it’s a hell of a time.

*    *    *

A note to my tree-hugging, consensus-based decision-making, no fun-having readers:  knock it off.  You’re thinking right now one of three things:

  • That’s horrible, war isn’t fun!  Murder is wrong!
  • What’s the point?  That’s stupid.  It’s not real.
  • Why can’t there be games about cooperating and building communities?
To your points:
  • Right.  The good news is:  this isn’t real, and therefore players will not necessarily become violent, gun-toting killers.
  • It’s fun.  Lots of things with value aren’t “real”:  religion, fashion, falling in love with a prostitute, and so on.
  • That’s called life.  Games are designed in part to escape its horrible drudgery for a spell.  Also, such games would be horrible.
*    *    *
And:  there is absolutely no irony to be drawn from the fact that I published this on Remembrance Day.  If anything I can finally really understand what our brave veterans went through.  Thanks again video games.
Posted in: Journalism