A bizarre turn of events involving paper bags, Accident & Emergency and an uncomfortable chair-bed led to me walking through London’s usually bustling Oxford Street last week at quarter to six in the morning. I say usually bustling because it was strangely deserted during my journey, making the scene eerily reminiscent of the start of 28 Days Later (Also filmed during the early hours of the morning, doncha know.), but minus the zombies, although there were people resembling the walking dead, grunting miserably as they slowly shifted down the pavement, an assemblage that included your weary author.
The significance, patient reader, of my traversing Oxford Street at should-be-sleeping’o’clock was that it reminded me of two gaming launch events I’d attended on that very street – actually, the only two gaming launch events I’ve attended ever. The fact that they had both taken place on the same street only hit me in the desolate air of that early morning’s frigidity. I then remembered that both events had been totally embarrassing, encompassing the kind of memories that shouldn’t ever be allowed to resurface. So, in the spirit of Very British Gamer, I selflessly present them to you for your amusement.
The first of these embarrassing launch events occurred just over two years ago on March 23, 2007. Being a smart, stylish, and devilishly handsome kind of reader, you’ve already realised that I’m referring to the European PlayStation 3 launch. If you’re a cheeky kind of reader then you’re already wetting yourself in hysteria at the fact that I actually bought a PS3 at launch. Yes, I must admit that I look back on the £425 I spent, consider how the economy has fucked us all over, and laugh myself to sleep with big man-tears of joy. So, the actual funny part is that that’s not the funny part.
I was (and still am) a huge fan of the PlayStation 2, and as such was sitting-on-hands excited about the PS3’s launch (please stop laughing). Sadly no-one I knew was of similar mind – the prophetic bastards – so I solitarily headed into Central London to the Oxford Street GAME store with the aim of being one of the first Europeans to get their grubby mits on the big black box at a midnight launch. I reached the store at 11:30pm, only to find it as barren of people as I’d find it two years later. The store was completely darkened, and there were only fifteen confused people waiting outside. After talking with the people in the queue, who were as sure as I was that the store had announced that it was having a midnight launch, I decided that maybe it was just going to be a low-key event, and that there was no harm in waiting until midnight to find out. We waited until twenty past midnight; clearly the store was not going to open. I considered trying to find another launch event, but disgruntled I instead decided that rather than doubling my journey’s length by having to use the night buses, I would get the last underground train home, albeit sans a PlayStation 3.
That’s not even the funny part. When I went to GAME in the morning I found out that, because of fears of overcrowding and mugging raised by the police, a bunch of stores had decided to not have a midnight launch for the PS3, including said store. Of course they’d failed to put up just one measly sign to inform Joe Public of this. The funny part? I also learned that the only real midnight launch event that had taken place in London had been on the same, long street but at the Virgin store. It gets worse; all the people in the know who had attended Virgin’s midnight launch got free 46-inch HD televisions. Oh, and just to rub salt into my already deep wounds, apparently they all got a free taxi ride home. Bastards.
OK, technically I didn’t attend a launch event in that story, but I definitely made it to the one in my second story, a story that’s no less embarrassing. This event occurred two months earlier on January 16. It was held at the large HMV store that’s five minutes walk from GAME, and it was for The Burning Crusade expansion pack for the flagship MMORPG World of Warcraft. Now, before I explain what happened, allow me to divulge my situation with the game: I’d only been playing WoW for a few months, but I was enjoying it. I worked in Central London at the time, quite near where the event was occurring, so I decided that I may as well pop by and pick up a copy of the game and some goodies if I was so lucky. Dear reader, this was my first mistake.
I arrived outside HMV at 10:30pm, which I thought was quite early. I was of course wrong; people had been waiting outside the store since the early hours of the morning, and a queue of at least two thousand people had already formed. Two thousand bloody people! At this stage I should have considered my sanity and how I wasn’t even that big on the game, but having never attended a launch event before, I thought it would be good fun to join the queue, a queue that was so ridiculously long that it spanned a sizeable length of the street before turning round into what can only be described as a seedy back alley, except this back alley was filled with grown men and women dressed like LARPers, a sight maybe more terrifying than a thug with a knife. As I passed girls (and boys) in corsets, cloaked men, and green-skinned children, I felt quite underdressed in my dowdy work clothes. Maybe I’m too out of place for this crowd, maybe this queue is too long, and maybe I should go home while I’ve got the chance, I thought, but I figured that it couldn’t take that long to get hold of one wee copy of a game. Another mistake.
It would take until 3am to get the final total of three thousand of us waiting outside in the bitter January cold into the store and out again. That meant I spent four and a half hours in the company of some very nerdy people. In front of me were a group of four middle-aged men who were talking vividly about the trials and tribulations of their time in Zangarmarsh, and as I listened to them I realised their discussion was one of role-play rather than reality. Eurgh. Behind me a group of kids thought it was incredibly funny to constantly shout "WTB A Chair!" or "WTB A queue-jump!" Not even "willing to buy," but "W.T.B." I soon realised that the kind of people who’d queue up for an expansion pack in the middle of the night were probably going to play up to stereotype, unless he or she was some type of fool who thought it would be a laugh to spend their sleeping time waiting in Arctic temperatures for a game they didn’t care that much about. Nevertheless, as the hours ticked away, I actually got into the spirit of things, making (non-role-play) chat with the jovial folk in front of me, and even managing to swag a free WoW shirt (which I would regret in the future – see later). When I picked up one of the last remaining Burning Crusades in the store, signed by a bunch of developers and PR people who I’d never heard of and cannot remember now, I felt satisfied, and made my way home in good spirit.
Unfortunately this led to what would become the source of my fear of an Oxford Street night bus journey two months later. Geography has never been my strong point, in a global or local sense. The only reason I’d previously safely made it back home from Central London in the wee hours was that I was in the company of people who knew what they were doing. Unfortunately, despite my many years in this large city, I don’t think I’d been sober enough on any of those occasions to know how to do it myself, especially not from Oxford Street, a more commercial than nightlife-orientated part of London with a propensity of buses that seemed to go to a bunch of different locations. I plonked myself jadedly on a bus going to Vauxhall, a place reasonably near my home. That would have been fine if I hadn’t drifted asleep during the ride and ended up in South Middle of Nowhere. It was 5am and I was officially lost. Long story short, I got home at 7.45am, giving me a total of fifteen minutes to get ready to take the train back into Central London for work. That day became officially one of the lamest days of my life. I didn’t even get to play Burning Crusade until the next freaking day.
I’ve since learnt not to go to any gaming launch events. They only end up with you missing out on HD-TVs, sleep, or the actual game you want to play. So, what of the WoW shirt? Well, I wore it to the excellent Video Games Live concert later on that year that took place in the Royal Festival Hall. During the interval a couple of pimply kids came up to me, staring intently at said shirt.
"We’ve found another one!" said one of them. I stared back.
"Um,” I mumbled, hoping they weren’t talking to me.
"Young liege, which server do you play on?" Oh God, more WoW nerds.
"Aggramar,” I resignedly replied. At least there was no way they could be on the same serv-..
"That’s the same server as us! We shall have to add you to our guild – yes, he shall become part of us…"
Luckily my girlfriend was there, gloriously returning from the ladies to bravely inform the pestering kids that I was already with her, whisking me away and sparing me from reliving the nightmare of the Burning Crusade launch. As I passed by HMV last week I felt grateful for her, the heroine that had saved me from awful, scary nerds.
The moral of this week’s column is don’t go to launch events, and make sure you’ve got a girlfriend.