I had a Super Nintendo when I was a kid, but I missed out on a lot of games. Money is kind of a finite resource, especially when you’re still in grade school. For every Kirby’s Dream Land 3 and Donkey Kong Country, I missed out on an EarthBound or a Final Fantasy II. I never had an original Nintendo. That was a whole chapter of gaming history I was vaguely aware of, but missed. Then we eventually got a computer and an Internet connection, and I discovered emulation. I discovered the likes of Chrono Trigger, Mega Man, and non-localized Japanese games though figuring out emulators and ROMs. But finishing those games was another story. I played Chrono Trigger to completion for the first time on a PlayStation. I didn’t see the credits in a Mega Man game until Legends, and not a classic one until the compilation releases. Oddly enough, I finished EarthBound via emulation, but I used a real SNES controller with a USB adapter. There’s a reason for this, a certain special something that comes from using dedicated hardware to play games.
There’s a certain mindset some people have that assigns extra value to something you work hard for or earn, compared to something you’re able to just sort of take. It’s not a universal thing, and I’m not about to apply it to video games in full. Paying more money for video games doesn’t put you on this elevated level of understanding and appreciating them. That’s classist as hell! But we can take that logic, twist it a little, and try this on for size: having a massive list of titles, in a digital library, can desensitize you a bit.
It devalues the games as individual works; just look at how people talk about their Steam libraries. Steam sales and Humble Bundles have conditioned PC gamers to just stockpile titles for pennies and never play them, or play for a few hours and bounce off them. Now imagine if you could just snap your fingers and own every console game released by Nintendo in the entirety of the nineties. I mean, you can.
Chances are, you’ll find some games you do resonate with and stick to. Especially if this is your primary method, because of financial or geographical reasons, of playing games. But you’ll inevitably bounce off of way more, sometimes only playing a game for a few minutes before you decide you don’t like it, or that moment wasn’t the right vibe for that game. You might never touch it again, despite the chance you might really like it under different circumstances.
But things are way different when you have that magic box, that only does one thing, and you physically interact with it to play a game. You press buttons, pull switches, manipulate the cartridge or disc. There’s a physical bond between you and the game before you even start playing it. Sure, it’s a product you play, fueled by marketing and corporate maneuvering, but it’s also art, an experience you have that was created by others with the intent of bringing a reaction out of you.
That’s why, for me, I wasn’t able to play EarthBound all the way through until I had that controller. I couldn’t afford to buy the game, but that extra bit of tactile connection to video games, not my laptop, helped me focus more. That’s why, I think, the NES and SNES Classic have done so damn well despite them technically just being ROM boxes. It’s not practical, it really isn’t. It’s emotional, part of the story of a person playing a game, losing themselves into another world or angle of humanity they’re never experienced. I know this line of thinking doesn't apply to everyone, but if there wasn't a hint of truth to it, I don't think consoles would have endured as long as they have.