Playing With Others: The lost art of game trading

[Editor’s note: craineum talks about trading games with his friends for the January’s Monthly Musing topic. Also, lol at his avatar being on the front page. — CTZ]

When I was a young videogamer, working hard mowing lawns or shoveling cow crap at the neighbors farm was my only way of making money before I could drive. This did not afford my life with many videogames. In fact, this is why I only could only afford games for one system. I had to maximize the value of my money, and buying multiple platforms was just not in my best interests. Growing up in the middle of nowhere with no good place to rent games also limited my ability to play different titles. These facts forced me into the world of game trading.

I had just moved to a new school and went from being a pretty douchey jock, to a huge dork. I don’t remember how that transformation happened exactly, but I think it involved a divorce, some super snotty kids, and the fact that I played videogames. Needless to say, as an outcast I did not have many friends. This made sharing of games a bit hard, but I was determined to play as much as I could, so I persevered. Luckily my system of choice at the time was the ever popular NES. Because of this, it was not to difficult to find kids that had it.

I found another huge dork that had a nice rich mommy and daddy (at least rich compared to us). I also found a couple of friends that would not publicly acknowledge the fact that they knew me, but would tolerate me so they could play more games. Over time, I slowly added more reliable and more enjoyable friends. Add this all up and I had a network of gaming geeks that I could play/trade with.

On trading days (usually a Saturday or Sunday when I could get my Mom to drop me off), I would take my meager warez to the “dealer” with the best merchandise to offer and start the negotiation process. This was usually a fairly complex set of interactions based on several factors:

1) What kind of trade was taking place:
The first thing that was decided was which titles we were looking to trade for keeps and which were being lent. The games that were for keeps were either: crappy, only good for one play through, or we were desperate for something else awesome. Games that were just being borrowed were usually something we wanted to hold onto for the long run. 

2) What value was given to the game:
This was a very subjective thing for each kid. Things that were taken into consideration:

– Rarity
– Awesomeness
– Multiplayer
– Game Play Length
– Box Art
– Nintendo Power Reviews

Based on these, games like Excite Bike and Mario Bros, while good games, were too easy to come by and had little value. But games like Ninja Gaiden, Contra, Mega Man, and Castlevania were like gold.

3) How good of a seller you were:
Some kids were really good at making a game sound better than it was. I wish that I was one of them, but alas, I was the sucker that bought the pitch. I don’t exactly remember what games I gave up for it, but one kid stuck me with a Power Glove. Fucking douche.

This interaction happened so frequently back then that I can’t remember how most of the trades worked out. I can remember one game that I longed for, that I wanted to be mine, was Kid Icarus. When I played this game it was like an orgasmic explosion of videogame porn.

I had borrowed it from one of my trader buddies (actually the same douche that stuck me with the Power Glove). I knew after playing this game that it must be mine. When I went back to my friends house I came prepared with some of my best games for keeps trade. But the rich bitch just said no. It was the only game he would not trade to me permanently. Devastated, I returned home empty handed.

As time passed, these trading sessions dwindled. There were many reasons why game trading faded into childhood obscurity for me. Some of the reasons include, a feeling of getting screwed by the “sellers” of our group, one of the key trading friends moving away and having some trades never returned. But the number one reason was the purchase of a kick ass PC (and the “free” games that were to be had from BBS’s with a 9600 baud modem … yes I’m old). At this point, I dropped my consoles for some PC lovin’ … damn I really do want to kick my 13-year-old-self’s ass.

Looking back now, even though I did get screwed, so many good things happened because of my desire to play games. I was forced to find and make friends in a town that wasn’t very friendly. The friends that were keepers were my best friends of that time, and some of those friendships last to this day. I also got to play a crap ton of badass games.

I have since hung up my PC gaming hat and have gotten back into playing consoles, both retro and new. But the fine art that is game trading has long since left my consciousness. Its not a lack of friends, I have plenty that game with similar interests to me. It’s not a lack of trust, I can rely on these friends as that level of competition for the best games is gone with old age. For me I think it has more to do with money and time. Working full-time and having a family takes a lot of time away from when I used to game. Less time to game, less games to play. Working also gives me money, so I can simply go out and purchase whatever games I want, and I can keep them forever.

Of course, I still get screwed with some games that just were not worth my purchase, and end up wasting time I don’t have. Maybe its time to bring this old tradition back with new friends …