Growing up, video games were a rare luxury for me. My family was pretty well off, though a Jewish lifestyle meant sacrificing pleasures that my non-observant friends and family didn’t have to. I didn’t get my first video game system until my 9th birthday, and even then it was a Game Boy Color. I wouldn’t receive an actual home console until four years later, a GameCube, as a Bar Mitzvah present. And even with my gaming systems, which were purchased at discounted prices, I still rarely received any games for them.
You’d think that’d make me feel neglected, and in some ways I might’ve been. But child me was never bothered by this. The fact that I had video games to play at all was more than enough to make me happy, and some of my fondest gaming memories came from this period. Whether it was bringing over my copy of Pokémon Yellow to my cousin’s house to upload to Pokémon Stadium, battling my friends over link cables in the original Pokémon games, or, later, hosting Super Smash Bros. Melee and GoldenEye: Rogue Agent tournaments on my GameCube, I always felt like I had a home in the gaming world, minimal as it may have been.
It was only once I started earning an allowance in my teenage years that I began to appreciate why my parents rarely bought me video games: Even back then, they were expensive! It’s easy to look back and laugh at how ignorant I really was to economics and finances, but given how $30-$40 was close to a month’s savings for me, well… I had to get picky. The game I wanted had to be really worth my time. And when it wasn’t? Well, I had to make it worth my time anyway.
It helped that I was sticking to Nintendo products. Say what you will about their gimmicks and marketing, but they tended to have relatively affordable products. What’s better, they also made games with long-lasting appeal. Not only were their games fun and top-quality, but they also had hours upon hours of content. And when I beat them, I either started over or attempted to 100 percent complete them (something I rarely succeeded at). Nintendo knew how to grab me, control me, and never let go, and I think more developers and companies could stand to learn from that.
Perhaps the biggest bargain at the time was GoldenEye: Rogue Agent. I found it on a whim at my local EB Games, and it was at half-off at the time. I was initially confused by its title, (“It’s not the N64 game?”) but I quickly found enjoyment in its single player and multiplayer campaigns. It hasn’t aged well in hindsight; the game’s littered with bugs and game-breaking glitches. But for what it was, it was easily worth more than the asking price. That was one of the advantages of gaming on a budget: Sometimes you found gold without intending to.
The joys of gaming agency
It also helped that purchasing these games on my own dime meant that I had agency over what I played. These weren’t simply video games — they were my video games. I owned them, and, as such, I tended to take better care of them. To this day, my Wii games are still in great condition, as I’d remove them from the disc tray whenever the console was turned off and return them to their cases right away. I probably wouldn’t have been quite as careful with them otherwise.
But even outside of that, I learned to become my own gaming critic. Video games aren’t like movies, where, at best, there’s a slight disconnect from the experience. Movies are great, and I love a great deal of them, but video games have a lot more content in them. They also allow for a great deal more interactivity, and you, essentially, become a part of them in the process. So while I definitely heeded the advice of sites like Metacritic, I also made snap judgement calls and purchased stuff that may or may not have always received glowing praise.
And for the games that I was on the fence about? Well, there was always Blockbuster. It might seem funny now, especially since Blockbuster shut down a while back, but much of my gaming experience was also thanks to them. I’d routinely rent games for cheap, play them over the weekend, then return them the following week. It allowed me to test out and complete games that I wouldn’t otherwise buy, and it helped me save lots of money. In some ways, it was also less intrusive on my budget than flat out buying new games, which, like I said, were still expensive.
Am I entitled? I hope not!
Being stuck on a gaming budget meant something personal to me. It meant learning to appreciate what I had, as well as looking forward to something new. I hate it when older people call my generation “entitled,” especially when they have far more money than I ever will, but on some level they have a point: Having everything isn’t always good. Even now, as I spend $90 CAD on new Switch games, (Thank the exchange rate for that.) I still make sure to milk as much out of my purchases as I can. Because they’re not cheap, and I can only afford so much at once.
Ultimately, it also forced me to enjoy even the games I didn’t like, or the games that may have not aged that well. I was never a fan of No More Heroes, but I still tried to get as much out of it as possible before giving up. The same could be said of De Blob, a game I actually did like, yet had to chip away at slowly due to how arduous it could be. Even now, as a 20-something who’s trying to save money here and there, I still force myself to make my gaming purchases worthwhile. I may not game as often — movies are a much cheaper hobby — but when I do, well… I remember what it was like not having a lot to choose from as a child, and how I still made due with my limited gaming collection anyway.