360: DEATH BECOMES IT – An introspective look at life without an Xbox

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360: DEATH BECOMES IT – An introspective look at life without an Xbox

Written by Blake Kenny

Originally Published on January 29, 2007

Working in the retail industry, especially in the videogame department definitely has its perks. No matter how many people pre-order videogames consoles, I’m sure to get mine. Although the 360’s launch was the last time that the company I work for allowed staff members to order a gaming system ahead of the public. Yaa, I get it, it’s unfair, but in the end, aren’t I paying for it just like everyone else? It’s not like a get a discount, especially when most consoles, unbeknownst to the general public average about $2 worth of mark-up. Still, that neither here nor there, I wanted a 360 badly and nothing was going to stand in my way, certainly not my employer.

So I got my gleaming new premium bundle 360 on launch day and impatiently worked through the rest of my day as I dreamt about my inevitable night of next-gen gaming bliss. For me, a new console supplies more happiness in my life than any Christmas present could ever hope to deliver. There truly is nothing that excites me more. Sure, the $1000.00 bill that comes with a system, an extended warranty and 5 games wasn’t very exciting, but I was sure it would all be worth it in the end.

Having worked in the same big-box electronics retailer for 4 years at that time, 5 now, I knew plenty of the people lined up to get their 360 systems on November 22nd ‘05. Some of them were casual acquaintances, some were friends and others were co-workers, one was even family. We all got our consoles, everyone was happy and all was right with the world.

Over the past year I’ve played my machine more than I imagine the average gaming fan, all this without any significant problems other than the occasional lock-up. I’ve been pretty lucky, but it was 5 weeks ago that the proverbial fox got into the hen house.

For nearly 10 years now, I’ve spent one morning a week, roughly from 8am until 2-3pm hanging out with a close friend zoning out. We would flip on whatever machine we owned at the time and escape the real world with several hours of consecutive gaming action. When this day arrives, everything else is put on hold. Paying bills, spending time with loved ones, it doesn’t matter, this is our day and it will likely continue until either he or I drop dead. It’s a ritual you might say, the one morning a week that we kick back, relax and forget all the bullshit that’s stockpiled within the annals of the real world.

Five weeks ago, while I was at his house, and without warning his machine started to locking-up literally within a few seconds of a game’s start. It didn’t matter what we played, it did this with each and every game we popped into the tray. There seemed to be no justifiable or understandable reason for it, so with reluctance I took up conversation with an extremely pleasant individual at Xbox tech support. As much as we preferred not to resort to such a measure, he knew and I knew, there was little choice. He asked a few rudimentary questions, we answered, and in the end it helped him to diagnose a possible problem. Unknown to me, first person shooters are “time dependent” as he put it. He informed us that if the systems clock was incorrect that for some reason or another, this could cause the system to freeze up when playing shooters. We fixed the clock (god only knows how it managed to get screwed up in the first place) and the system was back up and running. In fact it worked perfectly. We thanked this fella (damn, I wish I could remember his name, he was awesome) and we resumed our day, which I might add, went off without a hitch or incident.

The following weekend, with the events of the previous week all but a distant memory, evil reared its ugly head once again. Only this time, the red ring of death as it is commonly referred to by the gaming community. I knew this was trouble and probably spelled the end. We wept…

No amount of tech support was going to save this $500 paperweight. Thankfully, launch systems and now all systems come with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty – and Microsoft was going to foot the bill fixing or replacing my buddies’ lifeless shell of plastic, circuitry and glowing red lights, that in all rights should have been green. We spent the rest of our usual gaming day breaking away from tradition to pack his 360’s defunct corpse into a cardboard coffin for its trip to Ontario.

Somewhat reluctantly, thinking that perhaps my friends accursed wall outlet or television was the culprit, I packed up my own Xbox 360 the following weekend and brought it over to his place. As inconvenient as transporting it might be, at least we could still play. We played all day, no problem. In fact, we played the next weekend as well. All without an issue. Happy days were here again.

I still remember him saying to me as we left his house after our 2nd gaming session via my machine…

”I don’t get it, you play your machines 20 times more than I play mine and it’s still runs like a top.”

“I’m just lucky I guess”. I thought to myself.

Call it bad mojo, karma, fate, the wrath of God whatever you will, but for whatever the reason, I was cursed. Soon after I got home and hooked my system back up. My girlfriend has an addiction to only one game that I own and decided she wanted to play some Tiger Woods ’07. She stuck in the disc while the system was on the dashboard screen. After an unnaturally long wait the tray icon on the bottom left of the screen read “Unplayable Disc”. Instantly I was freaking out, the blood draining from my face. I took a deep breath. Even with the memories of a recently deceased 360 fresh in my mind, I knew it was to soon to worry and call in the paramedics. After all, the red ring of death was nowhere to be seen so there was no need to panic, not yet anyway.

