Many current Xbox 360 owners are intimately familiar with the long list of common technical problems that have plagued the console since it was released in November 2005. Such issues include, but are not limited to, the “Screen of Death” (the result of a fatal error) and the “Ring of Death” (three red lights on the console’s power button, indicating a hardware failure). In early February, my five-month old Xbox 360 fell victim to the less-colorfully-nicknamed (but equally dreaded) “Dirty Disc Error.”

The Dirty Disc Error crept its way into my video-gaming life slowly, popping up on occasion while I was battling one of the Flame Atronachs that lurk within the Corridors of Dark Salvation populating the Plane of Oblivion, or while I was beating a brain-munching zombie across the head with a sledgehammer in Dead Rising. But it wasn’t long before the Dirty Disc Error became an every-15-minutes ordeal. The game would cut out, I would receive the error message, and then check the disc—-which was, of course, completely clean. Like a fool, I kept cleaning the discs each time I received this message in the hope of wiping away an unseen-yet-crucial smudge. Then I tried a DVD player lens-cleaning disc—-you know, one of those CDs with the little brushes on them. No luck. Finally, I turned to the all-knowing Internet in search of answers.

It’s amazing what results googling “Xbox 360” and “Dirty Disc Error” yields. As I continued to search, I realized that hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people shared my plight. I read their stories. I tried their potential solutions—-including removing the hard drive, clearing the cache, and checking for anything that might cause the unit to overheat. In the end, I found myself in the same position they did: I had to send my console to Microsoft for repair. The good news was that, last December, Microsoft extended the standard 90-day warranty for all units purchased in the U.S. and Canada to one year. The bad news was that this oh-so-generous policy was likely the result of the steady flow of complaints and multiple lawsuits they had faced due to the Xbox 360’s technical issues.

Between shipping my console (on my own dime, no less) to Microsoft’s repair center in Texas, their fixing it, and the time it took to be shipped back to me, I had to wait close to two weeks before having a supposedly working console in my hands. I’m not sure if what I received was the same unit or a refurbished one—-but it definitely wasn’t a new one. It even had the same type of Samsung drive that was supposedly the root of the Dirty Disc Error. Microsoft wouldn’t even give me one of their newer, quieter, and less error-prone BenQ drives. But what did I care? I had a working Xbox 360 again, and—even if the drive is louder than a goddamned lawnmower—I could finally get back to Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals’ virtual quest for the Stanley Cup in NHL 2007.

And, what do you know: Just the other night, my Xbox 360 crapped out on me again. This time, it was the popular “Reading/Open Tray Error.” The drive doesn’t recognize that there’s a disc in the unit, regardless of whether it’s old or new, a game or a DVD. Once again, I hit the Internet, and it didn’t take very long for that that sinking feeling to come back. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of people have had this problem. I went through the troubleshooting motions anyway knowing that they wouldn’t fix anything, and my suspicions were confirmed shortly thereafter. Perhaps, if I were some kind of super computer-geek, I could try one of the many hacks and mods that posters on Xbox 360-related forums claim to have tried. But why bother? According to half of them, the hacks and mods don’t solve the problem either. And, if I were to attempt to fix the problem myself (aka “tamper with the unit”), my extended warranty would become void.

At least, this time, the Microsoft tech support guy offered to pay for the shipping—although it means I’ll have to wait an additional three to five business days for the pre-paid box in which I’m supposed to send the unit to them arrives. Sure, I can wait for a repaired Xbox 360 to show up on my doorstep—-but can the citizens of Crackdown‘s Pacific City?

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