Single Player Solitude; Arkham City Blues!

Batman: Arkham City came out last month. It’s the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum, what many consider to be one of the better licensed initiatives, and one of the best games to come out in a year. I played Asylum, I beat it, and it was pretty awesome. It perfectly captured the spirit of being Batman, wandering around, solving crimes, beating up criminals and facing down the Rogues Gallery. Naturally, I expected more of the same from the second game. I pre-ordered it, paid it off, and got the phone-call from my home-store that there would be a midnight launch for the game. Would I be in attendance, they wanted to know? I asked if it would be a party; the woman on the phone said, no, and I said, “It is now.”

After clarifying that it meant I would be attending, I called my brother. He pre-orders items using my rewards card for simplicity sake, and I needed to know if we had both reserved the game. We had! We ventured to the store over the weekend and he changed his preorder over to Mass Effect 3. Jordan, one of the cashiers, asked me if I was going to the midnight premiere, and I said, “Yes, I am,” and she said, “Did I call you?” and I asked, “Did I say it was going to be a party?” and she confirmed that it had been her I was speaking to on the phone. She informed me that she would be going in costume, and that many other people might very well be dressing up. The idea intrigued me in the way that ideas typically can; they set my brain-works going at a mean rate as to what I could be, should I choose to don a costume.

On the way to the car from GameStop, I asked my brother if he’d want to go to the release with me, and he said, sure, and in the car, we brainstormed. Although I may be rich in word and character, I’m not rich in the sense that actually matters; monetarily. We eventually decided that it’d be funny if I wore a Batman cowl – I own one, as it came with my Dark Knight DVD – and a towel safety-pinned around my neck. The classic go-to costume for any kid with an imagination. As I’m 24, we thought it’d be worth a lark at least. Not only that, but I do a pretty impressive Nolan verse Batman impression; a fun time would be had by all.

As the hour of the launch grew nearer, we got into my car and headed to the store. I had decided against dressing up in such a manner, as I ran the idea by a few people at the office, and they were all confused as to what exactly I was trying to accomplish. My brother and I arrived in style, stepping out and wandering across the parking lot to the small crowd gathered by the strip-malls store. I had been informed ahead of time that two stores would be using one location for the midnight release, which is, I assume, a common practice for smaller stores to piggyback onto a larger store so that everyone gets their game at midnight.

I ambled into the store, over to an employee dressed to impress as The Joker and received my purchase confirmation. I was then instructed to head back outside, that there’d be a raffle, that there’s free pizza, that there’s music – as if I hadn’t heard it on the way in, as if I couldn’t hear it in the store, 25 feet from the table with the iPod radio set up. As instructed, I returned to the open air. Jordan was manning the music-and-pizza station, dressed also to impress as Two-Face, trying gamely to invigorate everyone. You see, that was a problem. No one seemed happy to be there. No one was talking to each other.

I’m a talker. I’m chatty and persuasive, I can tell a joke, and I can do impressions. Danny Elfman’s iconic Batman theme was playing, there was a drawing about to start, and everyone was acting like their parents were just shot outside the Monarch Theater. After much cajoling, I was finally able to get a couple of words out of someone other than my brother; a man in a Green Lantern t-shirt, whose name I never bothered to get, so we’ll call him Hal Jordan. I hope I’m doing right by him with that name. Only friendly face in the entire bunch. When the raffle began, the first person won a t-shirt, and I applauded. I tried to get the crowd to applaud, but they were not interested in raising their hands for anything but disaffection. They shrugged, not unhappy that someone else won, but not happy for that person, either. Even the man that won the shirt seemed disinterested in the whole thing. Not only was no one talking to each other, it became rapidly apparent that none of them really wanted to be there.

There’s something I like about being a gamer, and it’s this:
It’s a unifying thing. Midnight releases, especially. At most of the events I have been to, there is a palpable air of excitement about the game coming out. Nervous chatter among the crowd. Anticipation that is so killer, people get fussy. As gamers, we all have something in common; no matter what platform we play on, we still play. The love of the game connects us all, in theory.
But not here. No one was interested in talking about Batman, or Arkham Asylum, or Arkham City. They were not interested in the raffle or the music. They were bored by the costumed employees, they were bored with each other, they were bored with the sidewalk and the cheer and the free pizza.

Was getting the game six hours early that important, to drag yourself out of your home, stand and be a sour bottom-feeder for an hour until you could go home and play? What was the point if not to engage your fellow human in reverie about the s*** going on? I asked Hal Jordan and my brother. Both were equally as confused. We all shared a connection, every single person that evening, and no one would acknowledge it. I was growing angry. The idea that all these people would gather and be not excited about this game – the singular reason we were there – was offensive.

My brother and I ended up winning 2 of the raffles; a t-shirt and a game guide. I applauded myself. I tried to get the crowd to applaud. They did not see the humor in it, nor did they understand that I was there to have a good time, because the idea of having a good time at a game launch was more a foreign idea to them than a duck being thrust behind the controls of a 747. One man in particular decided to voice his disappointment with the one man having a good time, shouting out, “We are not entertained.” Had they beer bottles, glass would have soared past my head. It was, in a word, s*****.

The manager of the store pulled the purchasers inside at 11:55 and we all milled about, waiting for the clock to strike 12; we took our copies of the game and left. I waited patiently in the car for the parking lot to clear out. Four almost-accidents took place around me, which is exactly why I had hesitated to even start my vehicle. We headed home, with me complaining almost the entire time about what a crowd of parasites, about what a bunch of mooks had gathered. How there was no excitement to be had in getting a game the second it came out, and how there was no excitement about Batman. My brother pointed out that I’m very good at winning a crowd over – I had done so before at the double launch for Rockband 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood where the crowd had been slightly less hostile by a margin of not much – but sometimes, the crowd does not want to be won. All the charm and half-smiles and winking, all the jokes and Bale-Voice won’t shake them from their sheets.

He was right! I probably would have been lynched had I shown up in my original costume.
I came to the conclusion later – much later – after another handful of midnight releases that this always seemed to be the case with single player games; dedicated staff trying their best to wring a good response from a tepid crowd. When I went to the ‘Battlefield 3’ launch a few days later, there was camaraderie in the form of fist-bumping and high-fives. Could the difference really be in the type of game? Did I simply have an unlucky run of single player launches? Who knows.

As for the game, I haven’t played it yet. I have a full game docket; I let my brother have the first crack, because I have too many other games to play at the moment. We had decided this before we even went, which made all the Debbie Downers even worse. I was there, excited for a game that I wouldn’t even play for months. And they were heading straight home to play it, and couldn’t even muster a thumbs up or a smile for their fellow gamer.

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