Xbox after Xbox are paraded before us. A Microsoft employee stuffs games, controllers, and gold memberships into green tight fitting Microsoft bags. Black projectors rest on the corners of table, throwing green smears of light onto the ceiling, occasionally focusing into snowflake fractals.
Military-esque cases housing Xbox Ones sit on the table next us. The newest installment in the Call of Duty franchise runs on the machine. The cases appear sturdy, ready to take a round from the assault rifles depicted in the shooter style game.
Across from our table a high rise top sits with cake in the shape of an actual Xbox One, complete with edible controllers. Around the cake, individual cake balls rest in cupcake wrappers. The cake console, black, relaxes on a clear pedestal.
A shorthaired girl in an oversized Xbox t-shirt bags the new console into the Microsoft totes. Teardrop plugs, around a two or four gauge size, sit in her ear. Running from a back room, she brings Xbox Ones to customers who will pay for the console, along with their extra controllers and games. She then inscribes a number on the side of the bag to correspond with the receipt of the customer, allowing a quick and easy pick up once midnight rolled around. The numbers start to pile up: 504, 507, 513.
A nametag hangs around the girl’s neck emblazoned with the moniker “Rebecca.” She keeps a running tally on her left arm of the number of Xbox Ones she had bagged. By the end of the night the sharpie marks run from the bottom of her thumb to the beginning of her forearm, adding up to over twenty.
“It looks like I’m counting shots,” she says to Joshua and myself. Joshua and I have spent the night holding totes open for her to slip console boxes into; in between Joshua recording a podcast and myself scribbling in my black moleskin notebook. These consoles didn’t appear light in weight. Joshua and Nicole, another GNN correspondent, lifts them up, struggling to pull the boxes to the top of a curl.
Rebecca swings the bags with ease, contrary to what an observer would assume. Her frame doesn’t promote the notion of strength, being petite and thin.
I find myself wondering if I would have the stamina this girl possessed, slinging Xbox after Xbox over her shoulder and hauling the hulking boxes to the back room. By this point in the night she’s easily carried fifteen Xbox Ones, not counting the countless more she would transport over the coming hours.
The atmosphere has too much purpose to be the air of a casual party. Parties don’t have the intentions this night has, people stand in queue with credit cards ready, clutching copies of Dead Rising 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. The DJ, MegaRan, stands at the front of the store and the Microsoft employees run raffles for tablets. A minor wins a raffle but his age voids the win and it is redrawn and given to a new, of age, winner.
Rebecca stands with two bagged consoles pulling down on her shoulders, answering a question from a lost customer who can’t figure out where the line starts.
She rattles off console launch titles in between runs to the back room. Every eye in the store secretly focuses on where the employees are taking their Xbox Ones, struggling to contain their excitement while remaining in limbo state between purchase and possession of the console. The clock slowly creeps towards midnight.
Two young kids, appearing to be around 17, come and stand in front of the table Joshua and I are seated at. A loose copy of Dead Rising 3 sits on the table and they inquire if they would be able to take a photo. We, not being Microsoft employees, don’t have the authority to say yes but tell them there doesn’t seem to be a glairing problem with snapping the photo. Both teens wear black button down shirts with matching dark slacks. The photo is taken and they linger in front of the table, loitering until Rebecca comes back, informing them they can’t stand there. The would-be amateur journalists saunter off into the crown behind them.
Every Microsoft employee in the store seems to have the same goal scrawled across their face, to keep moving, delivering consoles to tables and then to the mysterious back room of limbo ownership.
Rebecca runs her finger down a list of pre-order sheets, checking to see if the name customers give corresponded to ones on the sheet, entitling them to a “Day One” edition. All others who have not pre-ordered will receive the regular green boxes, matching the employee’s shirts.
She moves with speed to retrieve the games for the bundle selected by a customer, coming back with the titles and oversized Microsoft bags as the more form fitting bags ran out early in the night.
Designated employees supply pep for the evening while the rest appeared devoid of emotion, attitude, and identity, these attributes provide concise answers and tactical hair flips.
While loading consoles into bags, Rebecca makes quick conversation with Joshua and I, pointing out her fingernails, dirty from the night of shoveling Xbox Ones back and forth.
Time winds on and another tablet give away occurs. The clock creeps closer to midnight. Every passing second feels longer than the last, more drawn out and fading with intensity as the hour hand gradually strikes midnight.
The console pick-up system flows smoothly. Two lines of customer form on each side of the store, presenting IDs with their receipts; thereby receiving their Xbox Ones.
The lines, like snakes, wiggle and writhe with anticipation. New heads claim their console, then saunter off into the night to become early adopters. They’re replaced by the next eager consumer behind them, patient yet still full of excitement despite the overwhelming exhaustion that accompanied the late night.
Teams of employees cart out bags of consoles by hand from the mysterious back room and deliver them into the arms of wide-eyed customers. They treat the newly acquired game systems the same way mothers treat new born babies, with unconditional love and cautious care.
The staff shouted out numbers, attempting to move the process as quickly as possible. Nicole has left and Joshua is packing up his things, only sticking around in hopes of a more palatable withdrawal from parking. The lines have been pushed back and now customers are claiming their systems to our right, no longer snaking behind us.
Eventually Joshua leaves but I remain. The eyes of Microsoft employees fall on me, wondering what I’m writing down so feverishly in my notebook. Staff members still shuffle out tote bags to awaiting customers. I imagine the fatigue every muscle in their bodies must feel, hoping for rest but they soldier on.
I’m the only non-employee in the store who isn’t buying an Xbox. Eyes fall more frequently on me. My phone now says 1:00 am and the environment around me no longer exudes “party” or “fun.” The music has been replaced with speed and efficiency. Enough people have left to allow all remaining customers to enter in the store, all of which stand in line for their consoles.
Employees start to break down the store, collapsing folding tables, pulling off the black skirts.
The Xbox One has been released to the public.