the siren song of the sale
Screenshot: PlayStation Store

There was a time when all I wanted to achieve in life was having a library of video games to go alongside a library of books.

It would probably look like Belle’s library in Beauty and the Beast- maybe less floors- and no gilded stairway- and not in France- OK, it would be a wall in a room in whatever house or apartment I could afford. A ton of books on one wall, and then another shelf on another wall that was just wall to wall games and consoles and maybe some cool statues or something.

Oh, the naïveté of youth!

As an adult, I live in a studio apartment with my gorgeous fiancée, several dozen records, as many books as we can fit, and a cat. No space for a TV, even. I’ve mentioned before how for me it’s the summer of handhelds, but even when we move into a bigger place I don’t think I’ll stress about displaying a ton of video games. One, I don’t have them anymore, and two, I’m trying to worry less about “stuff”.

When I purchased my PS3 years ago, the very first thing I did was pick up Arkham Asylum and The Orange Box. But the other thing I did was download Bioshock. At first it was necessity- I couldn’t find a physical copy at the same time as the other couple of games and I really wanted to play it. I realized pretty quickly that hey, I like having that extra space under my TV. When I eventually signed up for PS Plus, I started to accrue dozens of games. I actually was motivated to purchase my Vita because of the backlog that I had built up for it. To this day, I still don’t have a single physical Vita game and I like it that way.

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I know all the nightmare stories about “what if your files get corrupted?”, “if you ever change systems, you’ll lose all your games!”, and (my favorite) “THINK OF THE FUTURE.” I think for the most part what’s most important is preserving source code and gaming historians being better at preserving and organizing that rather than trying to keep rapidly degrading consoles or cartridges up to date. In Boss Fight’s Mega Man 3 book, author Salvatore Pane talks about his television looking like “a dying man on life support”, plugged into half a dozen different consoles. I don’t want that for myself.

For me playing video games has an ephemeral quality. Hard copy advocates often express how they’ll be upset if they’re unable to play their favorite game again, how every console should be backwards compatible. I love that I can play a game, feel satisfied, and delete it from my hard drive whenever I feel like it. I can download it again if I’ve the inclination, but for the most part once something’s been played once, it’s gone. It’s incredibly freeing. Like a good live performance of a play or music, I’m enjoying it in the moment and less concerned about preserving the experience forever.

I like the space saving factor- and I like the savings. I’ve never paid more than twenty dollars for a digital game. Sure, I’ve picked up a couple hard copies of games- Amazon ran a sale on Horizon: Zero Dawn pretty soon after it came out so I snagged that while I could (a rare example of me being on top of a trend), and when I was trying to distract myself while spending a lot of time in a hospital last fall I picked up Uncharted 4 for something like fifteen dollars. I’m not one of those people who will ask if a game is worth a certain amount of dollars, but I will also wait as long as I can hold out for things to drop in price. It’s only mildly hypocritical.

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Don’t get me wrong- I still love a good used game store and there are some systems where I absolutely need the hard copy (looking at you, GBA). I’ll always remember the entire day I spent tracking down Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. But for the most part, that has lost a lot of appeal to me. If the games industry can work to make digital a more friendly storefront (aka is the PSN store doesn’t go down every five minutes), I imagine that’s where I’ll spend my money.