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I Still Have This?

November 21st, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 12 Comments · Me

As I reorganize my office (i.e., put things in boxes), I keep stumbling upon the leftovers of a life spent playing some very unusual games – things I had forgotten altogether. The dry and dull Age of Sail game Salvo. A bunch of modern era RTSes that blend together in my memory (Act of War, Joint Task Force, World in Conflict). Manuals for Spiderweb Software RPGs that I never finished even though I had walkthroughs. Flight sims, sub sims, Sim sims… I am sure that some day I will answer a Formspring question saying that I have never heard of a game only to find it on my shelf the next day.

My manuals are such a mess that I can’t even find my Age of Empires manual, which would probably come in handy as I write the National Character series. I found the foldout chart thing, but the manual had all this history stuff that might help me make sense of some of Ensemble’s decisions. So while packing this stuff has to be done, it’s also a reminder of how things constantly go missing in the clutter that I’ve built up.

Now that so much of the PC gaming world is going digital, I will not accumulate this sort of driftwood at the same rate. I was sent a Collector’s Edition of Elemental, for example, that had the manual and a miniature, but no game – that was on my Impulse account.

In some ways, opening a new game was a ritual for me. I don’t keep boxes – I’m a hoarder, not a collector – but I remember reading the box copy with great interest as I installed games from disk. Then I’d be prompted to put in the next disk and I would turn to the manual. Manuals have gone the way of the dodo, or gone PDF to be more accurate, and I don’t read them while I wait for the game to install. Steam or Gamersgate or Impulse take care of everything and the removal of the Insert Disk ritual means that there is no reason I can’t be working or multitasking on something else.

Now, the ritual isn’t some great awesome thing that changed my life. I mean, it’s not like I miss the experience so much that I will reinstall Cuban Missile Crisis or Morrowind. But I do have fond memories of preparing to review a game and seeing stuff in the manual or on the box that set off my spidey senses as the disks spun.

Steam calls your collection of games a “library” and I suppose it is. And digital delivery is a big step forward for the PC gaming industry. But there is something special about the material good that can’t be replaced by code. I have the manual for Ancient Art of War – an oversized booklet with a black cover and red printing. Caesar III had a handy little recognition guide for your citizens so you knew who was whom as they walked around and told you what a crappy you were doing as governor. It is cute and unnecessary, but I like that I have it and that someone thought of it.

Maybe my console focused friends have it better, even if their games aren’t. They get boxes that they can scan the spines of and see what they want to play. I have to read a table on my PC. I think real libraries have spines.


12 Comments so far ↓

  • Punning Pundit

    I really agree with you about the need to physically connect in some way with the media we are (for lack of a better word) consuming. I love my kindle so much that I can’t really think about not having it– but I can’t even imagine my life without being surrounded by books.

    Ideally we’d be moving towards an age where the detritus of collecting falls away. Pure digital for the stuff that’s disposable. Tidalis? It’s a fun diversion of a match 3 game, but not something I need or want a disk for. And yeah, those disks can _go_. But man. I’d pay for a great Dragon Age manual. One written with verve and panache. I’ve still got my copy of the MoO3 manual, even though I lost the game ages ago. The _book_ was great. I think the GalCiv2 manual was my first exposure to Tom Chick’s writing. I bet I could put my hands on that book in 2 minutes.

    With my reading, I’m finding that fiction is basically disposable. I read it, enjoy it and move on. But non fiction? I linger over that like a good cup of coffee. My buying habits have been reflecting that.

    Some movies, I want _everything_ about them. Commentary track, subtitles, deleted scenes, etc. Other movies? Meh. I’m ok with buying to rights to stream it from Amazon– or just pay for the Netflix buffet.

    Webcomics, I think, have been understanding the value (the real monetary value) in creating physical artifacts of their digital works. I’m not sure they’ve got a model that’s transportable to every sort of media, but it does offer a good window into how things can go.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Going over to someone’s house and seeing a spartan room devoid of anything but a few pieces of furniture and perhaps a painting or two on the walls bothers me. It screams a lack of personality. Or potential serial killer. And yet I see folks advocating essentially this in today’s digital age.

    A bookcase at a glance will tell you so much about a person. A Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad sitting on a coffee table tells you nothing.

