I Miss The Days When PC Games Came In Giant, Impractical Cardboard Boxes

I gave up having a physical video game collection a long time ago. There used to be precarious stacks of discs and cartridges littering my apartment. Now I have one small shelf with a few Blu-rays on it. I've fully embraced digital life—even though these services I've given money to could shut down tomorrow and I'd lose everything. But while I do, as something of a minimalist, love having all my games, music, and movies stored neatly on various SSD drives, I miss the ritual of physical media. At least I think I do. It could just be idiotic nostalgia. Most of all, I miss those wonderful cardboard boxes PC games used to come packaged in.

In the late '90s, the shelves in my bedroom were dominated by these things. I can vividly picture them laden with bulky, beautiful copies of StarCraft, Deus Ex, Grim Fandango, Baldur's Gate, and Full Throttle. I took great pride in organising them, neatly lining them up, and occasionally sitting back to just marvel at my collection. Sometimes I would pluck a box out and read the manual. Forgive me for sounding like one of those clickbait 'do you remember' accounts on Facebook, but remember manuals? Games used to come with lovely thick books full of lore and art. If you were lucky you might have gotten a cloth map in the box too.

When the cardboard box was king, there was a ceremony to playing a game. Today you just scroll down your Steam library and click on an icon. There's nothing magical about that. But in the old days, picking a box off the shelf, admiring the cover art, reading the back, and then sliding the disc out of its jewel case made playing a game feel somehow more special. It's the same as listening to music on vinyl, reading the liner notes, getting a good look at the artwork, and carefully dropping the needle. It makes listening to an album an event, not just another ephemeral distraction screaming through your mind.

Those big cardboard boxes made games feel more valuable too. After years of sales, my Steam and GOG libraries are overflowing with more games than I'll ever have time to play. I'm almost numb to how many there are, my eyes glazing over as I scroll and the list starts looking like a spinning slot machine reel. But when I had boxes lined up on my shelf, every single one—even the bad ones—felt meaningful. They were objects to appreciate, cherish, and admire; not just pixels on a monitor. Of course, a big part of this was the fact that buying a new game in those days was, for a working class kid, an extremely rare occurrence.

Big box PC games took up too much space and, unless you were really careful, they'd easily get dented, battered, and dog-eared. It was almost impossible to keep them pristine. They were impractical, but who cares: they ruled. I recently started buying back some old favourites on eBay. The big box edition of 1998's The X-Files Game, a point-and-click CD-ROM adventure, is especially lovely. But I had to force myself to stop because of how much space they were starting to take up. It's easier (and a lot cheaper) to just fondly reminisce about them. Some things are best left in the past, but that won't stop me getting misty-eyed about them.

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