Not a week goes by without seeing a comment or an article online about the Physical vs. Digital games debate. And for a while, I thought I had found my answer. I was perfectly happy buying the consoles that I was personally interested in, a couple of years after they initially released, and pick up a small, focused collection of games for it. I would just as often go back to play an old game that I never got around to as much as I played new titles. But then I noticed a build up, of sorts. All these used and traded games from various systems were piling up. Cartridge after cartridge being found in random drawers and moving bins. PS1 discs crammed in with CDs inside shoe boxes. I could play my Super Nintendo, but tracking down the right cords and connectors was a nightmare. My organization was crippling my ability to play all of my games. I've always considered myself a gamer, as an aspect of identity, for as long as I've had working memory. These games, these artifacts, these memories didn't deserve this. I knew I needed to change something. Inspiration came from TheCoverProject.net
, a group of people dedicated to the collection, archiving and formatting of video game box art. All this for the purpose of re-casing your old games and presenting them in a manner consistent with an earlier part of their lives. There are tons
of youtube videos describing this process
: what the challenges are, and how to pull it off. Before I decided to do this, I told myself that I would do the research first and know what I was getting into. I thought I was prepared, and I wasn't. This is how a games project grew into something bigger.
HOW I STARTED.
The first thing that I had to determine was the scope of the project. I ultimately decided on casing my Gameboy Advance, loose DS, NES, SNES and N64 carts. This meant that I was dealing with two different types of cases, one of which would need modification.
Nintendo DS cases to store GBA and DS. Unless you would like to pay someone $8 -$10 bucks per case
, you need to go to Nintendo's Online Store
. You can buy grey Nintendo DS cases individually, or in packs of 5 or 10. Red cases can only be bought individually or in a pack of 5. Ten cases will cost you $7, five cases will cost you $4, one case will cost you $1. Shipping was fast, and usually arrived ahead of schedule. This is by far the best deal on these cases, but it is only while supplies last. A few months ago, from the time of this posting, Nintendo was selling DS game cases that still had the GBA slot, but no more.
Casing my NES, SNES and N64 games was much more of a challenge. After researching several options, which include specialty made NES cases, it became apparent to me that the only financially feasible way to do this was to do it myself. This led me to MediaShelving's Universal Slim game cases
. But here's the rub, you can only buy them in packs of 100, so ask yourself if you have that many games you can case. The price has also been steadily rising each month. You can find videos that say they are $42 for a pack of 100, then $52, and currently, $59 per pack. Another hurtle: if you want to purchase these, you have to submit the order, they will email you back with a quote that includes your shipping cost (for me, it was $20), and then you have to message back to confirm the order and give your payment information. It's a laborious task compared with most other online purchases. All things considered, it took me about two and a half week from the initial inquiry to receive my game cases. The cases are very high quality, but can't do everything you want them to do without some modifications.
THE COST AND CHALLENGES.
There were expected costs, and then there were numerous unexpected costs. Expected costs: price of games cases from Nintendo and MediaShelving, legal sized paper for printing box art, ink. Unexpected costs: the volume of ink, non-availability of game box art, the tools I would need to do modifications, physical injury, discovering that games are missing, tracking down and re-purchasing those games, and the time it would take to modify the cases, print and compile everything. I was attempting to print art for about 75 games in the Universal Cases, and about 25 DS cases, so depending on your ink cartridge capacity, expect to have to buy four to six sets of ink. The cases and ink alone will cost you over $100 if you are casing 50 to 75 games. Some videos suggested that you get an omni-tool, or a dremel, to cut off extra pieces of the Universal Games cases; I used a sharpened wire cutter and did it by hand. That was a huge mistake. Not only did I blister my hand in several places, the whole process took significantly longer. Longer because I needed to give my hand time to rest. My advice, buy a tool to do your cutting for you.
The last major stumbling point was discovering that games I thought I owned were missing. Racking my brain to remember who borrowed what, where I lost something, how it could have been lost and how I was going to replace it was horrible. And I'm still missing a good number of games. This list includes New Super Mario Bros, Zelda Phantom Hourglass, Castlevania Order of Ecclesia, Final Fantasy IV DS, Metroid Zero Mission, Final Fantasy IV Advance, Breath of Fire II GBA, Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing, Cruisin' USA, Harvest Moon 64, Mario RPG, Blackthorne, Contra III, Mega Man X, Street Fighter 2 The New Challengers, Faxanadu, Super Mario Bros 2, Super Mario Bros 3, Ninja Gaiden 1-3, Dragon Warrior II, and Bad Dudes. A couple of these individually would have depressed me, all of them together was a shock which caused me to begin searching my state for used game shops, flea markets and yard sales to correct that which was terribly wrong.
