Mike Snider and Brett Molina, USA TODAY
An annual bug is making its way around the workplace and classroom: the Call of Duty contagion.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II, expected to be the biggest video game release of the year, hits stores Tuesday. And hundreds of thousands of gamers are expected to line up at thousands of stores, including Best Buy and GameStop, to get the game at midnight and play all night long - and perhaps all day Tuesday.
Some fans of the popular first-person shooter combat game already have taken the day off. But don't be surprised if a few co-workers and students call in sick Tuesday morning suffering from a Black Ops II hangover.
"I have a few folks on my staff who are passionate gamers, and I know for a fact they are going to be taking the day off," says Chris Koller, vice president of Best Buy's home business group. "I signed the day-off slip for them. ... It's an event. They do it every year."
The chain plans to have about 900 stores open Monday night - about one-third of which will let customers play the game on big-screen LG 3D TVs starting at 9 p.m.
Each of the past three years, Call of Duty releases have surpassed the preceding release, and pre-orders suggest Black Ops II will continue the trend. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 took in first-day sales in 2011 of more than $400 million, selling more than 6.5 million units in North America and the United Kingdom.
In addition to a story mode that takes about eight hours to play through, there's an online multiplayer combat game that many gamers devote hundreds of hours to playing.
The game, which is rated "Mature" for ages 17 and older, hits a sweet spot among males, from teens to fortysomethings. "Many of my husband's students will cut classes," says Esther Cepeda of Chicago, an avid video gamer married to a high school teacher. In their household, she says, "there's no class cutting allowed for a video game, even Black Ops II."
In the workplace, "we might see some unplanned absences go up, especially among Generation Yers and Millennials," says John Challenger, CEO of employment consulting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. "I could see where (information technology) departments might be decimated."
But the numbers of absences won't reach the levels seen after Election Day or even the release of a new Apple iPhone, says Lisa Orndorff, manager of employee relations at the Society for Human Resource Management. Far fewer will take off than do during the first two days of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament.
"Thankfully for me, it's my day off," says Josh Cascio, a TV reporter for WTVT, a Fox affiliate in Tampa Bay, who played Halo 4 in preparation for his Election Day shift. This Tuesday, he says, "I'll be spending the day saving the U.S."
At Treyarch, the studio that developed Black Ops II, studio head Mark Lamia confesses that "I've heard stories of increased numbers of 'sick days' during Call of Duty launches. I'd like to wish everyone I'll see online on (Tuesday) a speedy recovery."