Playstation 3 shooting a folklore

Nicholas Collard

Reuters, Associated Press, CBS and some other major news outlets have reported that Michael Penkala, 21, was shot and almost killed outside of a Wal-Mart in Putnam, Conn. He was camping outside of the store just before the release of Sony’s Playstation 3, with a handful of other customers around 3 a.m., when two assailants attempted to steal his wallet. He refused to give it to them and was shot several times. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said Penkala was given a free Playstation 3.

This shooting was an isolated incident, though other robberies and riotous activity from excited shoppers were reported around the country. The level of hype Penkala’s attack received from the media created a fervor among customers, and as his name was forgotten, his story quickly became an urban legend.

Life is filled with urban legends. They are a vital element of the daily folklore that passes between people every day. We hear them in the stories that our parents tell us at night, from the friends we hang out with every day, and in the frequent exchanges with coworkers and customers in the workplace. Many urban legends are products of real occurrences, but when these isolated accounts transition into common stories with common motifs and archetypes told by several individuals, then they take on the mythical properties necessary to be considered an urban legend.

Well folks, as a trend watcher, I thought it only necessary to inform you of this story that has gotten so big in recent weeks that it may now very well be an urban legend. Working at a video game store in Valencia, I come into contact with many different people from many different walks of life. They always have something to report about the gaming world, most of which I try to ignore. But one story had been relayed to me constantly by so many people. I started calling it “the guy who got shot.” You might have heard it as “the guy who got shot for his Playstation 3” or any of its other common variations. These variations include the long form: “the guy who got shot in line at Best Buy for his Playstation 3 in (insert city here)” or the briefer form, which requires more of a contextual setting: “that guy.”

Parents and somewhat informed teenagers tend to use the former phrase in order to quantify their knowledge of the incident, whereas children rushing in and adults rushing out will be quick to use the latter example at any mention of how bad the supply to demand ratio is for the Playstation 3 video game console.

Radio talk show host John Ziegler said on his show recently that the Putnam shooting, and others like it, are an unsurprising consequence of an in-demand game system which “attracts people who think that “Grand Theft Auto” is a documentary for their life” hitting the market in such limited supply. Ziegler’s comment fits appropriately in the context of the ever growing debate over the effects of video game violence on children as ultra violent games like “Grand Theft Auto,” “Saint’s Row” and “True Crime” continue to lead the market with record sales.

I disagree, however. While this explanation is a great prelude to a lively debate about media-induced moral degradation within our society, the real reason for such a heinous act is much more simple. There was a group of people, each carrying at least $599 plus tax in disposable income, lined up in the parking lot of an unsecured major shopping establishment in the middle of the night!

That guy, though, who became that poor, unfortunate, nameless guy robbed in almost every city nationwide- his image has almost become that of a professional victim, touring the country seeking pain. The last three people who mentioned him to me said he was shot in Palmdale, New York City and “somewhere in Kentucky.”

It is only a matter of time before parents tell the tale of “that guy” to their children, in the eager attempt to raise their awareness of the dangers of camping outside a Wal-Mart during the witching hour.

I guess the moral of that story would be: Shop at Target?