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I Experienced Pure Unity at a Midnight Launch of 'Grand Theft Auto 5'

Turns out nothing brings people together like the possibility of wanton violence.
September 18, 2013, 2:40pm

Thanks to Candy Crush, brain training and JLS throwing a televised "Wii party" in a Chester showhome, attitudes toward video-gamers have changed dramatically over the past few years. The image of a basement-dweller punctuating Starcraft sessions with cans of Blue Bolt, toast and wanking has been consigned to the past. Today, the video-gamer is a LADbible disciple using FIFA 13 as ambient scenery for intensive strawpedo and rape joke marathons, a commuter who's swapped Metro for Fruit Ninja, or a Prince killing Afghans on CoD in the downtime between killing Afghans IRL. Today's video-gamer might still be a dick, but he has a social life now and video games are part of that. He is a dick with friends. He might even be a she.

If there's one thing that unites all these otherwise disparate groups – other than Prince Harry – it's a desire to do things in games that you'd never be able to do for real. It is unlikely, for example, that in this dull, grey world you will ever have to forge a life for yourself in a town full of talking animals that is presided over by an ageing tortoise Mayor. Or carbomb a hooker, or shoot a helicopter out of the sky with a tank, or torture an Azerbaijani man by attaching jump leads to his nipples.

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This is probably one of the reasons why the release of GTA V has been so eagerly awaited; it's been five years since a new Grand Theft Auto surfaced and allowed us to act out our inherent bad sides, unifying a legion of virtual crime lords – be they students, plumbers, hairdressers, accountants or actual crime lords – who can't wait to get back to the streets of Los Santos.

With this Rockstar-induced idyll in mind, I popped down to central London to visit all the folk dedicated enough to wait it out on a miserable Monday night for the game's midnight release.

Midnight launches were happening all across the country, but we chose the GAME inside Hamley's on Regent Street as our plot for the night. Before we even arrived, we noticed this guy camping outside the Apple store opposite. He was first in line for the new iPhone, due for release in a mere four days. He was also the only person in line for the new iPhone.

You may think he's a weirdo, but then you haven't watched him spend hours deflecting the mocking jibes of passers-by. Honestly, it was a masterclass of dignified self-deprecation. By the end of it, he seemed like the least objectionable person in the whole West End. He also claimed that he's been paid by Apple in the past to camp out on various global high streets and drum up an early buzz for their newest drop, which is a sense of initiative you have to commend. My primary income as an 18-year-old was waiting outside Spar and taking a healthy commission on the money given to me by schoolkids who wanted vodka and fags.

We arrived at the world famous toyshop to find a healthy line forming. As hypebeasts outside Supreme stores and refugees outside embassies have consistently proven, there's obviously something irresistible about taking part in this very special form of pageantry (the pageantry of queuing for an extended period of time).

Despite the odd rich-boy-racer leaning out of their tinted windows to shout that the crowd were "fucking losers", the mood remained positive. As lame as it is to spend 18 months tapping F5 on /r/videos in the hope that another 30-second trailer will reveal itself, there's nothing quite as lame as burning a purple Gallardo down Regents Street at 90mph while hurling insults at a group made up mostly of enthusiastic teenagers.

It was a bit perverse to see something as notoriously violent as GTA sharing window space with something as innocent as Thomas the Tank Engine. It's like if someone made you watch A Serbian Film while waiting for Loggers' Leap at Thorpe Park, only rather than a fun picture of you getting splashed next to some French tourists you end up with a lonely nightbus journey back to Penge.

As GTA: San Andreas allowed you to listen to a shitload of NWA, hang with some dude who looked a lot like Eazy-E and get hench as fuck, I was eager to know if this Activision recruit – someone who works in the world of video games, no matter how peripherally – really thought that GTA V could top its earlier predecessor.

Unfortunately, it seems that when you're being paid to promote the new Call of Duty, there's not much you're allowed to talk about other than Call of Duty. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of CoD leaflets on the pavement come midnight. Our guy even confessed that he'd be picking up his copy of GTA as soon as the 200 or so civilians had cleared.

It's currently London Fashion Week, meaning there was a noticeable presence of identikit beauties knocking about the West End, staring at their phones in the hope of finding the hottest LFW after-party, where they could go to continue staring at their phones.

So it was refreshing to see this Ed Hardy soldier, stunting in the queue like DJ Khaled just hired The Situation as his personal shopper. I'm sure this guy wins anything he attempts pretty much constantly, so I'd recommend hitting him up on XBox Live – username DMXyoloswag420 (probably) – for some pointers on how to up your game.

By now, there was a genuine sense of occasion in the air. These tourists even deemed the queue worthy of a holiday snap. It was as if the gathered crowds were basking in the reflected glory of GTA V, as if through their love of it they had become part of the game. Which I suppose is the closest a diehard video-gamer can come to experiencing something like football fandom. There are no stadiums for people who like Grand Theft Auto to go to.

This guy was first in the queue. Unlike the iPhone enthusiast we'd met earlier, he had taken the sensible decision to rock up about 20 minutes before everyone else, instead of four days. The good thing about taking that approach is that you end up with exactly the same result and save yourself from looking fucking mental.

I could quickly tell that our man was an OG fan – he kept a close eye on the time and clearly couldn't wait to get home and buy up a Los Santos strip club and spend a quiet Tuesday afternoon slaughtering all of his punters with a pump-action shotgun.

When the doors opened, the inevitable crush began. Credit to everybody working that night, who – despite being dressed like Cypress Hill on their way to a pool party – dealt very well with a situation that must have felt a bit like trying to herd a pack of feral cats into neat, orderly lines.

The first guy to buy the game said he wasn't "going to sleep tonight", which seemed to be the general consensus among everybody else left queuing outside. From Peckham rudeboys through Canary Wharf's yuppie set and spotty teens who'd just spent the last of their JSA on a return from Theydon Bois, it was going to be a violent night across London. Tweets would rain in, people bragging of being among the first in the world to massacre a crowd with a minigun, or set fire to a paramedic with a Molotov in the new and improved Los Santos landscape.

But not everyone was as keen to gloat about their impending virtual bloodbath. There was a noticeable contingent of thirty-something men in suits who refused to have their photo taken. I figured that maybe they didn't want their wives to know they were there, having earlier convinced them that they would be busy with regular activities for men of their age, like working late or continuing an affair in the loos of a Leicester Square chain pub.

However, they clearly haven't realised that video games are no longer the preserve of lonesome teens, but a universal form of entertainment enjoyed by anyone with the means to afford a console. These guys were part of one of the most diverse gatherings I've ever seen in London; all races, creeds and ages united by a mutual yearning to leave a bloody trail through a £170 million fictional narrative.

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Follow Jack on Twitter: @jackblocker

More times we've queued for stuff:

Are People Who Play 'Halo 4' Sexless Losers?

WATCH – In The Queue - Class War at Royal Ascot

WATCH – In the Queue - London Fashion Week