What first got you playing video games? Did you have a parent or relative that played and introduced you to them? Or was there one cool neighbor kid who had a game system that let you come over and play? We all got our start somewhere, and it was largely the video rental store that got me gaming. My family couldn't afford to buy me new games every time one came out and I was just a kid, so I had no money to speak of. That's where the holy land came in, the place I could go and rent almost as many games as my little heart desired. There was nothing like cruising those aisles and finding titles I'd never heard of, ones that soon became favorites. Alas, those days have been numbered for years now and ended for many.
The video rental store I grew up with was connected to a local grocery store. They had all the movies you could imagine wanting to watch and more, but I was drawn to games. You could rent brand new titles for a single night or get older ones for a whopping seven days. I usually chose the latter, seeing a how a single day is not nearly enough time to fully enjoy a game. I can remember one title that struck me in particular: Kingdom Hearts 2. The exact moment it began sporting that seven night rental sticker, it was in my hands. I took it home and binged. A few nights of staying up until six in the morning later, and I had beaten it. The credits rolled, and a sense of pride washed over me.
Now rental services have become streaming services and physical stores disappeared completely. Streaming services are great, in that you don't generally have to worry about an ever-looming deadline. You can take your time and enjoy the game at your own leisure. Even still, we lose with the less concrete deadlines. You can play games added to a streaming service for as long as they're there. For some titles, this might mean the entire running length of the service, but others might suddenly disappear. The worry that a game might be removed could force someone to play sooner, and there's nothing like the sense of accomplishment at beating a game within a deadline.
We have also lost the physical ability to browse in a store. As someone who lives way out in the middle of nowhere, I think I'd love the option to have a place that offers rentals. It'd be a chance to talk to someone other than my two cats and dog. My hermitage aside, it's also just a comforting feeling to be able to hold a game box. It tells you everything you need to know, and then you get to enjoy the ceremony of putting the disk into whatever system you're enjoying that evening. It's easy to buy digital copies of games, but physical ones retain the magic of our youth.
At the very least, the greatest thing about the rental store was the price.They were always affordable. My parents didn't agree to anything they couldn't afford back when I was a kid and certainly wouldn't now either. Knowing that I could enjoy a relatively new game without breaking the bank then was as wonderful as it would be for me now.
There are many great reasons to lament the death and decay of the rental store. We can fill the gap in our hearts with streaming services and actual game purchases, but sometimes it's okay to be sad about what we have lost. This is one of those times.
Image Credit: Kurt Thomas Hunt