THE MUMBLINGS OF ADAM VOITH
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PS2 vs. GAMECUBE: WE HAVE A WINNER
Monday, Nov. 26, 2001 @ 12:34 am

Here’s a post for anyone that’s been a long-time reader, carried over from the older site.

Some of you will remember many months ago when I became a scavenger for the Playstation 2 game system. When you get into video games, you enter a new world – a world that comes off not unlike sitting in a room filled with baseball fanatics when you’ve never paid the sport any mind.

The kids working in gaming stores are a new type of creature. They’re catalogs of tech stats, release dates, cheat codes, and trade-in values. My wife and I had an honest-to-God experience seeking the Playstation 2 console.

Suddenly, after a year of quiet video game playing in our family room (removed from the employees of the game stores), we find ourselves faced with a dilemma. The Nintendo GameCube seems to be kicking the shit out of Playstation 2, and something has to be done.

Joy saw a few GameCube titles in action, freaked out and became giddy with the realization that on Nintendo, you get the games that look like cartoons. Nintendo’s GameCube dishes out the cute characters – the characters that whistle. The main force behind this realization was a game called Super Monkey Ball. This game is like a call back to the days of Marble Madness with all the gusto of the past 15 years of gaming crammed in the right spots.

I know some strange folks. A good friend has a brother named Casey, who sometimes cuts his hair in a style that’s too close to a Mohawk. Casey had a dream. He was at a wild party, and Kool Keith was in attendance. Keith is leaving the party in something of a rush, pulls Casey aside, stuffs a scrap of paper into his hand, says “Call this number,” and runs out the door like some kind of scandal.

In his dream, Casey looks at the paper scrap, and then dials the number. It’s been only a few minutes, but Keith answers. It must be his mobile number, because he answers right away. Kool Keith answers Casey’s call on his cellphone without saying hello. He answers the phone and in a sassy voice says: “You’re a bitch.”

Another guy I know works at the make-up counter at Nordstrom. He has bleached blonde hair, wears ripped up and tight red sweaters and punk rock bracelets while he puts chalky faces on middle-aged women and bubbly teens. I can sit in the mall and watch this guy work for hours on end, never getting bored.

Truth is, I don’t really know the make-up counter guy. But I can watch him work for hours, and I feel like I know him though he doesn’t wear a nametag and I’d have no clue what to call him if we spoke. But, I know him enough to know that I know some strange folks.

But get this: Casey and the make-up counter guy don’t compare to the game store employees. Full on cases, these guys.

Today, Joy and I went to seven different locations in search of the Nintendo GameCube video game system. We will sell our Playstation 2 through an auction, and buy the GameCube to replace it, and spank that old Playstation 2 on its ass, ruling with the new and tiny GameCube like a system one year old never could.

After doing some pricing research, Joy and I came to the pleasant realization that by selling the PS2 used along with our games, we’d make enough cash to replace the system with the GameCube, get a few games and an extra controller, and still come out on top. Nintendo’s got their pricing down $100.00 from Sony. The decision to swap has us feeling like clever consumers. If we were to do the real math, dollar to dollar over the past year, we’d be embarrassed for certain.

We visited seven stores today in search for the GameCube. It was raining, and somehow riding around in the rain in heavy shopping traffic felt good.

The first stop was Best Buy. This place is crazy all the time, but on Thanksgiving weekend it’s straight up madness. The section on the shelves for the GameCube was bare. There was even some dust there.

Below Best Buy is the largest Target in the world. Their locked display cases were empty. Joy risked it and decided to talk to the kid behind the counter. But the dudes that work in electronics at Target aren’t, necessarily, full on game store employees. These guys can, at times, play it straight. Today, we were in luck. The guy gave us the straight scoop. He didn’t have any in. The last time they were in stock was Saturday, when they received six units. They sold out immediately. He expects a small shipment of the system Tuesday.

We thanked the guy, and headed back to the car. It was encouraging news. We’d push forward, with a mental note that Target might come through in a few days.

Across from the Best Buy / Target mini-mall is a gaming specialty store. This is our normal video game stop. The same “manager” is always on duty, usually with one other lackey, a kid the “manager” forces the dirty work on. They’re both 18 years old.

“Nope,” says the lackey. “Don’t know when we’re gonna get them back in.”

The manager steps over to do his thing. He smiles and starts dishing out the numbers of people asking for the system, the speed with which they sell them out. He does this with precision, careful not to lead us to another store. The trick for these guys is to come off as experts (people you’d want to buy from, employees you can trust) without knowing a single damn thing.

Once they’ve disposed of your question with teenaged mind games, they pitch you the newest game for some system you don’t own (they assume you own them all, all the way back to the Sega Genesis, and still actively play each of them). The manager might tell you how great this new game is, how it just came out two days ago, and how it’s a really long game and he didn’t beat it until this morning.

This was a bit more discouraging than Target, but there’s an entire process that goes into weighing what the official game store employees say. We decided we’d move on, keep up the search.

We made a quick stop at a K-Mart. No dice. The store was jam packed, too busy to even talk to the woman behind the counter. Although there was a mysterious box inside a K-Mart bag behind the locked glass (a return?), we didn’t bother to ask if it might be a GameCube. This woman looked pissed, and we were slightly scared. We headed out.

Downtown, we found a store in a big mall, another specialty store with legit game store employees. I entered with caution as Joy scoped out a gift store for some stocking stuffer ideas. Inside, I asked a kid behind the counter if he had any GameCube systems in stock. He looked at me like I was stupid, and then laid down his line in tones to suggest that he’d delivered it no less than two hundred times since noon. “Nah, man,” with a little laugh. “It’s totally random when the shipments come in. And when they do, they’re gone qui…”

“Did you say GameCube?” A voice from behind me, some kid stocking a shelf. I turn around and size this one up. He looks mildly trustworthy.

