If you ask me what I think of buying digital games I’ll tell you it’s all absolutely fine if you happen to like that sort of modern convenience but it’s a path I’d rather not take for a sizeable list of reasons. Give me a choice and I’ll definitely buy a physical copy… OK, I’ll at least say I’ll definitely buy a physical copy – and then realise these days said physical copy probably requires some import/preorder related financial gymnastics I’m not invested enough in the game to go through when said import/preorder related financial gymnastics could be used to buy weird old PlayStation games instead, and then spend several years meaning to buy a copy anyway but never quite getting around to it.
And that’s why everything of mine that isn’t permanently tethered to the TV has got the biggest storage card I could afford at the time shoved inside (which isn’t a very big one at all in the Vita’s case) and more downloaded games on it than I realistically have the time to play. It’s sort of a too-late apology to the developer for being so indecisive mixed with a weary “Oh for goodness’ sake, stop dithering and just buy it!” telling-off aimed at myself. That’s just for the rare few modern games I buy though: Most of my digital purchases aren’t new games at all, or even slightly older titles that have fallen out of the charts and into the sales section, they’re just plain old.
I’ve got nobody to blame but myself – my ten year old self. Whenever I browse these always accessible cornucopias of wallet-emptying retro wonder it’s like Tiny Me has reappeared, practically vibrating with all the now-banned artificial colours and flavourings bouncing around her system, and is standing over my shoulder enthusiastically blurting out things like “Did you know you can play Puzzle Bobble 2 and Sonic The Hedgehog on this thing? And you don’t even need a million batteries to run it? Isn’t that cool?!” all the time.
I did know that, Tiny Me. And yes, it is very cool.
The exact form this dusty digital hoarding takes depends on the format: On my phone it’s DOSbox and old PC RPGs (and XCOM 2). On my iPad it’s old Chinese PC RPGs and Sega games (and XCOM 2). On my Switch it’s a pile of Arcade Archives releases and Capcom games (and, um, XCOM 2).
Do I need these doubles (er, triples… er, quadruples) of games I already own and have played elsewhere? No, of course not – that’s obvious even to me. It’s a similar story on my 3DS and Vita: I don’t need to have SNES Tactics Ogre in portable form, I don’t need PlayStation-perfect Resident Evil 2 just a hastily-grabbed handheld away. Imagine all the new releases I could be buying for these formats instead? Imagine preordering something that wasn’t a remake of a decades-old shmup or a whole bundle of Final Fantasy “pixel remasters”?
Isn’t modern portable gaming great? We now have a range of convenient devices that can take whole games – games I remember filling up double CD cases with shiny discs, games that required that generation’s most powerful home hardware to play and a controller, and a TV the size of a bus – and then smoosh it all down into something I can sling in a bag – no, in a pocket – and that’s alongside two dozen other games and a hundred blurry photos of my cats as well! Who wouldn’t, when presented with the opportunity to play the magnificent Samurai Spirits II at any time the mood takes them – whether that’s on the sofa or halfway up a mountain – want to do so? Who wouldn’t find a handheld filled with games starring Monster Hunter‘s cats, Boku no Natsuyasumi 2, and Falcom classics absolutely magical? Who doesn’t want to sit in a café and pretend to be a proper adult with a fancy coffee and a ginger biscuit while tactically shooting naked aliens with scary psychic powers at the same time?
So it’s all just superficial nostalgic comfort, is that it? Well… no, not really. Enthusiasts may push for accuracy and authenticity (even down to the display) but there’s a lot to be said for practicality too; for having loads of games I like ready and waiting to play on whatever I happen to be staring at, for not having to dig things out and fuss over cables and shelf space when all I wanted was ten minutes with something fun. And when you’ve gone and bought a really powerful laptop with an itty-bitty solid state drive you start to question exactly what you do/don’t need to have on there (it turns out I need Devil May Cry V, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Resident Evil 5, Lost Planet 2, Vanquish, and Final Fantasy XIV on hand at all times, with as much as possible squeezed in around them), and spreading games you love but don’t really have the space for around a few formats helps a lot. Dragon’s Dogma may look much prettier on my PC than it does on my Switch but I know on Nintendo’s hybrid I can have it hanging around indefinitely, transforming the game from something I really have to justify keeping – especially when some image-heavy work or the latest MMO update squeezes that precious free space even further – to a title I can casually drop in and out of as I please. Tiny Me’s over-enthusiastic approach has genuinely been useful at times – sitting around in hospital waiting rooms is a lot more fun with a game-filled iPad to hand and in one instance my 3DS saved my sanity in the supermarket queue when stuck behind a couple who had apparently never seen a self-service checkout in their lives.
Ultimate I keep building up these piles of “useless” and potentially impermanent purchases because they bring out my inner Tiny Me, someone deeply impressed and excited by the thought of playing arcade games on the go and Shining Force II on a phone (a phone! With a colour screen!). She reminds me how incredible this hobby continues to be and how lucky I am – how lucky we all are – are to have so many options at our fingertips.