Hobbits gather round for the 'Fellowship of the Wii'

November 14, 2012 

“YOU … SHALL … NOT … PASS!” — The door at GameStop, December 2006 (Well … figuratively. It was locked.)

During the holiday season of 2006, there was no more popular play thing than the Nintendo Wii. A video game console with broad appeal and an original spin on gaming, it was fun and fresh and, of course, in extremely sparse quantity. Crowds gathered and lines formed just as they did for the Furby and the Cabbage Patch Kid or whatever this year’s excuse will be to forget the Reason for the Season.

Knowing I’m a gamer, you might surmise I was among the fervent horde, clawing my way past lesser consumers to the sweet nectar of motion-capture Zelda. Not quite.

That year, my kid brother really wanted a Wii for Christmas. I’d played one once and thought it was cool but had no pining desires for the console — I was out of the game at that point. My siblings and I were mostly grown by then, so our parents could be more pragmatic about the jolly bearded man. They approached me about finding one for my brother with rumor of a recent shipment. So if I wanted one for Christmas too maybe we could both go and see what the lines were like and maybe do some brotherly bonding and if it works out, it works out.

At about midnight on a Saturday night in Philly, my brother and I set out. We stopped at Best Buy, discovering a colony of tents; Circuit City (RIP), roped-off spots and foreboding signs; and Target, a panicked crowd of 20 debating a rumor of only 12 Wiis. Ready to give up, my brother and I swung by a GameStop. There were two people and a locked door with a sign guaranteeing nine Wiis in the morning. We jumped in line.

Over the next hour, the line filled out to nine. At first, we didn’t converse, just did whatever we planned in advance to pass the time: read, sleep, Game Boy, shiver. But as outsiders inquired about the line, the group bonded in politely turning them away. I came to learn the first two in line were grad students at Temple; three were parents in line for their kids; and the last two were still drunk from earlier at the bowling alley.

United for a cause, we were a fellowship: The Fellowship of the Wii. (Upon bestowing the name, we spent an hour searching for other “Lord of the Rings” parallels, but found only that the bowling alley lady was kind of like Gollum because she peed behind a bush.)

Once morning came, some went out to buy coffee for the Fellowship; others bought bagels; the rest held spots. We nine strangers, for a brief time, were friends, were a community.

When the doors to the GameStop — for the night as symbolically impenetrable as the gates of Mordor — finally opened at 10 a.m., the group watched elated as each member entered and departed with the Wii they so doggedly earned and also paid for with their money. Everyone said their goodbyes and season’s greetings knowing we’d never meet again. My brother and I climbed into our minivan as, yes, kin, but now also as two hobbits who, with the help of some friends, accomplished what they had set out for.

Nintendo’s new console, the Wii U, hits stores Sunday. Whether that’s the “big toy” or it’s something else, I hope there’s a little more Frodo and Sam in everyone’s shopping season.

Andy is disappointed there wasn’t a way to shoehorn his dad in as Gandalf the Grey.

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