max payne, condoms, nutella

At some point in middle school when I found myself with a $20 bill, and the world seemed like it fit in my palm, I went to a video game store at The Falls called Electronics Boutique, which later became Gamestop and then later went outta business, and bought a pre-owned copy of Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne for PC and, over the next ten years, probably went on to play it for a few thousand hours—and it’s by far the most nostalgic period of my life. I’d sit in my room (which was both blessed and cursed with being the keepingplace for our family’s computer) and play Max Payne 2 with the volume muted, late at night when the house was quiet, and I’d listen to Kazaa-downloaded stand-up comedy (Lewis Black and George Carlin and Mitch Hedberg and Eddie Murphy and, sigh, the Redneck Comedy guys) or, a couple years later, I’d listen to author interviews from KCRW. Maybe entertain a couple simultaneous conversations on AOL Instant Messenger.

            I’ve got no reason to think that I’ve cultivated an audience here that gives (as Bill used to say) a twopenny fuck about video games, and I definitely don’t wanna get deep into onanistic Updike-style reminiscences that leave the reader out, but, if you’ll sit with me for a minute, lemme just say that Max Payne 2, though probably not one of the greatest games ever made, is far and away one of my favorites. Top five. I’m not much of a gamer, so my stamp of approval doesn’t count for much, but one of the soft spots I’ll always have for it is the fact that, apart from being endlessly playable (thanks to some nifty arcade-style unlockables), it’s a beautifully-rendered modern noir.

            The cutscenes in Max Payne 2 are made to look like panels in a comic book. There’s the perpetual sound of ambient rain in the background and the artwork is gorgeous and the music is haunting and the whole thing is just…a masterpiece.

            I’ve got this tremendous soft spot for that whole education I was absorbing, between the ages of 12 and 16, about storytelling, about comedy and timing and pacing, during those summer nights when I would play Max Payne 2 for maybe five hours straight, legs folded under me in the desk chair, listening to the great routines from modern stand-up comics and then, down the line, listening to interviews on KCRW Bookworm with Norman Mailer, David Foster Wallace, Bret Easton Ellis, Don DeLillo, Susan Sontag, Kurt Vonnegut.

            Anyway. When Max Payne 3 was released in like the first or second week of summer vacation, 2012, I went to the midnight release and, apart from buying the game, bought a PlayStation 3 so that I could play it. Spent like $350 literally to play just that one game.

            It remains, to this day, the only midnight release I’ve ever attended (apart from movies: I did Dark Knight Rises and Watchmen at midnight and also, for some reason, Transformers 2).        

            I got to the Gamestop on US1 and 136 st early, at like 11:15, expecting a long line. But there wasn’t one. Just a few scattered teens and twentysomethings milling about in the parking lot.

            The whole scene was so relaxed that I went next door, to Little Hoolies, and had a couple beers and then, at 11:50 or thereabouts, I stepped outside again to find that the crowd had barely grown. Still no line. So I stood there among the gamers, most of them in oversized black t-shirts with demons on them, and waited. The demons on everyone’s clothing should’ve probably clued me into something.

            Waited and waited.

            Eventually somebody tried striking up conversation with me, asked if I was a fan of the series.

            “Oh yeah,” I said. “Love it.”

            “Which one’s your favorite?”

            “Second one, for sure.”

            “Ahdunno,” he says, “I’m big on the first.”

            Something like that.

            Anyway, I remember he gave me a suspicious look at one point and asked me a few more questions and seemed to grow more and more suspicious about my answers until eventually he walked away. Which also should’ve clued me into something but I don’t seem to pay attention to anything.

            Few minutes later an employee comes to the door and lets us in and I see these huge, standing, cut-out advertisements for Diablo III, some other hugely popular game that was apparently being released…tonight.

            This was the game that everybody’s here to purchase in their demon clothing.

            When I got to the counter I asked for a PlayStation 3 and a brand new game that nobody wanted—I could see people trading glances at the sound of my order, like I was asking for condoms and Nutella.

            Anyway. Finally got the game and went home and fell in love with it. Same as with Max Payne 2. Played it over and over that summer, listened to interviews and stand-up comedy while doing so. Modernized and re-lived a wonderfully formative piece of my childhood.

            Anyway. The reason this all comes to mind is cuz the only other PS3 game I ended up getting really obsessed with was The Last of Us, which I see is now releasing a sequel in eight months, also about a decade following its first installment, on a console I don’t own.

            Condoms and Nutella all over again.

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