OCHAZUKE: PlayStation’s Best Game: Capitalism

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CRAZED NEW WORLD–Nobby Thamma of San Gabriel purchases one of only eight new PlayStation 3 game systems, Friday at Target in Alhambra. Thamma, along with the other seven customers who camped in front of the store for two nights in order to buy the new console, said that he intends to immediately sell his on eBay–at a sizeable profit. (Mikey Hirano Culross/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS

First published Saturday, Nov. 25, 2006

You gotta love any release of a toy that includes a body count. Kind of like the “celebration” that follows a Detroit professional sports championship.

Mikey Hirano Culross

Let’s run down some of the casualties resulting from mobs of folks trying to get their mitts on the new PlayStation 3 video game console:

in Palmdale Wednesday–two days before the release of the game–cops had to shut down the Wal-Mart after the waiting crowd got unruly and took to running amok through the store;

in Wisconsin, a 19-year-old man who was racing other frenzied gamers ran face-first into a pole;

outside a Wal-Mart in Connecticut, a pair of enterprising thugs mugged several people waiting overnight for the PlayStation, shooting one of them;

when the stores opened Friday, the behavior had only deteriorated, with fist fights in New York, a man punching out police in Fresno and a near riot at the Westfield Eastland Shopping Center in West Covina.

All this for a toy? For those unfamiliar with the situation, let me back up a bit.

The PlayStation 3 is the latest video/computer game system from Sony. It plays a variety of in-home and internet games, as well as new, ultra-high-definition DVDs. At about $600 per unit, I wonder if it doesn’t also iron your shirts.

What’s so intriguing about the situation and the mania of the last few days is that it has almost nothing to do with games. When I spoke with the several dozen campers waiting Thursday in front of the Target store in Alhambra, all of them admitted they intended to immediately resell the console–if they were lucky enough to get one–for a profit on eBay.

For those needing a further refresher course, eBay is the internet-based auction site where one can buy almost anything imaginable, from electronics to used false teeth to mortal souls. It is the broadest–and perhaps purest–expression of good ol’ American capitalism, where the goal is to sell coveted merchandise to the highest bidder.

Anyone now holding a PlayStation 3 is well aware that the highest bidders are on line and ready to spend. Sony, after months of production delays and snafus, has managed to ship a paltry 400,000 PlayStation 3 consoles to the U.S., where they could have easily sold a couple million by Christmas.

As of Friday morning, one PS3 closed on eBay at more than $14,000. That’s no misprint folks: 14 thousand. A quick check into the rating of the “lucky” buyer reveals that his reputation is suspect at best, with comments from sellers such as, “Do not buy or sell to this man,” and another saying something about the police being involved. KNX radio devoted part of their morning business news to the subject, with one analyst doubting whether that hefty sales price would actually ever be paid.

Most of the PS3s on eBay Friday afternoon were selling in the $2,000 to $3,000 range, but as noted on KNX, many of the buyers had relatively low feedback ratings.

One of my Rafu coworkers asked, “Why bother paying that kind of price when you can wait a month and buy one at regular price?” Again, this madness is not about a toy. It’s our free-market economy operating quite normally. This is about turning over a commodity for a profit, but here, the human element is involved. Maybe I’m struck by it because it involves the adulteration and exploitation of something that is, after all, supposedly for kids.

The holiday cheer has also been sucked out of another innocent plaything this year, the newest incarnation of the Tickle Me Elmo. This is a delightful toy, which laughs and giggles and rolls around–and you can’t help but smile.

There were very few smiles at Target in Pasadena a couple of weeks ago, though. I was there when the doors opened at 8 a.m., along with a dozen or so Elmo hopefuls, only to walk in and find a line of some 20 employees at the registers purchasing the precious dolls.

With the toy in very limited supply, one woman absolutely flipped out, with a tantrum that makes that tasered guy at UCLA seem like a calm, reasonable fellow. She flew into a rage, shouting at the stunned—but undaunted—employee-purchasers, slapping boxes off of counters and threatening to have them all fired.

Meanwhile, I calmly strolled over to the toy shelf, picked up a Tickle Me Elmo and went downstairs to pay at a another register. I could still hear her screaming yuletide murder upstairs.

Oh yeah, before I forget, Merry Christmas.

Mikey Hirano Culross is editor of the Rafu’s Arts & Entertainment and Travel sections and can be reached at [email protected] Ochazuke is a staff-written column and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Rafu Shimpo.

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