This will be the first in a series of articles that look back at my experiences renting video games, which used to be the main way I was able to play games, other than the biannual birthday and Christmas gifts. I have many memories to sort through, but I'll begin with this (long) story...
The halcyon days of the mom an' pop (well, more like weird uncle and cousin) video game rental stores are long gone. Although some still survive in strip malls across North America, they are a dying breed: squeezed out on the used games side by Gamestop/EB and on the rental side by big chains like Blockbuster. However, most of my best video game rental memories have come from the local stores and chains. They usually offered a decent selection, some rarer titles, and often some pretty good prices.
One of my favourite stores growing up was Video Time, located a good 15 minute walk from my house. It was in a mini mall that also contained a hair salon, and a convenience store that sold Blizzard-type treats made with chocolate ice cream
! That made it an ideal destination to get a haircut, rent some games, and pick up an ice cream treat for the walk home. A pretty good combination, wouldn't you agree?
But the best part about video time was that it offered what I feel is the best deal for renting games during the summer: 7 games, 7 days, 7 dollars!
Considering that at the time rentals at the big chains would be $5 per game for seven days (nowadays it seems to be $7 or $8), it was an incredible deal. It wasn't even an occasional special deal, it was available every day
Being a small store, the selection was limited to the older systems (meaning the SNES and Genesis), but it did have a fairly big library and, despite the deal, the games weren't too picked over whenever I was there. I could also mix and match from different systems (even throw in a few VHS videos if I felt like it), which guaranteed I'd have more than enough gaming possibilities for a full week.
Normally, renting a single game could be a risky proposition. If the game was bad, the rental was wasted. The same was true if I got stuck somewhere, and didn't have quick access to the Internet and its FAQs (which was usually the case). But with seven games, there was little chance I would run out of games to play. If I would get stuck/bored with one, all I had to choose another of the remaining six and come back to the other game later. I could also afford to pick a few "safe" games, like s Sonic game or a Square RPG, in case my riskier selections turned out to be disappointing. This let me try out games I otherwise wouldn't have rented, let alone buy. For example, I never would have discovered the excellent Genesis "Zelda-clone" Crusader of Centy
, or tried Mutant League Hockey
if I had to pick these games up by themselves.
On the other hand, renting so many games at once had its disadvantages. If I became too engrossed in playing one game (e.g., Chrono Trigger
) there would be less time to enjoy the others. In fact, sometimes a few of the rented games would never even be touched in the seven days. Then, after having returned them, I would feel somehow that I had "wasted" my money on games that I didn't play. Other times it would seem like I forced myself to play a crummy game just to somehow get my money's worth. Of course, in retrospect the relative value of playing 1 game completely or 7 games lightly over seven days is pretty much the same. But I was a kid then, and didn't always look at the big picture.
I haven't been to that video game store in years, since I moved away from the neighbourhood it's in. I've never found a better deal than 7-7-7 anywhere else. I doubt that deals like that are very profitable, but that's what was (and still is) great about independent video game stores: they aren't stuck to a big company's directives and financial goals, and can stock and price their games however they wish. With the bigger scale of modern games (some can barely be beaten in seven days unless you have marathon sessions), multiplayer, and the fact that I doubt I will ever have a continuous block of seven days with little to do, being able to rent seven games at a time is pretty much guaranteed to be wasteful (either for myself or for taking up games that other people want).
Still, I hope the younger generation of gamers will get to experience the joy of coming home, laying out seven games on the floor, and simply having to say "Where to begin..."