Once upon a time, we had the best way to try before we’d buy. I’m not talking about demos. We were able to rent things. Stores existed, we could head into them, and there would be new and old games and systems to borrow. It was a glorious time. But now, the concept is a relic, and we truly didn’t know what we had until it was gone.
When I was a kid, my family wasn’t exactly well-off. They saved for a long time for me to even get a Game Boy. Getting an actual console seemed like a dream. (Eventually, it involved lots of saving and sacrificing.) But sometimes, we went to Blockbuster. Blockbuster, my friends, had my back. It allowed you to actually rent consoles when I was a child. I have fond memories of a few times when I was extraordinarily ill, so much so that I’d be out of school for a few days, and my mom rented a Super Nintendo for me to play while I was out.
It was glorious. There was something special about that moment of getting a rental system. You had this enormous plastic case with handle, so there was no mistaking what you were bringing home for a while. It let you really see if this was a system you needed to have and own. You could really enjoy some quality time with a system, as well as games, to see if it was for you.
Plus, there was the whole idea of playing a game rented from Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, or an equivalent rental place. They would have everything you could possibly want. You could walk right in and browse, really taking everything in. If you had a good store by you, the clerks might have already rented and played some of the games and been able to offer insights and recommendations about what you should or shouldn’t try. It was an activity. You’d get together with friends on a Friday evening. “What do you all want to do?” “Want to rent something?” You’d go to the store and browse together. You’d make a decision, maybe talk with the clerks. Then, you’d take it home and enjoy.
Now, well, we aren’t totally in the dark! We still have options. But, we lost a major one in 2019. Redbox decided it would stop renting out games. For $2 per day, you had access to a major title. Unlike Blockbusters, stock was sufficient enough to make it likely you’d be able to get the game you wanted. New games were there. You could even buy them! Sure, there wasn’t the same store and browsing experience, but it was something.
There is still GameFly, but it doesn’t have the same rental magic. You can sign up to rent games. You can buy games too, usually at great deals. But you really have to play around with the queue to have a chance at getting the titles you want when they’re in-demand or new. You don’t have the option to browse like in the old days. It is an option and one we appreciate, but feels more like a remnant trying to remind us of the general ideas of rentals.
Game rentals were an incredible thing. So were console rentals, when we actually had the ability to borrow a system before buying one. But as time goes by, it seems like we have fewer opportunities to try before we buy. Especially if we move into console generations where digital gaming is the priority. Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, and Redbox were great in their prime, and we miss all of them.