Afternoon Retail: A Modern Gamer’s Epic
By Karl Castaneda
This past Friday, I headed down to The Falls, a mall in my hometown of Miami, Florida. I was there to meet up with some friends to see X3, but I got there pretty early, so I decided to walk over to the Electronics Boutique. Now, I usually avoid the store, due to a hairy situation that I was involved in a while back, but I was pretty bored, and there wasn’t much of an alternative. With a good hour to kill, I walked in.
Touching is Believing
Not soon after I’d entered the store, I heard a mother talking to the clerk about purchasing a PSP for her son. Since the demo kiosks were all being used, I decided to eavesdrop. Apparently the son wanted a DS, but the clerk was making the point that a PSP would be a better decision as, “it can play different media formats and has a bigger library of games.” I’m not usually one to point out inaccuracy, but the fact that this woman was going to be suckered into paying extra when she wanted a product of higher quality made me shed my obscurity, and I entered the conversation.
“Actually, I think your son would have a better time with a DS, and it’s much cheaper,” I said.
“But he was saying that the PSP has more games, right?” the woman asked.
“It does, ma’am; just look at our PSP section,” he said, gesturing to the movie-laden rack.
“Well, most of those are movies, not games.”
“I want a Nintendo DS, mom,” the boy said.
“I think we’ll get one of those, then,” the mother said to the clerk.
I could’ve let it end there, but I didn’t like that this clerk almost got away with duping this woman into buying a PSP. “Well, if you wait until mid-June, you can buy the new DS, which is a lot more efficient than the one they sell here, and it’ll be the same price.”
“I don’t know… He wanted to get one today,” she said.
“I want the new one!” the boy exclaimed.
“Okay, I guess we’ll wait, then. You said it’s the same price, right?”
“Okay. Thanks,” she said, and they headed out the door, much better off..”
I turned around to see the hateful and pimpled face of the store clerk; he didn’t look happy. “We need to unload these PSPs, man. Can you please just let me do my job?”
There was no point in being antagonistic at that point; I’d done my duty, and at the end of the day, that’s what counts.
The line had dwindled down to a single person at the Blazing Angels kiosk, so I walked over to it, watching the guy in front of me have a seemingly good time with the tutorial; I decided to hang out until he'd finished. A few minutes later, a guy came up to the demo, looking curious and interested. Here's where things got interesting.
I think we all know line etiquette; when you see someone in line for a product, you get behind them. But this guy; etiquette was not on his agenda, and he had the tenacity to not only disregard the stand-behind rule, he actually slid in front of me and started asking questions like, "Yo, when are you gonna be done?" and "Hey, can I get in on that for a sec?" I did not appreciate this man.
When the formerly immersed player had finally given in and released his grip on the white controller, the evil bastard of the tale was checking out the June 2006 issue of Game Informer, which he'd actually removed from the plastic. Truly, he was a menace of unknown limits, and I was determined to win our duel.
I slinked in stealthily to the controller, and my hands clamped down with the tightness of finality, but our villain, our fucking Sephiroth, was not content with the way things had turned out. But he was not your average loudmouth, oh no, he was a different breed. He tried to guilt the situation to his favor. "Oh hey, dude, listen; I was reading this, but I was actually in line to play that game."
Did he not see me there before he had even noticed the prospects of flight simulation? He most certainly have had to, and I wasn't going to fall for his ploy. "Yeah, so was I, actually," I retorted.
"Oh... Well, I'm gonna be leaving soon, so is it alright if I skip you?"
Hmm. Now, this presented a challenge. Maybe he was just dull-witted and hadn't seen me there after all. And now he was asking me for compassion; asking me to be the bigger man. Not wanting to disappoint, I relinquished control of my metal wings and surrendered to our former antagonist. He played with much delight.
I hung out there, behind him, for what must have been an excess of fifteen minutes. He was not "leaving soon," after all; I had been duped. Touché', you son of a bitch.
Taking Up the Sword
I eventually made my way down to the GameCube area, and strangely enough, Super Smash Bros. Melee was there to be played. It's rare that a GameStop or EB will put in an actual game (at least, in my area), so I waited until a controller was free. I said hello to my opponent, a kid no older than 13, and chose Young Link, my fighter of choice. "Are you new at the game?" he asked.
