November 10, 2004

The Red Hot Halo: Scoring a Copy of "2"


It would be one thing to "Vote or Die," quite another to choose between "Vote or play Halo 2."

He's 10 years old and living with him is, at times, like living with a surfing Tom Sawyer who studies Karate. He's getting very good at Karate very fast. I think if this goes on I'm going to have to either arm myself, or at least fortify the office, since he's fond of demonstrating what he's learned for his mother and the handiest demonstration object is me.

But, like most 10 year olds in this world, his real love isn't surfing, or chess, or even leaping off the stairs so we can re-enact Kato Vs. Detective Clouseau. No, he worships, adores and lives for video games.

And right now, as if anyone in the cosmos didn't know it, the video game of the century is Halo 2.

To describe his emotions as the long ballyhooed release of Halo 2 approached as anything less than pure pre-adolescent lust would be understate it by a factor of 10. He'd put in a reservation for the game 10 months ago -- a bit of forward planning seldom seen in Pentagon war planners; and an eternity in the life of a 10 year old. He'd sold off old and used up video games at the GameSpot and hoarded the store credits. He'd begun stashing money away a few months ago with the single-mindedness of a squirrel preparing for winter at the North Pole. As the days ticked down to a precious few, his eyes grew larger. It was like waiting for Christmas Eve in November.

Then, late Monday night, THE CALL came. "This is GameSpot. We will begin selling Halo 2 at midnight tonight. Your reserved copy is here and it will be held for 48 hours and then sold. Please come in and collect it. Click."

Joy. Buckets of bouncing joy. Joy similar to watching Road Runner careen about the landscape beeping. But then... despair.

The awful realization hit that Tuesday was a "school day," and you are not sprung from school to collect a video game no matter how universe shattering it may be. This would mean, at best, you would have to wait all through school ("Oh, eternity!"), then attend your Karate class after school ("Oh, eternity cubed!"), then come home, do homework, have dinner, and then beg to be driven to the GameSpot and then be driven back. ("Not even God has this much time!") Why it could be almost 9 PM before you even got home with Halo 2 and then bedtime would be 9:30 and.... the agony could not be more protracted. What to do? What to do?

Solution: Draft the Stay-at-Home Stepfather. Ask, plead, whine, wheedle, bribe with 50% of remaining Halloween candy stash, and beg for him to pick it up during the day. Chance of success -- 75%.

Superior solution: Get mom to ask the Stay-at-Home Stepfather. Chance of success 125% and rising.

And so it was that I found myself traveling out into the midday mall scene in southern California to pick up his "Precious."

Midday mall scenes are always, as I have noted before, like journeys into "The World of Women;" not a lot of men about who have not taken up residence as either the hard-core unemployed or LeisureWorld. But today, it seems, is different as soon as you approach GameSpot.

GameSpot is a small store in a Target-anchored mall just off the 73 in this part of the world. Usually I go there on the weekends when my stepson needs a Strategy Guide or wants to see what he can palm off on the staff for store credit. Whenever I've been there have been no more than three other customers in the store on a weekend day. Not so today. Today, at 2 in the workday afternoon, the door bulges with the tail-end of the line. The line is formed of at least two men across from the door to the cash registers. That makes about 25 people ahead of me.

The staff of GameSpot, hardcore gamers all, numbers three. All three have the dark circles under their eyes and the expression known as "The Thousand Yard Stare." They are making an effort to impose order the line, but it is clear that crowd control is not their forte. Still, somehow, it works.

The process is to be vetted as you join the line. "Here to pick up reserved Halo?" Answer "No" and you are advised to return on the following Saturday.

Then, like some security check at an airport, a staff member takes a close look at your reservation slip and clears you again.

After about 20 minutes you get your chance at the cash register and are, at that point, asked to provide a picture ID to go with your reservation slip.

"It's not the same name as on the slip."

"I'm picking it up for my step-son."

"Dude, not the same name as it is on the reservation slip."

"Look at me. I'm too old for "dude", dude. It is for... my... STEP-son."

"Oh... oh... different names, yes. Okay. Sorry. Have to be careful."

"Has it been bad?"

"I've been working for 16 hours. You wouldn't believe it. This," gestures at the two dozen now behind me in the line, "is actually a lull."

We complete the transaction and I return home with the "precious." It's waiting there when he gets home and I don't think I've ever seen a package opened and a game system booted more quickly.

What follows is a merciless annihilation of all the opposition on the ship followed by planetfall into "New Mombasa;" an environment that looks suspiciously like "Blackhawk Down VI" populated with metallic insects among other things. I'm sure there is a subtext to this game that will probably bear some deeper scrutiny, but for now I'm just happy that he's happy.

Actually, "happy" doesn't quit cover it at all. And "joy" falls short as does "ecstasy."

What is clear is that it is probably just as well that Halo 2 wasn't released on last Tuesday, November 2. If it had been, the youth vote would have evaporated completely. It would be one thing to "Vote or Die," quite another to choose between "Vote or play Halo 2."

Posted by Vanderleun at November 10, 2004 11:50 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

At least he isn't begging for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Yet.

Posted by: Stephen B at November 10, 2004 12:09 PM

[Looking around the house. Only girls here. Ahhhhhh!]

Oh, um, sorry. Hope you survived your foray into the 4th circle. May your return journey be relatively unobscured!

Posted by: Woody at November 10, 2004 12:28 PM

Speaking as a father with three of my own, he sounds like a great kid, well aware of what he needs to do to get what he wants. I'm impressed by his behavior (especially at raising the money himself and getting someone else to pick the game up for him). I predict a fine future for him.

Posted by: Bill Peschel at November 10, 2004 12:31 PM

Actually, given the content of Grand Theft Auto, that would probably be forbidden to him.

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun at November 10, 2004 12:40 PM

I don't know how to break it to you Gerard, but it continues into their 20's. My middle son is a navy diver, 24 years old, and he is still plotting and coniving to get the latest games.

Posted by: Bill at November 10, 2004 6:57 PM

I just got mine, but I haven't actually played it yet. I know that when I do, I won't be seen again for quite a while.

Posted by: Eric Blair at November 11, 2004 5:36 AM

I just fired mine up and managed to get through a few checkpoints before being killed by an elite that snuck up behind me - I really suck at these games, but the tech is so neat that I have to try them out at least. I'm 62, surf,and flew gliders, but the hand and eye coordination of the real gameplayers is amazing and I don't have it. I went through the first Halo accompanied by my 17 year old nephew who is hot, but my wife and I are going to have to do this on on our own. Wish us luck!

Posted by: Hunt Johnsen at November 11, 2004 7:52 PM