CHANGE THAT HAPPENS OVER TIME.
Going out and searching for these games did something. Somewhere between talking with collectors on forums, looking at articles about quality CRT-TV's, and going to off-the-road establishments to haggle prices, something happened. I began to think of these games as something different. The game became more than what appeared on the screen or how intuitively I controlled it. I began thinking of video games as something larger than code, visuals, or interaction. Two things dawned on me; video games are composite sociological expressions and the nature of what a specific game is changes over time.
What I mean by composite sociological expressions is that the "video game" only comes into being when several systems are being used at the same time to produce something no combination of fewer pieces can duplicate. There are the creators of the game (stuck in a particular time and place, producing a singular product), the player who is the true engine of the game (provides agency which creates an interactive experience), and the set of devices you are using to experience a designed product (controller, screen, native output, original or modified hardware, emulation). All of these variables working together makes the game to a person, but this also means that "what a game is" changes from person to person, and over time.
My second point is that a game, as an interpreted cultural expression, or as a physical artifact, has a lifespan. There are points in this lifespan: development, marketing, release, market reaction, contemporary market presence, resale, clearance, junk, retro, collectable, artifact. Or something like that. The point is, our perception and our memory of a game changes over that lifespan. When I was 6, Super Mario Bros 3 was the game I had to own, the game my friends all had, the game that would give me endless enjoyment, the game that was right down the road at Toys R Us or the rental store. It is none of those things to me now. It's a seminal Nintendo title, a game that partially defined a console, fond memories, a joyfully nostalgic play through, a game I will keep for sentimental and collector value, the game that I lost track of, the game that I discovered was missing, the game that makes me think about my own complacency, the game I own in two other digital formats, the game that I haven't physically seen in years. But there is more surrounding video games than console, game, TV and controller. The instruction manual, the articles and review in magazines, the lovingly written tips and tricks scribed on graph paper are all part of the game for that individual and part of a composite cultural memory of that game. Then there is the question of how you experience games that are now retro; "best" possible quality given modern tech or most "authentic" experience using old equipment. Every game is a dozen different things to millions different people in an infinite amount of moments. And it's always changing. It's amazing, and it's worth remembering, worth preserving.
That urge, preservation, came with a shock all its own. If a video games is a thing to preserve, it's because it's in danger of ruin. The days when you would go to a store and buy a game, and the product you bought was software wrapped inside specialty hardware, are over. In a lot of cases today, the game disc is just an obsolete method of transportation to the consumer. So I started doing research, trying to understand how people today are trying to collect, preserve, remember and showcase these old video games: these expressions of our culture. There are a few good books out there, but I will recommend one. "Game After," by Raiford Guins is an amazing archeological and anthropological look at video games. But it doesn't consider a game a static objects with singular meaning, it looks at what games mean to us. What are we saying when we put a video game in a museum? What is the Smithsonian saying about emulation when it connects all its retro consoles to modern flat screens in its "The Art of Video Games" exhibit? What does it say about the industry that an ever growing group of people are spending more time exploring older games? When does the games container, become content itself? How does that change the value or perception of the game? It is a fascinating book that, as its title suggests, looks at games in their continued lives after they leave the current media spotlight.
From wanting to organize my games, to anthropological studies on gaming: that's quite a rabbit hole, isn't it?
THE RESULTS AND REFLECTION.
I am happy to say, that I have cased my still growing collection and all I've been doing is enjoying the fruits of my labor. I've tested every game, and they all worked! There's not a dead battery among them.
Every day since completing this project, I wake up early in the morning and make sure to play a game or three for a half hour or so. I think about them differently, I reflect on their meaning as entertainment and on their meaning to me, both equally valid. I ponder what they mean to other people, and it inspires me to find out. More and more I find myself leaving my apartment to explore this hobby instead of relying on my internet connection. I meet people, swap stories, share anecdotes and every time that happens, gaming grows a little bit, develops a little bit. Staring at my gaming shelves and consoles, I can't help but feel like I'm reclaiming a little bit of myself too. Organizing and understanding myself just as much as these technical curios sitting on my shelf.
Keep Gaming! read