We’ve all seen him.
He is the gamer exiting the high street retailer furtively clutching the handles of a bag the distinct shape of three games. You judge him – someone has clearly splurged – but if the logo on his bag wasn’t there to obscure your view you’d see he’s picked up Resistance 2, Call Of Duty: World At War, and has decided to catch up on Metal Gear Solid 4.
If you could see this, you’d wonder. You’d check the date on your phone. You’d see that no, it isn’t Christmas 2008. It’s February 2011, and you’ve just witnessed a time traveller – the enigmatic, elusive creature that is the pre-owned gamer.
All three of these titles are listed in last month’s top ten pre-owned purchases (a list that features games released as early as June ’08 and late as January ’10). If you believed everything games publishers would have you believe, you’d consider this man a criminal. A criminal who represents a swathe of consumers whose purchasing habits are collectively bringing down the games industry.
But this isn’t another exploration of the morals or the legality of the pre-owned gaming market. Publishers will always at an arrangement where players are spending money on their product without funding them, while those players will fight for their consumer rights to buy and sell products without being cast as villains. Hopefully the final ruling in this debate will be made by a party without such a vested interest in its outcome.
No, the object of this article is to celebrate that rare hero who valiantly defies an industry that so often feeds on the excitement stirred up around every hot product. Bravely, he resists the urge to run out and buy the new hotness, thus sidestepping the inevitable heartbreak of game-life that lasts only as its surrounding hype. Wisely, he leaves us to the expensive, unopened purchases sitting atop our individual piles of shame.
Where he gets such courage is a mystery. As a gamer he crosses subcultures – he can be the achievement-junkie eagerly seeking cheap additions to his tally, the connoisseur revisiting past classics when they can stand on their own merits. He can even be a female gamer, despite my rather excluding choice of pronoun.
One day, the games industry may very well win the war on pre-owned gaming. The track record in these matters suggests prohibition is often more successful when there is an obvious source of threat to rally against (Napster, Kazaa) than when there is not (torrents, home taping), so perhaps Gamestation and its ilk will be next. Until then, non-transferable content and registration codes remain the industry’s weapons of choice, though there remains talk that EA are giving real consideration to subscription titles that will render boxed copies obsolete.
In which case, we should all shed a tear for the time travel gamer. That potentially endangered species who lives his life gaming behind the curve – risking ridicule from his peers in pursuit of affordable games and experiences uninfluenced by the wave of hype. He may be living in the past, but it’s a cheaper, more reliable one, where disappointing releases come clearly signposted by game criticism’s 20/20 hindsight.
He has truly chosen the more enlightened path. So perhaps we should recognise his bold escape from the release schedule rat-race, before his way of life becomes a relic of a bygone age.