    We are physical creatures. We like to touch and be touched. We enjoy the smell of something, the texture, the sound of it, whether it’s a fine meal or the gentle caress of a lover. Abandoning who we are in the name of progress? Let’s not.

    And then let’s not even get into the idea of ownership. There is never a question of ownership with a physical piece of property. Digital media? That can get sketchy.

    I of course agree with the Punning Pundit, my views don’t mean that I don’t see the value in today’s digital media. It’s just like everything else in this world it is not an absolute. (Although I will say one absolute is DO NOT TURN MY BOARD GAMES INTO DIGITAL GAMES!)

  • Punning Pundit

    Yeah, my great fear is that digital will turn out to be _so_ much more convenient than physical media that books will go the way of hand-made soap. I don’t mind so much for music and movies, but _books_ say a lot about who I am; there’s value in that sort of signaling…

  • Nate Homier

    Try Nintendo DS games. My Dragon Quest IX game came with a great manual. I consult with it from time to time.

  • Joe

    I think the only people who really care are collectors. I’m not a games collector and I’m glad I don’t usually need to save a physical manual. I’d also rather not even have to open the pdf manual. I think the vast majority of gamers agree with me and would always prefer an in-game tutorial or mouse-over hints. The less fuss the better. I really wish I wasn’t constantly having to open the Solium Infernum manual to be reminded of what a manuscript or special move does.

    Wanting physical products to fill your bookshelf is an irrational vanity. Like collecting things. I wish there was a good solution for replacing my bookshelf with digital copies, I’d do it in a heartbeat. If I need to display my personality I can buy actual decorations for my living room. Or you can hang your diplomas on the wall if you want visitors to know you’re educated. More honest, though it might not be as appreciated by the hipster girl you invite over.

  • doctorfrog

    Hard to read this and not think of two things: one, my own unwrapping/installing/reading experiences of yore, and of GOG.com. One of the things about this service that won my nostalgia-clouded heart was that they include several extras in the digital download… including the Caesar III reference card you refer to in your article. That, and you can also proudly view and arrange your collection on a virtual bookcase.

    Yes, it’s all digital, but it feels much more like a collector’s library than my Steam games do. If it’s a fake out to trick my senses into buying old games, it’s one I’m ok with.

  • Quinten

    When I read this the first thing I thought of was the board games sitting on top of my dresser. When you mentioned the thrill of opening a new game, it made me relive my memories of opening all those board games and getting to organize and open all the components before even reading the rules.
    As for digital distribution, I am a big proponent. Companies like gog.com do it with excellent refrence materials and manual scans, as doctorfrog pointed out, and Steam enables the publisher to have manuals. I always lost or scratched physical CD’s, and I haven’t played Close Combat in three months because I left the CD’s at home when I left for school. I do not mind going all digital, it is just convenient.
    I say that, but as I play Memoir ’44 online (which is in open beta), I wonder if I would ever give up playing the physical game for the ease of playing in fifteen minutes. Probably not.

  • Chris

    I mentioned this on Saturday, but I am still looking for my **** EU3 disk. Argh.

    Great topic. For me, it was all about the manuals. When I was in middle school I would take the manuals for Heroes of Might and Magic II or Warcraft II to the kitchen table during my after school snack and read them literally over and over again. The backstory/lore sections but also the unit descriptions.

    This was very much reading, not gaming. Dealing with the parameters of the world in the broadest terms – “Minotaurs are slow but tough units” or “For I am Gul’dan – I am darkness incarnate” – allowed my imagination to run wild, the way it did when I read the Appendices at the end of The Lord of the Rings. Contra actually playing the games – “OK, Gul’dan is up on that island, he has ogres and death knights, I better build some ogres blah blah blah.”

    But those old manuals were great. I miss them, even though I probably wouldn’t read them now that I have many more games and a job and a major addiction to watching sports, etc.

  • kongming

    “Wanting physical products to fill your bookshelf is an irrational vanity. ”


    You wouldn’t happen to believe in the Singularity, by any chance?

  • James Allen

    Physical copies of games take up precious space in the one room I have majority control over in my house.

  • Scott R. Krol

    C’mon James, hasn’t playing all those WWII games taught you anything? Obviously you need to expand into other areas of the house, all in the name of lebensraum. I own a four bedroom house and three of the bedrooms are my board games. My father has been after me to downsize yet hell, I need to upsize!

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