5 Reasons to Keep Buying Physical Media for Video Games

Part of my game collection
Part of my game collection Photo by Jef Rouner
One of the ways that I justified the expense of a Playstation 4 was that it would ultimately save me money thanks to its large storage capacity and cloud-based marketplace. Digital games tend to be cheaper than buying discs. Heck, many of my favorite games were both free thanks to my Playstation Plus membership and only available as digital copies. I had a hard time understanding why anyone would ever bother with actually owing new games ever again.

And yet, over the last year I completely reversed that. I’ve even gone so far as to pick up discs for games I already own as digital downloads. Here’s why.

5. I Feel Like I Actually Own My Collection

There were several points over the last two years that I simply didn’t have an extra $10 to keep my Playstation Plus membership going, so it would lapse for a bit. Thanks to the way the system works, that often meant most of my gaming library was immediately locked away until I renewed.

It was a harsh awakening that the money I spent was just a rental for the privilege of playing, and that started to irk me in ways I can’t describe. There’s nothing wrong with renting games. I grew up doing that. But games are as personal to me as favorite books. I want something like Gone Home or Among the Sleep to be mine, not Sony’s. Owning a disc, holding it in my hand allows that in ways that a download doesn’t.

4. It Gives Games a Life Beyond Me

I got to tour the Thorn and Moon Magickal Market with Meredith Nudo in July, and it also gave me a reason to hand her a copy of Hard Rain / Beyond: Two Souls that I had recently acquired in disc form. She’d started playing Until Dawn and said she was looking for a similar experience.

At least on consoles, gifting or lending someone a game is still very difficult if not impossible. Even if you manage it you’re not there to see their face when you give it to them. There’s a tactile wonder of the act. You can wrap a game disc. Tucking a PS Store gift card into a envelope will just never have the same effect. When she’s done, it gives me a reason to leave the house and go see her again to get it back. Maybe I’ll convince her to try Life is Strange when I do so, and the cycle can start all over again. Maybe she’ll have a game for me. The discs give us a reason to connect with each other over them out in Meat World.

3. You Sometimes Get the Whole Game

I don’t have a problem with episodic titles, DLC (downloadable content or extra content) or game patches as concepts. As John Cheese once said, if there was DLC for Final Fantasy VI I’d still be playing it today.

That said, I like that my discs are generally more “whole.” My copy of King’s Quest has the epilogue I couldn’t buy thanks to the fact I purchased it piecemeal instead of the season pass, and the epilogue might actually be the best part of that game. I decided to give Castlevania: Lords of Shadow another try, and it’s nice that all the extras come in the physical disc. Ditto the PS4 version of The Last of Us. I didn’t even know there was DLC for Thief until I picked up a cheap, used disc on Amazon where it was included, and I’ve beaten that game three times. This doesn’t even include compilations like God of War which allow you to experience connected gaming sagas in one unit.

Games that are released as discs seem to be geared toward the idea that the people who buy them want everything, and I like that.

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My friend Emily recently went and sold her ridiculously complete Sega Genesis collection. I begged her not to.
Photo by Emily Day
2. The Importance of a Gaming Library

Jessica Stillman wrote this really great article called “Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You'll Ever Have Time to Read.” In it, she describes what a library is. It’s potential knowledge. It’s a reminder of exploration to come. It’s a trophy for your tastes and regards. I miss the days when everything you needed to know about someone could be gleaned from a glance at their bookcase and DVD shelf.

You can get that from a well-stocked e-reader and digital library, of course, but it’s not the same. My games sit on a shelf next to my ever-expanding collection of Doctor Who spin-off media because I want people to look at it and see something about me in it. We are the media that we surround ourselves with, and hiding it away on a box makes it too abstract for my tastes.

1. You Can’t Sign a Download

My absolute top autograph dream is to get Christopher Lloyd to sign my copy of King’s Quest, and my runner up is Jenna Coleman to sign Xenoblade Chronicles. The old argument about whether video games are art is over for all but the most obtuse and out of touch. They are. Period.

Yet, I never get to tell anyone involved how much their creations meant to me the way I’ve gotten to do with, say Paul McGann or Patricia Quinn at a convention. With gaming locked away into the nebulous void of downloading, there’s just a missing component of physical reminder. I want to hand a designer or a voice actor a case or a disc as an act of appreciation. It’s not about money. I doubt either of those autographs I mentioned would be worth much on eBay. Maybe that’s because we have segregated gaming a little in the name of convenience.

Owning a game should come with real estate you can hold. It should have some aspect of artifice to represent the act of creation. That’s why I still bound out like a human Labrador to meet the UPS driver after I’ve picked up another disc from Amazon.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner