My Kingdom for an Xbox
Like any normal, shamefully materialistic American, it bums me out when I want something that I can’t afford. But much more maddening is when I want something that I actually can afford — literally, have cash in hand — and some ridiculous, unforeseen obstacle still prevents me from getting what I want. What I’m trying to say is that if you’re looking for an Xbox in Denver, I can now tell you where not to shop.
My wife and I joined some friends for a Sunday-afternoon shopping trip to the Colorado Mills mall. I’ve only been there a handful of times and had no real complaints until yesterday when, while passing the mall’s video game store, I was taken by the sudden notion to buy an Xbox.
Now, before you toss me into the same category as pimply, teenage, “I’d rather watch Star Trek than go on a date,” video-gaming geeks, I need to interrupt this would-be narrative for some very important clarification. Most modern video games are as familiar to me as MySpace would be to your average senior citizen. I don’t get them.
In my narrow, 25-year old mind, names like Halo and Grand Theft Auto mean absolutely nothing. Real video games have names like Frogger, Ms. Pac-Man, and Mario 3. Three-dimensional scenery is useless. Rather, your character should always run in a straight line from the left side of the screen to the right, there should be exactly eight worlds with four levels each, and at the end of each world, you should discover that Our Princess is in Another Castle.
But maybe six months ago, I played a game on someone else’s Xbox called Burnout 3. It’s a racing game, kind of like Pole Position, except that it has no steering wheel or gear shifts, and is therefore not quite as cool. As a substitute, though, and for an at-home version, Burnout 3 appeared to be reasonably acceptable. We played for a couple of hours, and the thought crossed my mind that maybe I wouldn’t mind having this particular game in my collection.
After failing to find a version of Burnout 3 playable on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, I realized that playing this game at home would require the purchase of an Xbox, and the notion abruptly ended.
Or so I thought.
But yesterday, finding myself face-to-face with a large sign at the mall’s video game store proudly announcing that they had used Xboxes in guaranteed condition for just $129, I realized that this case wasn’t closed just yet. Furthermore, a used copy of Burnout 3 was a mere $18. Coming in at a total of under $150, I suddenly decided that perhaps I would own the Home Game Version after all. After a consultation with my wife (who — get this — said something along the lines of “Sure, honey. You’ve been working hard for our family lately and I think you deserve it.” Pause for a moment to consider the glorious miracle of that sentence. Honestly, you could search the whole world over and never find a wife like this. I am now the envy of husbands everywhere.) I proudly marched to the sales counter, Visa card in hand, and announced that I would like a used Xbox and Burnout 3.
Now, I don’t know what effect the words “we don’t have any” typically have on you, but for me in this particular instance, it was enough to wipe the proud smile off my face in a hurry.
“We don’t have any,” said the clerk.
“But… but…” I spluttered, pointing lamely at the rows of boxes containing used Xboxes encircling the store.
“Those are empty boxes for display purposes. We keep the actual units in the back. Except we don’t have any.”
“Well, how much is a new one?” I asked, my visions of pure, racing satisfaction quickly slipping away from me.
Okay, quick mental assessment. Twenty bucks more … not quite the bargain I was hoping for, but in the interest of avoiding disappointment now that my mind had already been made up, a forgivable expenditure.
“All right, I’ll take one of those,” I said, hoping to complete the transaction before I could change my mind.
“We don’t have any of those, either.”
A sudden silence came over the room, followed by customers turning to look for the source of the loud sound as my jaw audibly hit the counter.
The sole video game store in a nice mall on an average winter weekend was completely out of Xboxes, both new and used? How could such a thing have ever been allowed to happen? It would be like a McDonald’s running out of hamburgers. It would be like the sun setting in the east. It was absolutely unthinkable.
I was so flabbergasted that I couldn’t think of anything to say. Instead, I just frantically waved my Visa card in the sales clerk’s face, as if to say, “But, you moron, don’t you understand? My money is right here! I’m not some broke, twelve-year old customer loitering in your store with no intention of actually buying anything. I have money, and I’m trying to give it to you! Find me an Xbox! Now!”
Unfortunately, my money was no good there — in the bad sense of that expression.
I received a sudden glimmer of hope from the sales clerk, who promptly squashed it a moment later. “The only Xbox we have in stock is a special edition that comes bundled with a different game.”
“How much is that?”
Dang. Almost forty percent more, all for an extra game that didn’t interest me in the slightest. An extra twenty bucks is one thing, but an extra fifty is another.
Then, a new thought occurred. This may have been the only video game store in the mall, but there were other electronics stores. Surely, someone else sells Xboxes. Not used, perhaps, but I should be able to find the regular, new one for $150. I bought the used copy of Burnout 3, confident that I’d find a plain Xbox somewhere else, and set out into the rest of the mall to find it.
Three stores later, it looked like the entire Colorado Mills Mall was facing the same shortage. The only available systems came bundled with a game, and retailed for $180. I even looked at Target — the non-trashy person’s Wal-Mart — and still came up empty-handed.
By this time, the kids were tired, the baby was hungry, and my wife was not quite so keen on my owning an Xbox as she had been two hours before. But this quest of mine had taken a rather manic turn, and I was determined to go home with an Xbox.
Finally, someone at Best Buy was able to set the record straight. After Christmas, with the release of the Xbox 360, the gaming community expected that the cost of regular Xboxes would come down. Microsoft’s answer? Stop selling regular Xboxes. Start bundling games with Xboxes. Increase the price by thirty dollars.
Realizing that a regular Xbox was likely nowhere to be found, I gave in and shelled out the $180 at Best Buy, finally heading home with my new Xbox, Burnout 3, and the other, superfluous game.
It was depressing that such a purchase should be overshadowed by frustration, disappointment, and the feeling of being squeezed as a customer for extra cash. But rather than write more, I’ll allow you to insert your own anti-Microsoft rant here, while I save the rest of my energy for racing tonight.
After all, at a total cost of over $200, I can’t help but realize that, in the arcade of my childhood, that much money would have bought over 800 games of Pole Position.