When Nov. 17 arrived, the date of Sony's launch of the highly-anticipated PlayStation 3 video game console, news outlets ran stories of the American gamers dedicated enough to wait outside of stores for hours or days in order to secure one of only 400,000 consoles that were available in the United States for the steep price of $500-$600. The sight became familiar on TV screens across the nation: long lines of people sitting huddled in parkas or in tents outside of Best Buy, Circuit City and Wal-Mart stores. Often, hundreds of people waited in line for a chance at as few as 30 consoles in the store. Many planned on selling the units on eBay for prices that averaged $2,900 on the day the item was released.
Along with these stories came other reports of far more distressing news: in Putnam, Conn. a man was shot after two men tried to hold up a line of people waiting for a PS3. In Fresno, Calif., two people were arrested after two others were trampled in a parking lot. In Sullivan, Ind., a man was stabbed after he and his friend tried to rob two other men of the systems for which they'd waited in line for over a day. In Englewood, Ohio, two men held up employees of a video game store at gunpoint for consoles, while in Lexington, Ken., a crowd waiting outside a Best Buy was sprayed with BBs from a passing car. These are just a few of the many violent incidents that surrounded the PlayStation's release.
The reaction of many Americans to this phenomenon was perhaps a chuckle and a shake of the head at what "some people" would do to get their video games. And while it is easy to write off these incident as the antics of a few crazy people, we as Americans must stop to consider the rampant culture of consumerism that would cause so many rational people to set aside such huge portions of the their time and money for the sake of something that is so incredibly inconsequential to their lives. In addition to this is the even more upsetting reality of the willingness of people to resort to violent action.
There is simply no way that anyone can justify, no matter how much money there is to be made or how much fun there is to be had, literally risking their safety over a video game system. Sony's decision to release such a small number of the consoles in the U.S. was a very deliberate decision, as they knew the publicity that a limited release would generate. Unfortunately, Americans were all too willing to buy into this simple plan, with, in some instances, tragic consequences.
There is nothing inherently wrong with video games or the desire to stay on the cutting-edge of technology. But when people are literally willing to put themselves in harm's way for the sake of it, or worse yet, put others in danger, it's clear that it's time to step back from the madness and think about what it is in our society that would drive others to this insanity. There is no easy solution to this question, but we can hope that these incidents will be a wake-up call to Americans to re-examine the value of putting material possessions above all else. And while we cannot reasonably expect this to change overnight, at the very least there should be better planning by stores in the future to deal with situations like these that will, unfortunately, likely arise.