We turned the machine off, then back on. Same thing… “Unplayable Disc”. I took the game out and inspected it. Perfect condition, not a scratch, fingerprint or speck of dirt on it anywhere, like all my games, it was flawless.

We started popping in some other games. For some odd reason Tiger had locked up on us several times in the past during the loading screens, so we figured we’d best try something else.

“Unplayable Disc”.

”Unplayable Disc”.

”Unplayable Disc”.

“NoooOOOoooooOOoooooooo….”

I noticed soon after that even though I could hear the fan running, it didn’t sound as though the disc was even beginning to spin. I figured the DVD drive must have busted, because it wasn’t even trying. I knew from years working at other game related jobs that this wasn’t really an uncommon issue. Anyone who remembers having to flip the original PlayStation upside down to read games will know what I’m talking about.

So here I was, 2 weeks to the day after my friends 360 croaked and now mine was dead too. The manufacturers warranty was out of the question for me, but fortunately I had picked up an in-store warranty from the place I purchased it. I brought it into the store the same day and away she went. Off to the repair depot for diagnostics, and certainly 4 weeks of sitting on a shelf collecting dust before someone even bothered to take a look at it. Naturally this pissed me off. I had tried some troubleshooting tips I read about online, but none of them worked, so I had little choice. I either coughed up another 500 bones to buy another one or I sat at home in the dark with the icy sweats of withdrawal, while I waited for it to come back. I’m not a rich man, you figure it out.

If you’re a serious gamer like I am; you know what it’s like to be without a game system for any significant length of time. It’s an empty feeling, like you’ve lost your legs or something. Hell, I hate to say something so shallow about an inanimate object, but loosing a game console for me is akin to loosing a loved one to a disease or illness, it leaves a hole in my heart.

I knew my system may be gone for up to 8 weeks and against my desires to do so, traded on about a half dozen games that I had intended to keep in order to step backwards and buy a Playstation 2 along with Final Fantasy XII. There was no way I could survive without a game system in my home, even if it meant a serious downgrade in processing power and graphics. While my friend and I had become accustomed to playing the powerful 360, that weekend he came over to my place and we fired up the PS2 for the day. Sure, it’s not as spectacular, but we had a good time playing FFXII, Shadow of the Colossus and Guitar Hero 2 for the day.

Well, it’s been almost a month since my system left. To the surprise of my buddy and myself we were extremely impressed with the lengths Microsoft went to, to satisfy him as a customer. 3 weeks after we sent his system away, it’s been replaced. A brand new machine arrived at his house and we were thrilled to have it back. 3 weeks not a bad turnaround. Surely not everyone has been as lucky, but you won’t find any complaints from us.

In fact he has a regular Xbox as well, and since he still plays Project Gotham 2 like it’s the only game on earth, has been kind enough to lend his machine to me, so I could continue my work for this site and continue playing at the level to which I have become accustomed. His 360 is here now, keeping warm the cabinet space so rightfully designated to my own machine. It’s a welcome visitor to be sure.

In writing this I’m left wonder what, if any point am I trying to make here. Well I’m not really sure. I suppose to me, I felt like I was writing a horror story. Games are such a big part of my life that losing a machine to technical inadequacies is certainly horrific in my eyes. I challenge any serious gamer to face the tragedies which had befallen us and come out so clean on the other side. It leaves one twiddling their thumbs and biting their fingernails with anticipation. It’s not at all a good time. Not as good as holding that white controller in your hands.

Maybe it’s about how a Playstation 2, no matter how inferior by comparison, still does something that’s far more important than the visual bang you get from a glorious HD console. It entertains, because after all, a great game isn’t measured by its looks alone.

Maybe it’s about how Microsoft, the current Northern American leader in this console war is aware that the 360 isn’t without its share of problems. After all, they’ve stepped up the length of their own manufacturers warranty and this if nothing more shows concern for their customers and a continuing desire to try and be there for the people. As upsetting as it has been to a lot of people to have their Xbox 360’s break for no apparent reason, Microsoft does seem to have a willingness to try and remedy these situations. While I’m sure there are plenty of horror stories out there and plenty of pissed of gamers, our personal experience was rather positive. From the great tech support we received to the incredibly fast turnaround on my buddies’ console, we’ve been satisfied to the fullest, despite the inconvenience. Now, if only my system could return as quickly. The wait continues.

On a personal note: In checking on the status of my console, I’ve been informed that as I write this, it’s on it way back to me.