Picture it: suburban New Jersey, some time in 1994. The Internet is barely a thing, a weird black screen of neon-colored text my brother’s friend accesses to talk to the few other people in the area who have it. The Super Nintendo stills reigns supreme in the Dunphy household. And my sweaty hands have finally gotten a copy of Final Fantasy III (VI). After months and months of anticipation and waiting for Software Etc. to call to let me know it has arrived, the day finally comes.
The cost? $73.99, plus tax. Adjusted for inflation, that humble 24-megabyte cartridge would cost about $125 today. Ouch.
Was it worth it? Hell yes, it was.
I played the game until my 15-year-old fingers creaked. I creased the spine of the official guide until the glue cracked and caused pages to come loose. This was long before Internet game guides were a thing, after all. I marveled at the stunning music and colorful graphics that hold up 24 years later. I cheered as Edgar and co. escaped under the desert. Shed a tear as Celes sang in an iconic opera. Sat with my mouth agape as the entire world turned to ruin. Mode 7 effects during the airship scenes? Oh yeah, I was soaking it all up.
Why wouldn’t I? It was and still is a wonderful, groundbreaking entertainment experience. And it was the only new game I had available. At this point, my collection probably consisted of classics like Super Mario World, Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Super Castlevania IV and ill-advised gifts such as Ultraman and Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally. Donkey Kong Countrywould arrive the upcoming Christmas and Chrono Trigger wouldn’t dominate most of my free time until the following one. Final Fantasy III was all I had. So, I squeezed it dry.
My collection is far larger, and far more digital today. My Steam library is full of titles I got free as part of larger bundles or that I don’t remember purchasing. A stack of DS game cards I brought with me to South Korea in 2013 is packed up in a drawer, as is an old New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles bag of PlayStation Portable UMDs. In 2016, I finally purchased a PlayStation 3 and proceeded to buy as many sub-$5 games as I could. They sure look pretty on a bookshelf. The threat of purchasing current-gen consoles ever looms, guaranteeing even more opportunities.
And let’s not be precious: Emulators and the thousands of game opportunities they promise are always a lightning-fast download away.
None of this existed back when I was staying up well past midnight playing Final Fantasy III. I have started to wonder which situation is better. Truthfully, I have known the answer for a while.
Recently, I saw a YouTuber post about having purchased another 3DS system, a 2DS XL. I think this particular vlogger was up to 10. I wondered: Are you happy yet? Is it enough? To whit, in my collection both in South Korea and back home in boxes at my dad’s house in New Jersey, I own (in no particular order) Nintendo 2DS, Nintendo DS Lite, Nintendo DSi XL, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PlayStation, Atari 2600, Atari Jaguar, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance SP, Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, GameCube, Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear, Sega CD, Sega 32X, Sega Saturn, Sega Dreamcast, Virtual Boy, Panasonic 3DO, and a laptop with access to an overflowing Steam library.
Did I forget any? Probably. Oh, wait, yes. TurboGrafx-16. I loaned that to my brother years ago and now we can’t find it.
I need to ask myself: Am I happy yet? Is it enough? When do I finally get to say enough is enough?
This is not an attempt to criticize anyone who has or aspires to have a large video game collection. This is not even meant to criticize my own. However, whenever I decide to start a new game and cycle through a seemingly insurmountable list of options, I find myself too spoiled for choice. I start a game and–faced with a puzzle I can’t solve, a boss I can’t beat, something that rubs me a little wrong–I give up on it and start something else. Sometimes, I just say “screw it” and pick up my Kindle. There’s a whole other bag filled with far too many worms.
Is there an answer? I try to self-police my own deluge of options and the subsequent burnout. I have put every system away but one. I have pulled one or two games out and ignored the rest. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s something.
Eventually, when the other systems come back out and I am faced with the decision of whether to try Grim Fandango Remastered on Steam, Samus Returns on 3DS, or Persona 4 Golden on the Vita, I am reminded of that super-expensive RPG I played for almost 80 hours more than two decades ago. I think of Nintendo’s practice of not offering most older games for bargain-basement prices like most of their competitors. I wonder if those bargain-basement prices have really been a good thing for gamers? Be honest: If that recent Switch hack (only on older systems, apparently) could provide you with access to every single Switch game, for free, would you play them all? Would you spend as much time with Super Mario Odyssey if it were free as you did when you had to fork over $60 for it? Is paying far less, or nothing, than something is actually worth really worth it? Are we happy yet?
Maybe I’ll just go play Final Fantasy III again.