Extra PunctuationThe Tale of M and SExtra Punctuation - RSS 2.0
This story is entirely fictional and was written by a mentally unbalanced man who doesn't believe that anything like this actually happened.
Mr. S sat on the edge of the park bench, legs crossed. He was watching the children inside the enclosure on the other side of the grass, playing raucously on the swings and slides. Occasionally he touched a finger to his lips, watching the kids, as if attempting to discern some hidden secret behind their activity. He didn't notice Mr. M, clad in the same kind of trench coat as he, until he was perched uncomfortably on the far end of the bench.
"Anyone see you come?" said Mr. S out of the corner of his mouth, not looking away from the playground.
"None," said Mr. M. "Let's just get this over with." Simultaneously, the two men produced brown lunch bags from their inside pockets, and in a single quick motion, slid them across to each other. Making elaborate pantomimes to give the impression of merely inspecting the other's sandwich, both men scrutinized the one-page documents pinned to the inside of the brown paper.
"So, same as us," said Mr. M. "Yours is basically just a PC in a box as well."
"Look, I don't think it's going to work this time," said Mr. S quietly. "We're wrangling some exclusive titles but I can't pretend in good conscience that they benefit anyone except us. I think we need to face the fact that... maybe gaming doesn't need this whole 'console war' thing anymore. Maybe we should jump before this whole wagon goes over the cliff."
"Don't surrender before the first shot has been fired," said Mr. M. He took a deep breath, then produced a brown envelope from his coat and pushed it over to Mr. S.
"What's this?" asked Mr. S, fumbling with the flap.
"Our marketing strategy."
Mr S's eyes tracked back and forth across the text, growing wider and wider with each line. His mouth, at first mouthing the words, was simply hanging open by the end of the page, twitching as he passed every distasteful vowel and consonant. "What the hell is this? This is the most blatantly anti-consumer feature list I've ever seen. April fools joke?"
"No. This is the console one of us is going to announce."
Finally, Mr. S looked at Mr. M, momentarily abandoning deniability. His mouth flapped silently, aghast, for several seconds before he found words. "It'll be crucified."
Mr. M nodded solemnly. "That's right. The seller will be crucified. But no matter how much the public scream, they'll stick to the story, and take every opportunity to make it seem even worse. They'll handle it as badly as it could possibly be handled. And their competitor gets a free ride. All they have to do is not be the same, maybe make a few digs towards it, and they'll get goodwill that no amount of marketing can buy. At present, both our consoles, side by side, are merely mediocre. But against something like this, a mediocre console might as well be platinum plated."
Mr. S looked at the page again, tossing the logic around inside his head like pizza dough. "You're not seriously suggesting that one of us sacrifice themselves so that the other can live?"
"No. We've worked out the timeline. A week after the confirmation, the company will backtrack on all the toxic features. We've already convinced the public that the other console is solid gold just for not being as bad; when the bad console gets back in line with it, it'll get some of that benefit. Not as much, but still better than where they were at the start. People like a good story more than they do real life. We give them a story. We give them a hero, and a villain. By the time the storm passes, no-one will remember the original arguments. Only the story, and the goodwill."
"But what about integrity?" asked Mr. S. He almost gagged on his own words. "Sorry. I don't know why I said that. I mean... if you go back on your word so quickly, no-one will ever trust you again. It's enough of a taint on your image to even suggest... all of this." He slapped the offensive feature list with the back of his hand.
"We're just going to have to accept that," said Mr. M, in an ominous monotone.
Mr. S heaved a sigh, and asked the question both of them knew had to come next. "So who's the villain? Who takes the fall?"
Mr. M shifted uncomfortably. "I think it should be you." He held up a hand to silence the expected sputtering protest. "You've got the televisions to fall back on. And the movie studio. Games are all we've got."
"The fuck they are," said Mr. S. "If this falls through and everyone goes back to PC gaming, your operating systems will fly off the shelves. You do it."
Each man met the other's scowling gaze, and held it, equally steadfast and unblinking. Without breaking eye contact, Mr. M dug a hand into the pocket of his coat and produced a coin. "Call," he said, simply.
Time seemed to slow down as the coin rose into the air, turning over and over, neither man able to look away from the flickering metal disc. They saw the future there, intermittently swapping between a rich, silvery shine and a dull, pockmarked greyness. With each spin, they heard the crash of another grain of sand settling into the great hourglass of progress. When the coin finally settled in Mr. M's palm, an eternity later, he already knew the result from the burning hot feel of the metal against his sweating flesh.
Mr. M's sandwich was bitter that day.