21 years ago this month, I walked into a Toys R Us store in Tukwila, Washingtonand walked out with a copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga for the failing Sega Saturn game system. I loved nearly everything about the game, or at least I enjoyed the 10 or so hours that I’d put into it before I stopped playing it. I had a mixed set of priorities at the time and gaming was more of a part-time thing that I did in-between bouts of partying. I sold it a few months later for about half of what I paid for it — a regret I’ve had ever since — and used the proceeds to buy beer and weed.
I credit that regret with spurring my more recent game collecting endeavors. Never mind that Panzer Dragoon Saga regularly sells on eBay for $400 to $500, I really just wanted to finish what I’d started when I played it. How did it end? How did it tie into Panzer Dragoon Orta, if at all? Would it hold up to repeated playthroughs two decades later? Vowing to never again find myself asking these questions of any game, I started collecting games for the third time in my life — this time more seriously.
While I’d love to regale you with tales of nobility and how I’m collecting games to help make sure that the art of gaming is never lost to time, the truth is, I had a shitty childhood and pretty messed up early-adult life and gaming was the one constant that I could always turn to when I wanted to forget about my problems. I collect now merely to hang onto that feeling and revisit it often, not for any higher purpose. I collect games because games make me happy, and I do so rather selfishly, I’m the first to admit. While I do have a small handful of games from my childhood — namely the Atari 2600 era — it’s the games that I had and lost, or never had at all, during my early adult life that I covet the most. Basically, if it’s NES-era or later, even up to present, I collect it. To date I’ve amassed greater than 3,000 physical copies of video games from the past 30 years; more than I’ll ever have time in my life to play. Consider my most recent foray into game collecting began in earnest only 2 and a half years ago at the time of this writing, I’m pretty pleased with my collection.
And I’m fairly certain my collecting days are now numbered, or at least I’m convinced that sometime in the next few years, physical video games will cease to exist at all.
As I look over my extensive collection of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 games, I’m realizing that most of what I own will be useless someday. This generation of consoles relies far too much on whatever is on the other end of an internet connection to survive the challenges of time. For example, what will my Destiny Limited Edition be worth if Destiny’s servers are ever shut down, as they inevitably will be? They’ll be worth the same as my Xbox One copy of Guitar Hero Live is worth now: nothing.
Maybe exceptions will be made for old games and through the magic of backward compatibility, companies like Microsoft and Sony will keep some of these titles alive and playable for as long as I own the disc, but more than likely none of these games will be worth a dime in 20 or 30 years because their online functionality will have been wiped out long before. While some of these games are playable without an internet connection at all, fewer and fewer of these much-coveted physical discs contain much more than a digital license and a few hundred megabytes of instruction code. The rest much all be retrieved from the Internet, specifically, from the servers of their respective manufacturers. And as we know all too well, nothing on the Internet lasts forever.
I noticed that without even thinking about it, my collection has been steering back toward either older games, at least those that I haven’t collected yet, and my Nintendo Switch library. It turns out that I’m collecting Nintendo Switch games at a rate of 2-to-1 over PS4 and Xbox One games these days, even though I’m playing far more of the latter on a regular basis. Even with only about 10% of the Switch library available on physical game cards, collecting for the Switch feels much more permanent than either of the other two modern consoles. I know my copy of Bayonetta 2 will probably still work in 2039, I can’t say the same for Rainbow Six Siege. Given how little of the time in my life can be spent actually playing the games that I buy right now, there’s something very comforting in knowing that I can enjoy my investment years down the road, rather than dropping $60 on something, knowing that if I don’t play it right now, I’ll probably never be able to.
Yesterday I played Metroid II: Return of Samus on my Game Boy. Metroid II is absolutely awesome — the very definition of a must-play game. It’s also 28 years old. I never had a Game Boy back in the day because $99 and a constant supply of batteries was too great an investment for me back then. Today I can buy a box of AA batteries from Amazon for next to nothing and enjoy the shit out of it — grateful that it still exists, still works, and I can see what I missed.
Will I still be able to play Call of Duty Black-Ops 4 in 28 years’ time? Of course not, but Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will work in my Switch just fine.
Nintendo too will inevitably make a move to an entirely digitally-distributed future; they’re already 90% of the way there. Even so, purposefully or not, I’m grateful that they’ve extended the life of physical video game collecting for at least a few more years. I, for one, can’t wait to play Captain Toad Treasure Tracker from the warm comfort of my retirement home recliner.