The year is 1999. I’m in a GAME, in Loughborough town centre. The grey carpet is sticky, the awful fluorescent lights are so dim I can barely see, and everything sort of smells like stale sweat. I’m standing in the N64 section with my brother, both of us clutching a small fortune in pocket money, browsing games that we know nothing about, because we don’t know that reviews exist yet. We are children, and our buying habits tend to be dictated by whichever colours are brightest, and what we can actually reach.
We buy a full-price copy of Lego Racers, because children are idiots.
The year is 2005. My brother and I are back in the same GAME. I’m squeezing a copy of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door so tightly that it might snap in two. Guitar Hero — which just came out this year — dominates the store, a huge tower of CRT TVs with plastic instruments attached by wires and security measures, because this is Loughborough, and the likelihood of a useless plastic guitar being nicked is surprisingly high.
I would play so many hours of Paper Mario that I’d get blisters on my thumb pads. Worth it.
The year is 2011. I’m at university now, no thanks to my hours spent playing games instead of doing homework. I own a Wii and a DS, both of which are my main source of entertainment between (and sometimes instead of) lectures and essays. I do not have a lot of money. I circumnavigate this issue by renting games I’m not convinced I’ll like, and buying games I know I will. I then trade in the games at the nearby HMV, where I get a trifling return on my investment, but at least now I can buy toilet paper and instant noodles, the two things needed to survive.
I do not yet realise how much money my trading-in habit will cost me in the long run. I trade in Ace Attorney games, Zelda games, and — it pains me to say it — Ghost Trick. I loved these games, and there are times when I almost can’t let go of them at the cash register. I use the fifteen quid I get in return to wipe my tears, and then spend it all on one-ply.
The year is 2015. I have a job (yay!) in games journalism (oh no). Jobs mean money, and money means buying things I don’t need, like video games that I used to own off eBay. I buy a no-box copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for Game Boy Color, and then I buy a Game Boy Advance SP to actually play it. It is not the cool tribal SP that I always wanted, but I will make do.
I buy Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door off a guy who says that he doesn’t have the box, the manual, or even anything to put the tiny disc in, so he sends it to me wrapped in bubble wrap and hope, and it’s honestly a miracle that it gets to me un-snapped. It costs me THIRTY-FIVE BRITISH POUNDS for the honour of having a small piece of shiny plastic containing a game that I’ve played to completion more times than I’ve done anything that made my parents proud.
A few months later, I move to Canada, and leave the expensive bit of plastic in my dad’s house for safekeeping, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure he was the one who sold my original copy.
The year is now 2021, and we’re all caught up. Some brilliant games have passed through my hands across the decades I’ve been alive, and I’ve let them all slip away like diamond sand through my fingers. I curse the past version of me that didn’t know what she had, although she also didn’t have any money, so I can’t really blame her.
You know who I do blame? Nintendo. Despite their games selling thousands, millions of copies, they insist that their prices should never lower, and they refuse to reprint old games, even though tens of us have been begging them to for years. As a result, GameCube games still cost as much today as they did at launch, and often more; a copy of Ghost Trick alone will set me back around forty quid without the box or the manual.
if a game is good, or rare, or old (or all three), then people can charge eighty quid and someone will buy it. It’s the price of our childhood, the tax we pay on nostalgia.
But there’s no real reason that these games should be this expensive. As Alex and Jon point out in their video above, they’re expensive because we decide they’re expensive. Supply and demand, baby. Money isn’t real. Just like the GameStop stock price debacle, it’s all about something’s perceived worth — if a game is good, or rare, or old (or all three), then people can charge eighty quid and someone will buy it. It’s the price of our childhood, the tax we pay on nostalgia.
There’s no way around it, either. Second-hand game stores like CeX in the UK know the worth of their stock, charging £70 for a used copy of Pokémon HeartGold even though it doesn’t come with the Pokéwalker add-on. I’ve tried to buy suspiciously cheap copies of games on eBay before, only to find out that they’re fakes. One time, I bought a copy of Bowser’s Inside Story only to find out that it was actually Alex Rider: Stormbreaker on DS, a game so utterly pants that it’s sitting at a 48% rating on Metacritic.
Now, to Nintendo’s credit, they are bringing out the occasional re-release, so I can actually play Bowser’s Inside Story now, assuming I can find a 3DS copy. But some games remain perpetually unrecognised by ol’ Ninty, and despite some, eh, pretty good Paper Mario sequels (do not talk to me about Sticker Star), nothing comes close to Thousand-Year Door. Plus, I’m fairly certain that Capcom is not going to release an HD Switch version of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, a game that is my personal favourite of the Ace Attorney canon, an opinion I am likely alone in having.
It’s not surprising that people are clamouring for remakes of games like Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. A cursory glance at eBay shows that you’ll have to pay around £40 for the game card, and £90 for a sealed box. Listen, Ghost Trick’s price I can understand — that game is a gem, but it only sold a few hundred thousand worldwide. Pokémon Diamond and Pearl sold 17.67 million copies. It’s honestly enough to make me want to break into Nintendo HQ and help myself to a sealed copy or two from their vaults.
Some people know the value of what they’ve got, and refuse to ever sell, but other people have absolutely no idea that they’re sitting on a potential fortune.
The huge sales numbers of DS games mean that these pricey bits of plastic are just sitting around in drawers, cupboards, and huge plastic bins in garages across the world. Some people know the value of what they’ve got, and refuse to ever sell, but other people have absolutely no idea that they’re sitting on a potential fortune. As Jon and Alex discuss in the video, your best bet for underpriced retro games is charity shops, garage sales, and maybe even estate auctions, but I can’t say I’ve tried that last one. Even then, the likelihood of finding something you actually want is about as low as finding a pristine copy of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle in the bathroom of a Subway.
It’s hard to know how to fix this. There probably isn’t any fixing it, at this point. Some of you are likely sitting on thousands of pounds of games, safe in the knowledge that you weren’t an idiot like me, and you held on to them through the years, and I don’t blame you.
The worst thing is, once I own the games, I don’t… actually… play them. I moved in with my partner recently, and he’s one of those people that keeps everything. He has a Commodore 64 that he uses for decoration, and a GameCube collection that’s better than the one I had as a kid. He owns every old Nintendo console, plus a bunch of controllers that don’t — like mine — have weird nail polish stains. He dug out his in-box copy of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door when we were first dating, because he knew it was my favourite game.
In the four years we’ve been together, we have never played it.
Is it about nostalgia? Is it about owning small pieces of our childhood? Is it just about trying to claw back the years we’ve lost by constantly spending money to surround ourselves with props that make us feel a tiny bit of the joy we’ve long since forgotten? Are we all just trying to recreate a time when things were simpler?
It’s hard to put a price on the value of memory, but some people have, and it’s eighty bloody pounds. With no box.