It is a strange wilderness into which this modern world of gaming can take us.
Anyone who has followed along with my previous writing and ranting has a pretty good understanding about my views on the industry shift from physical media to digital downloads. My written objections run the gamut, including giving up rights as an owner of an object, leasing an experience instead of paying for an item, and losing our history of gaming culture.
I cannot say my thoughts on these things have really changed, but there have been interesting developments. Just recently, I traded (gasp!) my physical copy of Battlefield 4 for the PS4. My reasoning; I got a very cheap deal on the digital copy that put me at a profit for trading in the physical disc, I didn't care for my time with the single player and therefore only intended on playing online which would require an internet connection anyway, and finally I knew I could pick up the disc sometime later when the price is much cheaper.
Sure, it's logical, but it also goes against my collector instinct and even smacks a bit of hypocrisy given my general views of supporting physical media as long as possible. I've played plenty of 'indie' digital only games, but this marks the first triple A big budget experience I've been playing as a digital download. While it's certainly not that big of a deal, like anything else I like to pay attention to how things change mental constructs, and this small difference has reinforced a process I've observed about the difference between digital and physical gaming.
It actually doesn't have anything to do with value, art, or collectability, but intentionality.
I prefer to be intentional in everything I do. That certainly does not mean I resist spontaneity, and my beloved would laugh uproariously if you suggested that I'm a type A, regimented personality. Rather, I prefer to make sure I'm thinking through something before agreeing, accepting, or doing. At least, as much as I am able given surrounding circumstances.
This intentionality extends to entertainment and video games. I primarily play games during three different opportunities; 1. Working out on our stationary bike, 2. Social gaming, generally on weekends, often on our 360 LAN and online with friends, and 3. Spontaneous moments where I have to wait on something, which is where portables usually come in handy.
Outside of these situations, I don't tend to play games much because the other things in life are too valuable to sacrifice the time.
Given how little time during the week we have for gaming, the last thing we want is to stare at a blank screen with a blank mind, or to load up a game for a moment only to decide a few minutes later that we aren't in the mood to play that. In the same way my beloved is quoted as 'knowing all about the moods with the foods' when it comes to satisfying a hunger craving with the perfect ingredients, if our gaming is not intentional then it becomes easy to waste away what little time we have. Oh, one day it may be co-op Tales of Xilia and then the next day Dirt 3, but identifying what would best serve where we are in the brain and heart makes all the difference when deciding how to spend our time.
Years ago in college I was introduced to the wonders of emulation. My gaming buddies and I could never afford a Neo Geo AES, and yet here on a friend's PC we suddenly had access to a library we had never played. The first few hours were great, amazing even. Despite not having a good joystick, we loaded up ROM after ROM and spent some time with games we were always curious about. However, after a few days we lost interest.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I know part of why gaming through emulation never caught on for me is because it equates to a big, ethereal list of games without much presence, no label in the shelf to remind me of its existence and no physical object for me to intentionally take ahold of and make decisions. It becomes easy to sample a dozen games and harder to stick with and play through one. Out of sight and out of mind, desiring to play that game becomes less a matter of intent and more a matter of fleeting accident. Occasionally happy accidents, to be sure, but too often a sugary glaze instead of a filling meal. Not the game's fault, but the delivery vehicle effects my mentality towards it, for better or worse.
With a loss of intentionality, a library of digital games on a hard drive becomes something I scroll through and pick something that I hope will meet me where am. For me, and I don't assume this is universal of course, but there is a function to having a shelf of games that forces me to intentionally complete the process of decision making by physically connecting what I want to spend time on with the device I want to use. It's everything from the solid *Thud-clink* of plastic in a slot, the *Errrrreeeeh* of an optical media drive loading, the introduction loading up that serves as a driveway to my destination.
I could sum up the above mentality by saying I'm that guy that won't go to see a movie in the theatre if I miss the previews, because that's just part of the experience. I'm also that guy that whines when a preview shows too much of the movie, but that's another article.
But it's not some nostalgic ritual that I'm searching for. (incidentally I lost part of that when games stopped shipping with instruction manuals. Again, another article.) Having to decide on a game and then physically setting it up is part of the process of me being intentional, purposeful, thoughtful about where I am and what I want to play. It's getting excited for that Christmas/Thanksgiving meal days or weeks before the aroma hits your senses. When searching through my XBLA and PSN games, I'm looking at a buffet where I too often gorge and eat too much of something I may not have really enjoyed as much as I wanted.
Of course I can be intentional about digital release games; I'm loading up Battlefield 4 all the time. But I have historically noticed that I struggle with picking up and staying with a game that takes up no more space than data on a drive.
Delivery avenues like Steam and PlayStation Plus provide gamers with huge libraries overnight. I know I come across as an old fogy for saying it, but at least for me, it feels more like a bunch of games to 'get through' rather than intentional experiences to savor.
Maybe I'll pick up another Battlefield 4 disc sooner rather than later. It may seem silly in a financial perspective, but learning is not cheap, so says any honest college guidance counselor. If I'm not receiving the lessons gaming teaches me about myself, I'm probably making bad investments in both money and time.