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I miss renting video games

by Eric Frederiksen | July 7, 2018July 7, 2018 6:00 am PST

When I was kid, there was a clear line of division between the end of the week and the beginning of the weekend. Whether it was Adventures in Video, Video Update, Panorama Video, or Blockbuster, the weekend didn’t truly start until I had a rental game in my paws.

Back even before the days when connecting to the internet meant listening to a modem hiss and scream for a full minute – and viewing an image was an experience that required time and commitment – downloading games wasn’t yet an idea, let alone even a fantasy. If you wanted to play a game, you needed a physical copy of it. And that physical copy was the complete edition even if it was rife with translation errors or game-breaking bugs, which many games definitely were.

And so we went to the rental store. I had access to my share of purchased games when I was a kid, but the vast majority of my early gaming experience came through rentals; first for my NES, then my Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Sega Saturn – yeah, I was a Sega kid – and finally for my PlayStation and Dreamcast.

The video rental shop, which my mom called the ‘tape store’ was kind of a magical place for me back then. A fresh game was full of promise. I didn’t know every game coming out months in advance like I did later on when I had subscriptions to long-dead magazines like Next Generation and Game Players, though even that didn’t change how much fun and potential the rental store had.

The rental store was where I would find some games that provided hugely formative experiences. Role-playing games like Phantasy Star IVShining Force and Shadowrun. Action games like Earthworm Jim and Rocket Knight Adventures (a game about a possum with a laser sword and a rocket pack, because 1993).

The first time I played Lunar: The Silver Star on Sega CG was nothing short of a revelation. Games that I would come to love later, like Shadowgate or The Secret of Monkey Island perplexed me back then, when you couldn’t just type “monkey island what is rubber chicken with pulley for” into Google.

Every week was a new adventure, where the rows and rows of Sega and Nintendo games would give way to hours of fun and frustration. Almost always, I was staying the night at a friend’s or vice versa, and we would play games well into the night and often the next morning, trying to squeeze every hour out of a cartridge before returning it. If it was a longer game, we would rent it again the next weekend, hoping someone hadn’t erased our game in the meantime. We had to rent Shining Force five or six times before we finally finished it.

My mom probably should’ve just bought that one, now that I think of it.

11-year old me would’ve lost his mind looking at this

On special occasions, like birthdays, we might even rent a video game system. That’s what hooked me on a Sega Genesis when all I had access to was a Nintendo. This was back when Sega did what Nintendon’t.

These days, that magic just isn’t easy to find. That clear demarcation between week and weekend. You can rent games at Redbox, sure, but the red monolith of media isn’t the same as walking through the doors of the video rental store and seeing all those game boxes lined up.

These days, weeks and weekends blend together. I’ll spend Saturday afternoon writing at the cafe, and whatever game I’m playing on Sunday morning is probably one I’m going to review, while my go-to game lately has been Sea of Thieves. 

Part of it, I’m sure, is just being a kid. I’m sure kids of that age see a similar division between the school weekend and the free weekend, but the promise of a fun weekend with a new experience, a new game to test out, doesn’t exist anymore, and I miss it.

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Eric Frederiksen

Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...

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