Videogame Packaging - A Love Story
It was a rainy spring day when I was about 10 years old. My parents had to go to a store called Brand Names in Batavia, NY. As the name suggests, this store contained a mishmash of appliances and electronics from well known manufacturers. Every once in a while, they had videogames in stock. That day was a fateful day.
I had received a SNES for my birthday several months back and I had been reading Nintendo Power since I was old enough to recognize shapes as words. I was up on my SNES titles and the game that I was particularly excited for at this time was Star Fox. I had read the Star Fox article in Nintendo Power dozens of times, so much so that I already knew how to take down the first boss without ever having touched the game. At that age, I wasn't aware of the concept of release dates. In fact, I thought the release of videogames was part of some mysterious and magical process where the local Sears would just suddenly have a grab bag of titles in a glass case, as if Video Game Santa came a few times a year to replenish stock for all of the good girls and boys.
I was a kid. These were great times. We go into the store and I scampered over to the videogame case and there it was. Star Fox. It looked COOL. Fox McCloud standing on the edge of space with his trusty Arwing flying in the background, just waiting for me to join him in the battle for the Lylat System against the evil Andross. I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified. I wanted that game but I had no money. I can't even remember how much it cost, but I remember thinking that what little money I had in my piggy bank, it wasn't enough. Not knowing how the world worked, I asked the woman at the counter how much it cost. I then asked her about layaway. As a 10 year old, I assumed that layaway was a way for me to be able to take the game home now and pay for it later. She explained it and I turned away dejected.
My dad approached from behind and asked me what was wrong. I turned my head up and tried to find the words but I had a frog in my throat and tears in my eyes. No one can ever explain why, as a child, you get tears in your eyes. Frustration, confusion, anger, and sadness; all of these emotions can explain tears. I cannot explain the tears of that day except for saying that they were caused by incredible excitement followed by crippling disappointment. My dad seemed concerned until he saw the case behind me. Now, knowing the mind of a 10 year old boy as I do now, I probably had told my dad about Star Fox more times that I could count. I'm sure that I showed him pictures from the article and explained to him, with fervor, details about game mechanics that he pretended to understand for my benefit. He approached the counter and bought the game without question. I was flummoxed. 10 year old me wondered how he knew about Star Fox and where did he get the idea for buying it. This man, the same man who 5 years later would drive me in a snowstorm to get Resident Evil 2 because I was about to have knee surgery and needed something to occupy my time, this man knew it was important to me. He knew games were important to me. He is a great man, and a better father.
Batavia, NY was roughly 15 minutes from where I lived. With Star Fox in my hands, that drive seemed about 4 hours long. The only thing I had to occupy me was the instruction booklet. I don't remember any other video game instruction booklet as well as I remember this one. I specifically remember the section that detailed the types of weapons that the the enemy used. I thought the Plasma Ball looked the most devastating. I read through the bios of my teammates, Peppy Hare and Slippy Toad, and learned their motivations. I remember a page detailing the history of the Lylatian conflict. This instruction booklet told me the complete tale of Star Fox, detailing each level and boss just enough to promote intrigue but still leaving enough out to make things interesting.
Two weeks ago was the launch of the Nintendo Switch. I waited for the Switch at midnight and also got the new Legend of Zelda. I got it at a Gamestop in Batavia, NY. The ride home from this purchase felt a lot shorter than the one detailed above. When I got home, I decided to forego opening the Switch and went straight for the new Zelda game. I opened the case with unbridled anticipation. The inside of the game was an empty plastic case. The bottom right of the case contained the game cartridge. The left side of the case had plastic tabs designed to hold in an instruction manual, yet there was still just a void. No manual was included with the game. I had no description of enemy types. I had no explanation of a cooking system. There was a palpable nothing that made my heart hurt.
I had dinner with my parents tonight. We talked about many things, some of which involved videogames. I told my dad the story about Star Fox and Brand Names and he recollected onlysome parts of it. What I didn't tell him was about that game manual and how it made me feel. I didn't tell him that I remembered every detail of the day as if it happened yesterday. As I thought about opening Zelda last week I realized that what was truly missing from the experience was not just the instruction booklet. It was the emotional attachment to the moment. What was missing was an emotional significance that can only exist in the mind of a child. I miss video game packaging inserts. Some games still get it right, GTA V, The Witcher 3, but most still miss the mark. However, what I truly miss are the emotional attachments to those moments that are only possible in the mind of a child. Despite how much I love the new Zelda game, the moments found therein will never replace the moments that made Star Fox that important to me on that day.