Over this past weekend, as I was resting to recover from some sort of super-asthma, I experienced a rare and magical event. I wanted to play a specific game, but was unable to. Part of this was due to my inability to sit upright for more than half an hour without wheezing like… well, like an asthmatic. But the root cause was that I was simply unable to find the bloody thing. I will warn you now: this article wanders all over the place. Is it a bare-bones review? Is it an anecdote? Is there even a point? The answer to all of these questions is yes, but by jove do I take the scenic route.
Given the sheer number of games I own, this is not as uncommon as one might imagine. Despite my best attempts at organising things, I have finite space available and a certain amount of clutter is pretty much inevitable when I’m around. Normally, a game doesn’t stay “lost” for very long, since I generally know the approximate area its in. The cupboard or the drawer, for example. Sometimes, it’ll be slotted somewhere on a shelf that has no connection to said game.
But this was not normal, as previously mentioned. No, the true event came to pass when, despite a good half hour of searching, this game refused to materialise. I began to question whether or not I even owned the thing: I knew that I did, I had seen it several times, but I questioned it nonetheless. What happened next is something I like to call a Theme Hospital moment.
Prior to things like PSN and GOG.com, I purchased no less than five copies of Theme Hospital. They were all for me, all for PC and they were all bought for more or less the same reason: convenience. The cost of the game (around £5 with free postage) was weighed against the hassle of looking for my existing copy, which was no doubt in a drawer somewhere, or removed from its case and placed in a CD wallet. More often than not, it was instead secreted in some inaccessible portion of what was once my cupboard, but has since become a makeshift shelving unit.
I could spend a good few hours sorting all of it out (and I periodically do), but when you just want to play something, it’s much easier to simply click your mouse a few times and have one delivered to your door. The logic falls down somewhat when you realise that there is no possible way that this method results in you playing said game sooner than you would have had you just spent the hour or so rooting through the clusterfuck of games. But hey – zero effort. Plus there’s about a million other games to play.
This weekend, it wasn’t Theme Hospital I wanted to play. If it had been, it wouldn’t have been a problem. I now own it digitally on multiple platforms; PSN covers me for my PS3, PSP and PSVita and GOG.com has my PC sorted. No, the game I wanted was a little rarer: the original Breath of Fire.
I refuse to believe it was this long ago, but I fell in love with Breath of Fire III on the original PlayStation at some point during 2000. See, that doesn’t even sound like a year anymore. It’s over half of my life ago. How the hell does that even happen? Fucking time, man.
Anyway, Breath of Fire III. Great game, loved it to bits and played it day after day. Or evening after evening, what with school and all. Then came the sequel, Breath of Fire IV, which was equally awesome. I mean that genuinely: I couldn’t honestly tell you which of the two I like more, even though III has a ton more nostalgia attached to it. I didn’t like the series’ PS2 entry – Dragon Quarter – but that was due to it being such a massive departure from Breath of Fire’s roots. So when Breath of Fire II came out on the Wii Virtual Console some years later, I bought it without a second thought.
Sadly, I had entered the initial throes of the gaming backlog by that point and never actually played the damn thing. But this didn’t stop me from apparently buying the original Breath of Fire for the Game Boy Advance at some point. I seriously don’t know when this happened; I only know that, for the longest time, I saw it on a shelf at the end of my bed. Possibly for years. But last weekend, when I got the urge to play the series from the start, Breath of Fire was nowhere to be found.
So there I was, experiencing a brand new Theme Hospital moment. I checked eBay and Amazon to see what the price would be, but at well over £15 for a decent used copy when you included postage, I wasn’t about to shell out this time.
So what the hell am I even talking about here? It’s not my irritatingly selective memory, nor is it my terrible choices when it comes to organising my games collection. It’s a counter-argument – possibly even with myself – about the merits of actually owning a game. People often say that owning a physical copy of a game means that it can never be taken away from you. That you’ll always be able to play it, even if your internet is down or a digital provider is consigned to the mists of time. But as we all amass greater and greater collections of games, I put it to you that digital can sometimes be more reliable than physical.
None of us are perfect. While I doubt many people are as lax as I am when it comes to keeping games in order, I’m not the only person who has box-chained a game. This is a term I just invented to describe the act of opening a box, only to discover a different game inside than advertised, THEN opening the box for THAT game and seeing another, and so on and so on until you find the box you started with. My record is eight.
For the majority of us that have reliable internet connections, as long as no game requires constant access to said internet, there’s something to be said about the convenience of having a game at your fingertips. Because when you’re like me and you still can’t find that one fucking game, there are times when digital games are closer at hand than any physical equivalent. For gamers of the future, convenience is going to be king.
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A twenty-something gamer from the North-East of Scotland. By day, I’m a Computer Technician at a local IT recycling charity, where I fix and build PCs. Outside of that, most of my time is spent either sleeping or gaming, which I try accomplish in equal amounts.