“Yeah,” I say with a certain calm.

“We’ve got one we can sell,” he says.

“I’ll take it,” I say too quickly.

There’s some commotion behind the counter, and the kid stocking shelves begins to explain to the dude behind the counter that the one in the back is available to sell. “No, dude,” he says. “Totally not a pre-order.”

I look at the counter kid. He’s the one behind the register. He tells me it’s a go, but that I’ll have to purchase the bundle.

“The bundle” is a concept that only the specialty stores comprehend. It’s a scam for sure, but when a GameCube is behind the counter, you’ve gotta play ball.

“What comes in the bundle?” I ask, trying to stay calm. He tells me it’s the system, an extra controller, a memory card, and three games of my choice. The bundle can come in many shapes and sizes. Often, the choice of games belongs to the game store employee. The freedom offered with this plan was appealing. I asked how much it would cost me.

The quote fell just in line. With a sale of the PS2, we’d be about twenty bucks ahead. I tell him the games I want and pull out my credit card. Suddenly, from behind the counter, I see the system, and they’re putting it in a bag. My bag. I’d won.

At this point, Joy comes in and quickly realizes what’s going on. She yelps: “Are we getting one?” I nod. She cheers loudly. People are staring, but we pretend that they’re happy for us. No doubt some sorry kid was standing right behind me, pissed because he didn’t go the extra mile and ask the employees when he saw the empty shelf. He was, no doubt, cursing himself for his chicken-shit attitude and fear of the game store employees.

Joy stands next to me excitedly, and then convinces me to swap out one of the sports games I’d picked for a game that was more cartoon-style. I conceded and the transaction moved forward. Joy said she’d meet me outside and headed next door to a clothing store.

I watched as the games were slipped into the bag. My credit card was sitting on the counter in front of the employee, ready to be swiped. I grinned to myself.

And then came the accessories. The game store employee says, very mater-of-fact like, that they were out of memory cards. He’d just ring it up now and I’d get a call when they came in and I could come down and pick it up. I pause cautiously. This is a twisted rip-off, and I know it. But there I am, face to face with the bag. I decide that I could slip into another store on the way home and pick up a memory card in order to have full access to the system while I waited for this yahoo’s backorder to show up. It was a bummer, and a definite point in the little shit’s corner, but I felt that I could give a little. We moved on.

Numbers were punched into the register. Totals were tallied. And then, just by chance, I notice this “extra controller” being placed into my bag. It was generic. Third-party. An off-brand.

“Wait, I don’t get an actual Nintendo controller?” I ask. I’m busted, I’m on the defensive, and it’s all very clear to the employee and everyone behind me in line. The kid that was crying to himself earlier was no doubt snickering behind my back.

“Yes. The third-party controller comes with the bundle,” I’m told.

“So I don’t get the memory card at the time of purchase, and the controller’s some whack-ass generic?”

“That’s correct,” he says with a bit too much pizzazz.

“Okay, I’m out.” I grabbed my credit card off the counter and threw up my hands. “I can’t play on those jank controllers.”

“Okay,” the kid says. He’s already unpacking the system and hanging the controller back on one of the display hooks behind him. He shrugs his shoulders. “That’s fine. Sorry we couldn’t help you. The bundle is store policy.”

“The bundle,” I spit between gritting teeth. I turn on my heels and head out of the store.

Bruised, but not beaten, we head to West Seattle. The theory, though heavily flawed, was that West Seattle was removed from downtown. It wasn’t in the city and maybe the stores were not as busy. The breakdown in this theory was connected to a massive oversight on our part in dismissing the whole theory of suburbs.

The West Seattle K-Mart was a bust. No stock, but another nice employee (certainly not a full-on game store employee) told us we might try to call each weekend to see if a new shipment had arrived. This guy hasn’t been on the dialing end of a call to K-Mart before. We’d tried the call around bit yesterday. This only yields hours of Muzak and confusion when the transfer back to electronics keeps getting bummed back to the main operator at the store.

We moved on toward Target, agreeing that if we didn’t find the system there, we’d stop the search for today. The close call at the mall had us a bit frazzled and frustrated. We’d look some more during the week.

Attached to the West Seattle Target was a Hollywood Video rental store. A sign on the outside wall said “Games: Bought and Sold.” We were intrigued. Inside, we found a new section of the store. Like some kind of test-market experiment, this particular Hollywood Video was trying something new. A brilliant move, we decided. Kids rent a game, love it, and go on and buy the thing new from the video store when they come to return the rental. I have a quick thought that maybe the two kids behind the counter (sitting on the floor, totally oblivious to our presence) might not have a clue, might actually be nice. I ask the question. One of the employees looks at me stoned. “I don’t even think we’ll have ‘em for Christmas,” he says.

I felt sorry for the kid. Hollywood Video was letting the guy down. His store could not compete. We split and head into the Target.

Failure, of course. There were at least five kids wandering around in that electronics section. I could tell from the looks in their eyes that these kids were out for the same sweet prize I had my eye on, but the shelves were bare. Parents looked concerned. Items from the wishlists were putting up impressive fights against being crossed off.

Joy and I got in the car and headed toward home. The residue from our close call at the mall was still ripe and we could smell it in the car as we tried to reassure each other that Super Monkey Ball was only a few days away. I took heart in the fact that tomorrow would carry everyone back to their offices, the kids back to school, and I, the worker-from-home, would be able to freely make the rounds and swipe up all the new shipments. I’ll buy up scores of the Nintendo GameCube systems and sell them from a card table on the street corners. I’ll come up with bundle deals that will have parent’s heads spinning. I’ll take them for everything they’ve got.

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