At one in the afternoon last Saturday, my friend Matt put on his jacket to brave what he thought was going to be a line of a few diehard fans in front of the Nintendo Store that had camped out on potentially embarrassing sleeping bags. It was the exclusive day-early launch of the new Pokémon game, Black and White, two colors that mean absolutely nothing to me in this context. You could buy the game between three and six o’clock, an intelligently-planned small window of time to make the purchase that much more enticing. Matt was excited, beamingly so, to battle strange little creatures in a new setting. Or, at least, I think that’s what Pokémon’s about.
I’m an admitted outsider. I don’t know the first thing about video games, unless you count playing Angry Birds on my phone in the bathroom. We had planned to meet up later that day, him having hopefully scored the game, me tagging along behind in the hopes of asking some leftover line-standers what, exactly, was so appealing about this whole ordeal.
Matt was an avenue away from the store when I arrived a little before the doors opened. Thousands of people had come dressed-up, ready with their game systems, chanting down the minutes until the launch. One group was even singing the theme song in perfect four-part harmony. Ryan Seacrest wasn’t there, but the feeling that waiting can be fun, perhaps even the main event, stretched for five blocks. As the ten-second countdown began, it became even more apparent that I was alone. I was invading a sacred space that I didn’t really have an invitation to. What did all these other people have that I didn’t? Nostalgia.
“It’s a cultural phenomenon. You really don’t know anything about it?” Tori, a sophomore at Fordham looked at me with what I can only assume was judgment through her neon green contacts. ”I grew up with it, we all did.” She gestured to her group of friends who were all huddled around a Nintendo DS. “It was cool back then and it’s still cool to us now. But if you didn’t get it when you were little, you really won’t now that you’re older.”
Kiera, another college student, admitted that she had found social solace among this sub-culture of ‘gamers.’ “It’s acceptable. We’re all nerds so we all understand.” She had gotten to the store at ten, still behind about one hundred people. I understood the exclusivity appeal of it all. These people got the game a day earlier than anyone else in the U.S. I’ve been to midnight Harry Potter premiers. I get it. But this was a whole new level of fanatic. As three o’clock came around, people started shouting, chanting, making it even more of an experience that I was on the outside of. And I was okay just standing back and observing the childish giddiness that spread through Rockefeller Center.
People were let into the store in groups of ten, making the wait longer even though the doors had opened. One of the first people to get the game, a guy burst out of the store yelling “I feel fucking fantastic!” It was that type of unrestrained emotion that was a constant for the event. The only words that Matt spoke to me later that night were about discovering some new thing that his old things couldn’t do. The group of strangers that showed up for this event were undoubtedly united through a kind of love that I couldn’t understand, but was so real, shared, and particular to their default settings. My time as an observer was comparable to the study of a natural disaster. Removed, visceral, fascinating, and connecting with a piece of you that you yourself are unsure of, it has something to do with your volatile existence in the world—so why not go and wear a yellow character suit in New York City.