Mmmm stuff.

24 June 2012

I don't recall if I've written about this before but it bears further discussion I feel - tangibility.

Personally I love the amount of stuff that no longer requires a physical presence. It sounds rather exotic, doesn't it?

What I mean is that ten years ago my video game collection was a stack of DVD cases, my music collection was a leather thing full of CDs, and so on.

These days I get annoyed if a PC game comes on a disc. I find myself asking "Why should I hold onto this needless clutter?". My games are stored in Steam. When I'm done with one I delete its files and forget about it. Should the niggling desire to play it arise later (as it so often does) it's just a matter of clicking the install button and the files are pulled down from the 'net.

I have a friend that does not seem to like this concept. He likes physical discs. I'd ask him the logic but I doubt I'd get any and even if he told me something reasonable I still wouldn't understand.

Redditors of a similar mindset suggest that they don't like the idea of not having a physical backup. They feel the disc means they own the game.

As anyone who's ever glanced at an End User License Agreement should know, that's not the case at all. What you bought was a license key for the game. It might as well come on a scratch card. The disc that goes with it is the version of the game files that were available when they went to manufacturing provided to you for your convenience. Chances are that it's horribly out of date and will require numerous updates before it's even playable.

The disc itself is essentially valueless. I know that when I go to install Half Life 2 I will not be reaching for the DVD case on my old games shelf. I've no idea where my Starcraft discs are because I stopped keeping track of them once I registered their serial numbers with BattleNet.

Normally I maintain an internal database of where my possessions are. As in inside my head. It's not perfect but it's pretty damn accurate and with virtually everything I can tell you where and when I got it. There's barely a thing in my possession that has unknown origins. I don't make a point of memorising this stuff, it just sticks. I'm sure I'm quite common in this but I felt it was worth a mention.

Now if I can avoid adding to this data whilst retaining access to the items I'm rather pleased. That isn't to say I'd like to forget things, it's more like if future games can avoid adding to the physical aspect of my life that is a big bonus.

I don't buy CDs, my TV shows are all files on hard disks, my PC games live online, even my old audiobooks no longer need to be on cassettes. Soon I hope I can stop collecting physical books. For now I'm waiting on a bath-proof e-reader, but I'm sure that day is coming!

Certainly if there was a fire I'd lose my computer but as soon as I got another one I could reacquire that lot with minimal effort. The same could not be said of the pile of DVDs, at least not without incurring significant cost.

Also - discs actually die eventually. I have old CDs that no longer work, not to mention the DVDs that are too scratched to use (not my doing, I assure you!). I imagine Steam will probably outlive the usable lifetime of any games I buy physical copies of.

It just comes down to the reason for the existence of physical media. Digital files are digital files - they could be on a pile of CDs, a DVD, a flash disk, or whatever. Instead why not just keep those files backed up online until I need them? There's no reason I should have to be the keeper of those ones and zeroes when there's people who could do a better job than me for no extra cost.

A vinyl album on the other hand does something a CD doesn't - it gives me an experience. Yeah, yeah, it's sounds pretentious as all hell but that's not what I'm getting at. I'm not trying to lecture about warm tones or whatever, no, I mean that I find it a lot of hassle to skip tracks on a record. I find myself compelled to listen to the album as a whole, not track by track. A CD doesn't do that. A cassette would work too but the sound quality is lower and the artwork not as pretty, at least to my ears and eyes.

PC games on disc do not have an upside, at least from my perspective.

*drops the mic*