What do Fez, Gone Home and Super Meat Boy all have in common? No, it's not that their main characters are all platform-leaping meatfreaks, although that does seem to be the way video games are going these days. It's that they all had physical releases, to the surprise of everyone.
After various stores specialising in physical media went in and out of business, it seemed unlikely that anyone would take a gamble on that sinking (and un-sinking, and re-sinking) ship, but if anything, it seems like it's become more popular.
The very fact that indie games, as popular as they may be, are putting out actual, tangible copies of their games for people to own and hold and touch reverently, is a strange one. What does it mean? And why are indie games' physical copies so often embossed and beautiful and special, and not just slapped in a plastic box and stacked on shelves like AAA games?
There's always been something meaningful about owning something properly. It's why there's been such a backlash for e-readers, and why you'll always find a group of 40-something parents standing in video game shops saying "children these days, honestly, I just don't understand why Jeremy plays all this nonsense, it's all just shooting and violence. Not in my day," conveniently forgetting all the violence that has happened since forever.
Let's get physical
It's a battle between convenience and pride, really. You can't really take all the books you might want to read with you on a train; you'd look like a travelling salesman from the 1920s. It's a pain to have to get every game out every time you want to play. The whole point of civilisation is to get further and further away from being animals. And what do animals do? Things that require effort and energy, like running and fighting and eating raw meat and having to put CDs in a CD player. Savages.
But apparently we might have gone too far. Take, for instance, Adele's new album, 25. According to the people of Twitter - the world's most reliable bunch of humans - no one can figure out how to play it. And that makes me feel like one of those 40-something women in the game shop.
We haven't reached that stage in video games yet - or at least, I don't think we have - but nonetheless, we all seem to be on that same page of understanding that physical media is going the way of the dodo. In which case, we should probably get rid of the phrase "being on the same page". Maybe "being in the same cutscene" will do.
So perhaps the reason indie games are doing these fancy boxed editions of their already-successful games isn't to make money - just like how people are still making vinyls, and people are still buying vinyls, and I don't think many people are actually playing vinyls. It's still nice to own things, especially if they're pretty. You probably already own the game (or the digital copy of the song) or you wouldn't put so much faith in a £70 deluxe edition of it. You probably won't play it. Maybe your computer doesn't even have a disk drive.
So in that case… why include the disk? Do we just like to carry on the pretence that we still rely on physical copies? That they're not rapidly sliding into obsolescence? That we're still kids, and everything's still like it was, and not scary and weird and full of robot things that know our name? Do developers feel the need to immortalise their work in a way that they can point to something and say "Look, I made that"?
Maybe that's just me, but I haven't had a CD player for at least ten years, and the idea of rewinding a tape feels as distant as being able to fit in one of those weird cage-swings for children. I still have hard copies of games, but they sit lonely and dusty in a drawer. It would be nice to still be dancing around my room to Spiceworld, but I'm not. I'm a bit of a pragmatist. I like all these deluxe editions, but I also have limited room on my shelves. I suppose as long as people keep buying vinyl, people will keep buying disks. Hey, perhaps one day CD will be the new vinyl.
For me, maybe I'll take the fancy artwork - but you can keep the disk.
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