You may have recently read about a video game collection which has apparently sold on ebay for $1.2 million. Whilst some have questioned the validity of the sale, the amount of coverage generated by the news points to one thing: video game collecting is serious business.
Since the first wave of games consoles was released in the late 1970’s, there have always been video game collectors. However, as technology progresses ever faster, it seems that the onset of nostalgia and a longing for times past happens more and more quickly. In recent years interest in video game collecting and retro-games and gaming appears to have hit the big time. The fact that the new Disney Pixar movie Wreck-It- Ralph is a loving homage to the medium proves as much. The pale and pasty misfits are slowly dragging themselves from their mothers basements and are now thrusting retro gaming and games collecting into the mainstream.
This has got to be better than the Super Mario Bros. movie right?
I still find it incredible how quickly we yearn for the past. It only seems like we were all playing Super Mario 64 and Goldeneye 007 two minutes ago but already they’re being spoken about as if they existed long, long ago, shrouded in the mists of time. As a result of this, the cost of retro games is increasing rapidly as collectors clamour to recapture a piece of their past. YouTube is rife with gamers proudly showing off their collections or un-boxing their latest find. In addition to this, the last couple of years has seen a massive increase in so called “home-brew” games which are still being developed for consoles we thought had been consigned to history. It’s as if we’re all desperately trying to cling to the past, refusing to accept the fact that, to quote Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changin’, and that this process is accelerating with each passing day.
I’m sure you all appreciate the simple pleasure of visiting a video game shop and collecting a brand new game, stepping out into the open as you frantically unwrap the cellophane, remove the multitude of stickers with trembling hands, open the box, remove the instruction booklet, bring it to your face and breath deeply. This process has always been an absolute joy for me and this feeling has never been diminished, even as the lines on my face furrow ever deeper and my general cynicism towards life increases, I can still find solace in the smell of an old video game manual.
Imagine a world in which this experience is no longer possible; a world without relationships being destroyed by a stubborn refusal to surrender his or her ‘games’ room to a baby and its nursery; a world with no discs to scratch; no cartridges to frantically blow into in the hope we can squeeze a few more precious moments out of Mario Kart; no physical games to hold as our hands tremble with anticipation. A world in which games are solely available via digital download.
The above scenario will become a reality in the not too distant future and we are undoubtedly moving towards a time when entire game collections will exist purely in the digital realm. Valve have been offering a digital download service via Steam for some time now and, only recently, New Super Mario Bros. 2 was made available for download via Nintendo’s eShop. Furthermore, the boom in the download-centric mobile gaming market has drawn envious glances from companies such as Nintendo, who have watched on helplessly as Angry Birds has become a global phenomenon and been downloaded over a billion times! However, keep in mind that it costs less than £1 for me to download most mobile games, whereas a digital copy of New Super Mario Bros. 2 costs approximately £39.99. Nintendo must make sure they get the pricing right if their loyal followers are going to fully embrace the notion that digital downloads are the future.
It’s hard to explain why I’m so adverse to the idea of this process for video games, especially when I have to admit that I love utilising download-only purchases for music and, to a lesser extent, films. I adore iTunes and was only to happy to consign my old CD collection to the past or, more accurately, the back of a cupboard. I guess it’s just because video games are my passion and, in much the same way as a collector of vinyl would consider the notion of converting to digital downloads a heresy, I feel that a conversion to download only releases will somewhat lessen the magic. Then again, maybe I am just blinded by nostalgia. Was blowing into an ageing NES or SNES cartridge repeatedly ever really that wonderful?
It must also be said that I love my collection of Virtual Console games. These downloads have enabled me to accumulate a collection of games that would otherwise have cost me a considerable amount of money. However, the fact of the matter is that this doesn’t really feel like a collection. The games don’t exist in any tangible space, as if they are just floating in the Nintendo ether. I don’t really feel as if I actually own these games, which is slightly galling for me. Now we must all learn to accept that this may well be the case for all releases in the future, certainly if the developers have their way. I would happily predict that any console released after the next wave of hardware, will be disc-drive free. No boxes to lovingly caress and arrange; no instruction booklets to sniff… It damn near breaks my heart.
Digital downloads are convenient, fast (in the majority of cases), clean and clinical. But where’s the sense of excitement that comes with attending a midnight opening in the pouring rain, surrounded by slightly unhinged individuals who have been camping outside for weeks on end? Where’s the wonder of pouring over the box-art and instruction manual during the journey home? The whole argument seems to have created a real sense of “them VS. us” within the gaming community. An army of passionate fans standing against the evil corporations who want to meddle in our gaming routines and rituals and drag us kicking and screaming into a download only reality. I admit this is something of an exaggeration, but a future in which all games are stored on a hard drive and not a dusty, lovingly assembled set of shelves is difficult for me to accept.
The main justification for this change seems to be that it will prevent piracy and, ultimately, be less costly for us gamers. This may well be the case to begin with but we all know that hackers will quickly find a way to exploit the new technology. The only thing we can be sure about is that this change will also spell the final death knell for the second hand and used video game market. By including download only content codes with the majority of recent mainstream releases the game development companies have already started the ball rolling and this strategy will become utilised more and more as time goes on. The foundation for a digital only future has been well and truly lain. Nintendo may not have been at the forefront of this for traditional releases but the Nintendo e-shop is a sure sign that this is likely to change, very quickly.
The future has already begun.
A purely digital future is inevitable, no matter how loud we may protest or stamp our feet. It’s looming on the horizon like an approaching tsunami from which there is no escape. We can try and deny it is coming for us but ultimately, there can be no escape. We will all have to make a decision sometime– do we accept defeat and dive on in, or do we retreat to our living rooms, close the curtains, lock the door and alphabetise our Super Nintendo cartridges, as the rest of society surf the digital download wave? Don’t be shy, my constant readers. Throw in your two cents.