My enthusiasm for games has wavered in recent years. While my teenage self swore he’d remain a gamer well into adulthood in order to debunk the “games are just for kids” myth, he couldn’t have anticipated what would happen in the years that followed. Games went through a revolution, a civil war of sorts, and digital downloads became the victor.
There is no denying that we live in a convenient age. Most of our entertainment can be easily purchased, streamed, and downloaded from the internet, often for competitive prices. Going to a brick & mortar store to pick up your games is considered old-fashioned and inconvenient now.
The change has been rapid. Of the 4 shops that sold video games in my city, only 1 toy store remains. That’s just a single aisle of games spanning just the current gen, and even that little bit of space is being reduced to make place for Minecraft merch and strange peripherals. All the stores I visited as a teen are gone and, for the most part, their buildings remain vacant to this day.
I can buy PC games on Humble, GOG, and Steam just fine, and each console now features a robust digital store to download games from. The loss of these game stores has not impacted my ability to buy games in any way, but it has certainly taken its toll on my enthusiasm for doing so.
I hate to be corny, but there is an undeniable magic to visiting a good games store and browsing through physical games. Digital stores like Steam always feel so clinical; frontpages filled with giant promotional banners, followed by a plain list of the 10 most relevant games of the moment. There is no atmosphere, no chatting with store clerks and other geeks, no bartering, nothing. You either grab what you came for right away or click through an endless slew of lists in the hopes of finding something in the over-saturated market that’s worth getting.
It’s hard to feel passionate about digital games. Finding an obscure game or stumbling upon a great bargain in an actual store feels great. Having Humble just dump 12 digital games on me every other month or picking up major games for pennies on a sale feels hollow. It’s convenient and often too good a deal to pass up on, but I don’t really feel a connection with the games I buy or my library as a whole. Buying some games during a sale or activating the latest batch of Steam codes is just a chore, and for a long time now it has been eating away at my willingness to actually play the games themselves.
By comparison, my love for games has often been reignited thanks to a successful shopping trip. I have spent hundreds of euros on single trips to the Nedgame in Utrecht, I bought a PS Vita on a whim just because I saw it in a cabinet at Gameshop Dordrecht, and I have rejoiced about finding rare import games at the Bonami Games Fair or Game Over in Amsterdam.
It’s inconvenient and undoubtedly more expensive, but it also feels so much more real. Heading home with a great find hypes me up to this very day, whether that is a big box PC game, a retro title with a cool manual, a rare limited edition, or even just a cool, modern game I wouldn’t have thought about buying otherwise.
I wouldn’t argue that digital stores need to disappear; that’s a genie that won’t go back into its bottle barring some unfathomable catastrophe. What I will do is urge gamers to go out there and visit stores whenever they can. Physical games & Merchandise offer interesting ways to express your passion for games in ways that digital downloads and emulated rom files can’t, and supporting the dwindling number of stores that offer that experience is important. Don’t do anything beyond your means, but don’t write physical games & stores off so easily either.