Perplexed, I answered, "Nope, not really. Why?"
"Well, it's just that when I play this game against other people, the guy doesn't know much picks Young Link."
The match started. It ended quickly.
"I guess you're not new to the game," he said.
"Oh, hey, Smash Bros."
It was an angelic voice; noticeably feminine. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her; she was attractive and most definitely not overweight, which seems to be the norm at game shops, unfortunately. So I turned to my side to get a good look at her, knowing that true love was a few feet away...
I'm not saying she was ugly, but she certainly reminded me of the reason peripheral vision is overrated. My stunning off-center beauty had been transformed into what appeared to be what would happen if you threw Larry King into a blender. Okay, so she was ugly. And I don't have high standards, either; lord knows I'm no catch. She must have seen me flinch (and trust me, I did), because her demeanor seemed to freeze into a scowling and rude beast. She grunted (angel with horns; you know the type) and gripped the Player 1 controller. She picked Peach. "You any good?" she asked.
"So that's a 'no?'"
Don't get me wrong; I love the ladies; they rev my engine (Can you guess this reference? Dial now!), but this girl seemed to get more annoying with every second she continued to exist. And she wasn't a looker in any sense of the word (unless you're looking away, ahahaha), so there wasn't any sort of reason to put up with it. And with that, it was on.
It turned out that this chick was no joke; she was actually pretty good at Smash Bros., and my health percentage climbed to 102 while her own had barely touched the 30's. I was in trouble; my honor was now in question, and people were crowding around us, to make matters worse. We were in Hyrule Temple in a 3-Stock Match. It wasn't over yet, but man, I was not off to a great start.
That's when old faithful showed up: the land mine. I quickly planted it down and headed toward her for a little skirmish. Letting her believe that I was on the run in an attempt to escape damage, she charged forward unsuspectingly, and of course, was affected by the explosion. I dashed at her and executed a quick smash move, followed by a spin attack. Then, in what can only be called a miracle, I spotted a beam sword. The tables had been turned, and with a little juggling, I sent her flying. She had two lives left.
She made it known that she meant business, however, and I have to give it to her; she made quick work of me, quickly leaving me with only one life left. She had around 50% damage on her. I threw a Party Ball into the air and thanked whatever deity exists for its wonderful bounty: a hammer. A couple hits later she, too, only had one life left.
I'll be honest; I don't remember much of what happened in the next five minutes or so; I was so deep into "the zone" that it's hard to recall what transpired, but I do know that we were both damaged enough that a swift attack would send us flying. I ran. She followed. I jumped up in the air, and when I saw one of her hands leave the controller to scratch her shoulder, I was ruthless.
She yelled, and that is by no means an understatement. "I took one of my hands off, dude! That's not fucking fair!"
Yeesh; screw this noise. It was almost time for me to meet my friends down at United Artists, anyway, so I waved a half-hearted goodbye and started walking toward the door.
By the Way, Here's the Meaning of Gaming
Something startled me on the way out. I saw a little girl playing the DS; it had Nintendogs in it. What I couldn't wrap my head around was how she seemed to be in complete bliss. She was laughing, smiling a kind of smile that I hadn't experienced in years, and just loving life, all because of a tiny silicon chip.
Sometimes I forget, with all of the distractions of the industry (like the handheld wars, line etiquette, and some crazy uggo getting pissed about losing in Smash Bros.) what makes us all gamers as kids; that simple, playful joy in toying around with something for the first time. Here was some grade-schooler, completely unable to support the hobby without her parents, getting into interactive software in a way that I hadn't in many moons. It was a little sobering, to say the least.
And Nintendogs, even! I mean, that game isn't even that good; it's not even really a game. But hey, whatever floats your eight-year-old boat, right? She was probably having more fun with that digital puppy than I had playing and dissecting Resident Evil 4.
More importantly, though, I was not running a little late to buy my tickets. I opened the door, when I heard the clerk from before say, "Hey, you're gonna cheat me out of a sail, and you're not even gonna buy anything?"
Scratch that. Life's hilarious.