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The hidden joys of buying used

8:00 PM on 01.28.2012 // Ben Davis

[Are you a fan or a hater of used game sales? No matter what side of the fence you're on, you have to agree that bbain's take on the subject is probably never discussed in a publisher's boardroom. Interesting stuff. It's also an example of what happens if your blog doesn't have a header image. Hot dogs for everyone! - Kauza]

I buy a lot of used games. The act of doing so has become a rather hotly debated issue in the gaming industry lately, but I'm not here to talk about whether buying used games is good or bad for the industry. The point is, it's something that I do. 

Throughout my history of used purchases, I've noticed that there are some things that go along with buying used games that you wouldn't get from buying new games. These things come from the simple fact that used games are just what the name implies: they have been used before. They've had previous owners, and sometimes those owners leave something behind on the game when they go to sell it. The most common instance of this can be discovered before you've even purchased the game, while you're holding the case or cartridge in the store. It doesn't seem to happen as often anymore, but kids who owned video game cartridges back in the day used to frequently write their names on all of their games in Sharpie, perhaps so they wouldn't get their games mixed up with someone else's if they were sharing, or perhaps just as a way of showing ownership. Many of these autographed cartridges end up in garage sales and used game stores and find other owners, but the original owner's mark will always remain as a reminder that the game was once cherished by someone else (unless the new owner bothers to remove the name by some means, but I feel like that probably doesn't usually happen). 

Here is a sampling from my own collection of games that have been signed by previous owners. The N64 cartridge signed by "Ash" actually happens to be Pokemon Snap. I hope the person's name really was Ash, that would be such a coincidence! I also like to think that the owners of Metroid and River City Ransom, "JM" and "DM," might have been related (Justin and Dustin Mathews, perhaps?). Also included in the picture is the power cable to the used NES console that I bought, which came with a delightful sticker featuring a trio of dancing eggs. It's nice because it makes it easier for me to differentiate between the NES and SNES power cables, and it's also an adorable reminder that it was once loved by someone enough to receive a sticker. 

Of course, there are other ways for previous owners to leave their mark which you'll only discover upon taking the game home and actually playing it. For example, many SNES and N64 cartridges came with their own save data, which people usually don't bother to erase before selling the game back. By looking at the save data, you can learn how frequently the game may have been played before, and how far into the game the former owner may have gotten before selling it back. It's also fun to go into the files to see what kind of items they had found or what equipment they had been using, especially in RPGs. Many games also let you name the characters or at least the save file, so you can sometimes learn the names of former owners that way, or find out that they had a sense of humor if they named the characters something crass or ridiculous. 

Unfortunately, with the newer generations of games, it's becoming more difficult for owners to leave their mark on a game. We now use memory cards to keep track of all of our save data, which don't come with the games when we buy them. So starting the game up at home, it might appear as if it had never been played before (obviously it has been, but not on your particular console). It also seems to be much more uncommon for kids to write their names on game cases as opposed to cartridges. 

There are still ways to learn about the previous owners of your used purchases however, but they are much more infrequent. While it's rather difficult to learn anything about the owners of specific games, if you happen to be in the market for a used console, you'll most likely find some interesting things when you finally boot it up at home. All of the consoles that I currently own happen to be used, so I've come across a few interesting reminders of their pasts. For example, my PlayStation 3 was previously owned by someone who seemed to exclusively play sports games and shooters, as indicated by the leftover save data (which is not at all what I use the console for). Even more exciting was when I turned on my used Wii for the first time, and discovered a lovely family of Miis standing around in the Mii Channel. 

Let me introduce you to (from left to right) Tiara, Shontae, Sir Quan, Brandon, Janomi and Lil Wax. Obviously, I've left them all on the Wii so they could mingle with me and my friends and make special appearances in some of our games. Shontae, in particular, really seems to enjoy Wii Baseball, as she somehow always ends up on one of the teams. I also discovered in the settings that the console was named "Mrs. Waters," a name which I've decided to keep. I always hope that one day, I'll be walking down the street and come across one of these people, and instantly recognize them because of their Mii. That would be so strange! 

As I said before though, it's much more difficult to come across a game nowadays and be able to learn anything about it's previous owner. However, just last week I came across a wonderful find which inspired me to write this post: a used copy of Animal Crossing for the GameCube which came with the memory card that it was originally packaged with. The save data was still on the memory card, so of course I had to check out the previous owner's town. One of the townspeople greeted me and welcomed me back to the town of Seattle. Then they asked me what my name was, and I was actually surprised to see what my options were. The former residents had been named Cal, Beanz and Adam. "Bean" just so happens to be my own nickname, and the moniker that I use for almost every game that I play. "Adam" also just so happens to be the name of one of my roommates. Unfortunately, my other roommate is named Josh and not Cal, but if all three names had been the same as ours, I don't know what I would have done! Anyway, I selected Beanz (of course) and arrived in Seattle. The first thing I did was check out Beanz's house. 

He seemed to have a similar taste in items as I do. His house was filled with many Japanese items and fruit-themed furniture, and he turned his basement into a sort of aquarium/insect zoo. I also took the time to check out the other guys' houses. Cal seemed to have sort of the same taste in things as Beanz, and also had a lot of Nintendo-themed things as well. Adam's house was the smallest with no basement, so apparently he played the least out of the three. Next I looked through some of Beanz's mail. He had a few letters that Cal and Adam had sent him. 

Apparently Beanz was rather gassy. Maybe that's where the nickname came from. 

Then I took a look around town. The massive amount of weeds indicated that the game must have been sold a long while ago (the cockroaches in the houses were another hint). There were also a lot more flowers around the town than I usually had in my towns, so they apparently enjoyed gardening. They had also put up some signs around town with designs that they had made, so I decided to check out the Able Sisters' shop. 

At the tailor, I found several designs that the previous owners had created (every design in the picture is something that they made, I believe). How cool! I had never made too many designs myself, but some of these were actually pretty neat! After that I went to the museum. They had filled out a lot of the fish, insect and fossil sections, but had only donated two paintings (which makes sense, paintings are pretty hard to come by). I wasn't sure what else to check after that, so I decided to head out of Seattle for the time being and finally create my own town. Luckily I had another memory card, so I didn't have to delete Seattle. I also decided to preserve the town the way it had been, so I could explore it again if I ever wanted to. 

I enjoy buying used games not just because it's cheaper, but also because of moments like these. Everything you buy has a history, but used things tend to have much more interesting histories than new things. I've learned through buying used games that I'm very interested in the gaming habits of others. It's a lot of fun to see how other people play games and to learn more about those people, even though I've never met them before and most likely never will. It would be amazing if I did though. Maybe someone will happen to read this blog and recognize one of these things as their own former belongings. That would be something! How about some of you? Any interesting stories to tell about some of the used games/consoles that you've bought?


Ben Davis, Contributor
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Ben, a.k.a. bbain, has been a member of the Dtoid community since 2009. He enjoys the happier things in life, like whales, Katamari Damacy, yams, and cartoons. The first game he ever beat was S... more   |   staff directory

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