New England Gamer
The Decline of Rentals and the Joys of Inconvenience
I'm heading toward Williston, my mind set on the chores that I want to finish up at
home before heading back out to pick my wife up from work. Traffic on Williston
Road is thick as usual; people weave back and forth between lanes, tail-gating and
cutting each other off in a desperate attempt to get where they're going a few
seconds faster. As I stop at a red light, a bright yellow banner catches my attention.
"Store Closing! All Product Must Go!" It hangs above a Blockbuster Video. Inside
I can see throngs of bargain hunters tramping up and down the aisles, scanning the
shelves for cheap movies and video games. A part of me wants to go in myself. I
love bargain hunting; it's just satisfying to pay less for something than I should
have. As the light turns green, I weigh the decision and choose to keep going. I
have plenty of movies, and already have more games than I could play in a year.
The cars in front of me drift back into motion. I push down on the accelerator and
pass the store by.
It dawns on me how different the world has become. When I was a child the local
video store was an important place for me, especially as a growing gamer. Video
games are an expensive hobby to partake in. Looking at my purchases of just the
last five years, the costs tally well in excess of two thousand dollars, perhaps even
broaching upon three thousand. And when you factor inflation into the mix,
gaming was even more expensive when I was younger. A NES game released
around 1990 cost about hundred dollars by today's standards. Couple this with the
fact that most gamers, myself included, were totally dependent on their parents to
buy them new games and you didn't find many kids with sprawling collections.
Rental shops in turn were something of an oasis, and one that I partook in
frequently. Every couple of weekends my parents would drive me and my siblings
into town. Movies would be chosen, and my brothers and I would pick games.
While more often then not I would choose The Legend of Zelda or Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles Arcade, if they weren't available I would inevitably be forced to
experiment with something else.
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Honestly, I miss that sometimes. I look at myself nowadays and I am about as far
from experimental as you can get. I have developed my tastes to a point almost fine
enough to sew with. I've built myself a happy little rut that the game industry
caters to with frequent regularity. I don't even have to leave the couch if I want a
new game anymore. Just the other day I was browsing games online, saw one I
liked and within twenty minutes owned it and was playing it. There are thousands
of different games released every year, and with countless venues available to tell
me what's good and what's bad, I could conceivably never play anything but the
cream of the crop.
Comparatively, when I was renting games as a kid, my library was limited to
whatever happened to be on the shelf that particular week. More often than not the
only principle guiding my choice was what the box art looked like. It's no wonder
so many kids like myself wasted money on movie tie-ins. The familiarity of the
franchise lent it the simple advantage of being recognizable, as compared to weird
looking games like the original Mega Man which suffered from famously bad box
art. More often then not, my game selections were hit or miss. I still have a bad
taste in my mouth from the time I spent with the NES version of "Back to the
Future." That being said, Resident Evil 2, a game I'd consider to be one of my
favorites, was originally a rental.
And there's always the diamonds in the rough to consider. There have been plenty
of flawed games out there that I have really fond memories of. "Indiana Jones and
the Last Crusade" for the NES wasn't the best game in retrospect, but when I was
six and still humming that movie every fifteen minutes, I loved it. Were it not for
rental stores I might never have played Mission: Impossible (N64), a game I rented
at least have a dozen times in its day. Nor would I have experienced the joys of
Battletanx if I'd been required to pay for it full price.
I'm not saying that I'm mourning the decline of rental stores. Places like
Blockbuster are dying in no small part because they're a rip off. For the price of a
few rentals at Blockbuster, I can get a subscription to GameFly which gives access
to a massive selection and as many games as I can play in a month. With services
willing to deliver entertainment straight to my door there's not much point to my
seeking it out myself. Even so, I can't help but wonder if we're losing something in
our strides toward convenience. With the best of everything being easily available,
there's little incentive to dabble in the merely good. Even the finest foods can be
grow old if you never sample anything else.
Read more by Stewart Shearer