Layaways are what we used to call buying on credit, although now you can do that and take the merchandise home before you've even paid it off. Perhaps that's why we're currently on the brink of a recession, and the housing market is in the toilet. The idea of ensuring people can actually pay for things they buy on credit seems to have fallen by the wayside along with the common sense that a 21 percent interest rate isn't really doing you any good, even if you get to take that HDTV home without making a payment until April of 2008.
No, videogame pre-orders are something new and different. You're paying, but you don't get to take it home, and when you do, the actual product will be worth less than before you owned it. I know all of this. And yet my copy of Halo 3 was nevertheless completely paid up a good 10 days before I'd be able to get my hands on it.
I don't remember why, several weeks ago, I put the first few dollars down on the game. Perhaps at the time I thought it was like checking the $1 dollar box on your tax return, or tipping the pizza guy a little extra because, well, I had it in my wallet and felt like being generous. Putting a few bucks on a pre-order, knowing full well I hadn't made so much as a dent in the full price of the game, seemed a bit silly, but then, so does buying a scratch-off lottery ticket at the gas station, and we've all done that once or twice.
From then, the pre-order frenzy had its hooks in me. I'd committed myself to something, and from that point on I was an entry in the EB/GameStop ledger. It's like knowing you have an FBI file - once you're aware of it, it's all you can think about.
Night and day, no matter where I was or what I was doing, I thought about my Halo 3 pre-order. Every dollar spent on everything from food and gasoline to other, more satisfying consumables was weighed against what that same net amount could do for my pre-order. Sure, pizza and a movie night is great and all, but that $30 or so could have gotten me over the halfway hump on my pre-order. What was I thinking?
Over the course of weeks, my common sense had eroded, and when I heard of the trade-in sale (they called my house to tell me, as a matter of fact - damn you J. Edgar) I knew exactly what I had to do; in spite if the awareness I was about to commit two great sins, I packed up my used games and headed to the mall. I was not only endorsing the ridiculously backward pre-order economic model, but feeding the used-game glut at the same time. I felt like I'd driven to Alaska just to run over endangered animals in a gas-guzzling SUV, tossing garbage out the windows and laughing.
And in spite of the fact I'm now $60 poorer, with nothing to show for it but a slip of paper, I feel as if I've somehow increased my net worth. In spite of the fact I know full well all I've really earned myself is the chance to stand in line for something I could walk into any store and pick up a few hours later, perhaps giving me an edge in play time and writing time equal to the amount of sleep I've lost (and perhaps the worse for it), I'm practically giddy with anticipation.
Perhaps the secret is in extending the joy of discovery, that especially keen moment when we finally hold a long-awaited product in our hands for the first time, inhale the aroma of new plastic and run our eyes lovingly over every stitch of art adorning the cover and disc. Perhaps these game retail folks are the purest sort of brilliant, able to sell what we not only don't need, but don't really want, by playing to our need for ownership.
I feel as if I should be deeply ashamed, and perhaps repentant, but I also feel that just this once I've got license to be stupid. This is Halo, after all. And although I've thrown caution to the wind - and all my principles with them - for some reason, I'm OK with it. Perhaps it's because I know in eight days I'll be playing Halo 3. And after all, it's not like I bought a Mountain Dew just for the stupid can. Yet.