A disgruntled hello, wrapped in the smell of new and used plastic, welcomes me into my local Gamestop. It’s 10:45 p.m, and people are already milling about. They shift through faceless lithos like homeowners searching someone’s garage for hidden treats.
Others snicker together in neatly packed groups. I start towards the counter when I overhear two of them arguing which Final Fantasy character would be better in the sack. My curiosity can’t be helped; so, I stop and examine a giant cardboard Bioshock 2 that commands, “Buy me now!”
“Dude, Lulu would have to be my top pick. My girlfriend even said she would be willing to have a threesome with her. Perfect, right?”
“No way, dude! I want to keep my penis, and I’m pretty sure that crazy bitch would cut it off. I vote for Quistis and her hot teacher look. I would love for her to drop some knowledge on me.”
“Dude, you don’t know a damn thing about the hottest Final Fantasy character.”
A laugh slips through my teeth, and the two patrons noticed my terrible espionage.
“Right? Quistis *is* a terrible choice. Look man, this guy is laughing at you.”
Pissed that a stranger was laughing at him, he interrogates me. “Yeah? Well, who would you pick?”
Panicking at the personal invasion – I don’t kiss and tell – I said the first thing that came to my head, “Rhydia.”
Their response was a series of blank stares and blinks that would make any anime fan proud. It made me think the unintended implication of pedophilia went unnoticed; I was wrong.
“Dude…she is like…12.”
“Have some class, man.”
I begin an expeditious retreat as they turn away, and I hear a laugh shared at my expense. Embarrassed, I press further into the store. The clerk’s forehead crinkles as he forces a smile and says, “You here for Final Fantasy XIII?”
Thinking that spending my hard-earned $60 will restore a sliver of my credibility, I respond with an over-enthusiastic yes that causes my voice to crack.
His forehead pinches itself closer together, “Whoa man, caps lock?”
Frustrated, I slam my credit card onto the table like a Magic player casting the winning card. The clerk sighs hard enough that I can smell the Taco Bell he had for lunch. Number six with fire sauce. Not my favorite.
I stash the receipt in my pocket and find a spot next to the PC section. It’s a pitiful creature corralled onto one shelf, and it reminds me of an old war veteran sitting among a brand new platoon. No one goes near him because his bitterness for their youth is a terrible ice breaker. I want him to tell me stories about Heroes of Might and Magic II or Hexen. Instead, his bright history is hidden between copies of Diner Dash 2 and a Teletubbies point-and-click adventure. A patron dressed as Squall rips me violently from my daydream, and reminds me the future demands my attention.
His costume is incredibly accurate. He has the jacket, the chain, the pants, and the sword. Oh, the sword. Two wooden blades held together by a center plank and fastened to the barrel of a Nerf gun. His craftsmanship would make Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman proud. It’s painted silver -up to the hilt of the gun – and the yellow section sticks out like a grown man playing Pokemon. His upbeat attitude gives away his inability to recreate everything, but no one is perfect.
The clock creeps toward midnight and the patrons are rolling in. There is buzz in the air as everyone grows impatient with the increased heat and body odor. I swear a little bit of pot is mixed in there as well. The stench is getting increasingly stronger, and I have to concentrate or I may be trampled to death after I collapse. I think about why Mother 3 hasn’t been released in America, and why biscuits and gravy are so appealing to me. Looking around, I notice a lot of bloodshot eyes and heavy yawns. The stalwart resistance against the sandman’s clutches would make a Dwarven defender proud, and I find strength in their mutual suffering.
There are over 80 people here and their anticipation is spilling into the parking lot into a poorly formed line. Why would so many (mostly) grown men come out here? It smells, and the workers are unenthusiastic and won’t shut up about overpriced strategy guides. Some of us won’t even remove the plastic until late tomorrow evening. Haven’t we outgrown this?
The lines move quickly, and I hand over my receipt as I approach the counter. Squall screams out in joy as a world without Final Fantasy XIII is no more.
As I start towards my car, ready to hand the game a long list of elitist criticisms, I see one of the patrons staring into the cover of his PS3 copy. I catch a reflection in his wet eyes, and I stop. Dancing on his cornea is a six-year old sitting at home on his favorite pillow; holding the two-button gateway to Coneria as black menus dance above his head.
I toss the game into the back seat, and as I adjust the rear-view mirror, I catch a glimpse of myself. The curly blond hair of my youth shakes left and right as he blows into a Popeye cartridge. His contagious smile taints my lips as I realize why we all came out here tonight.