After that, the Slim began to behave as if it was haunted by the demon from Insidious. Games would begin to load up only to abruptly quit, booting me all the way back to the dashboard for no discernible reason. And once, near the conclusion of a particularly trying quest in Oblivion, the Slim just shut down completely, as if someone--the demon maybe?--had yanked the power cord from the wall at the worst possible moment.
The Slim's hiccups became such a handicap that trying to load F.E.A.R. 3 for review purposes a few weeks back required approximately between 10 and 12 load-up do-overs before the game would finally "take." F.E.A.R. 3 is not a great game. But having to endure hardware issues, while on deadline, certainly did not bolster my opinion of it.
I spent 45 minutes on the phone last Friday morning with a peppy, warm-voiced man named Wade. Wade works at Microsoft headquarters where he apparently fields calls from people like me on a daily basis. Wade walked me through a few troubleshooting routines over the phone. He had me remove the hard drive from the Slim--pop open the bottom; yank the drive out by its cloth cord, voila, etc.--his theory being that perhaps corrupted data on the drive was causing games to load improperly.
Yet, even sans hard drive, discs struggled to load. The green light on the front of the Slim feverishly winked at me like an insane asylum patient.
Wade was quiet when I informed him that the problem was persisting. I knew that he was gathering himself--I could feel it--getting ready to deliver THE NEWS--information that he no doubt had delivered to possibly hundreds of 360 owners before me, and would deliver again to many other 360 owners after I hung up the phone.
"Unfortunately, there's no other choice here," he said. "You'll have to send the 360 in for repair."
As Wade described the next steps in the repair process to me--an email would be sent to me which would contain shipping labels, which I will have to print out; the turnaround for the 360 would be two to four weeks, etc.--my anger bubbled to the surface.
"I'm sorry, Wade, so please don't take this personally, but this is the fourth f***ing time I've had a 360 fail on me," I said. "I'm beyond f***ing frustrated at this point. You know, as a consumer, I should hate the 360 as a console and Microsoft as a brand at this point. But the funny thing is, I don't. I don't, Wade. And I don't f***ing know why."
Wade cleared his throat, but otherwise remained silent, allowing me to continue with my diatribe.
"You know, maybe you guys worked some sort of voodoo on me. Maybe you people hypnotized me somehow. Whatever it is, despite the number of times I've been screwed over by Microsoft and its faulty hardware, the thought of having to live without my 360 for two to four weeks sends me plummeting downward into a panic spiral. No kidding. My chest tightens up just thinking about the weeks--weeks!--I'll spend without my 360, not to mention the fact that I also evaluate games as my job, which means that doing my job for the next two to four weeks will be a huge pain in the ass for me.
"If my PS3 or Wii should go down--which they never, ever have, for the record--I think I would be mostly OK with it. But I need the 360, Wade. I need it."
Wade, to his great credit, let me get it all off my chest. Who knows what he was doing on the other end of the line while I was gassing on? Maybe he was listening intently and feeling genuine empathy for me. Or, more likely, Wade had locked eyes with one of his fellow call center mates and was making mock jag-off motions in the air. (If I was Wade, that's definitely what I would have been doing.)
I did a little math this morning. Since the 360 launch in 2005 I've spent an unbelievable two to four months, in total, waiting for various incarnations of 360s to be either repaired or replaced. And here I am, seven motherf***ing years into the machine's lifecycle, and I'm doing it once again.
Another sad 360 story: I once purchased a 360 for a friend of mine a few years back. (He was about to get married, and I wanted him to play BioShock while he still had the time to do so.) While visiting him, the machine red-ringed right in front of us. Mortified, and not wanting to leave my friend 360-less or have him go through the whole Wade process, I simply went to the nearest Target and bought him a new 360 and personally ate the $400 cost.
And yet, after all of this, after all the failure and betrayal and disappointment, the 360 remains my console of choice, and I don't understand why anymore. Wouldn't a group of sane people, two or three hardware failures ago, decide to forego all Microsoft products altogether? If you buy a Chevy and it shits out on you every 75 miles, the next time you go to buy a car chances are most people wouldn't say, "Well, I'm interested in buying another Chevy, since the last one turned out to be such a huge piece of goat shit."
But gamers are a strange lot. We're very, very forgiving. We have an incredibly high tolerance for bullshit. Case in point: By the time Jack Tretton got around to apologizing at Sony's E3 press conference this year, you could feel the tidal shift of goodwill coming from the crowd, as if we were collectively saying, "Aw, come on, Jack. Pshaw. We forgive you for the security breach that may or may not have resulted in the pilfering of our personal banking information! Now show us Uncharted 3, you scamp! Woo!"
And so I sit, brow furrowed, gazing at the gaping hole which my Slim once occupied beneath my television, trying like hell to convince myself that Microsoft f***ing sucks, that the 360 sucks, that the stupid Master Chief eats bags of cocks, etc. and not even coming remotely close to succeeding.