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In last week's post ("Retrogame Therapy") Bugsy discussed some ways that  playing “retro” video games are beneficial to us. That got us both thinking about the technology and media formats of these games. Do you go with newer digital formats of your favorite games or strive to consume media through the technology it was originally released in? Certainly, there's an ease of use factor with purely digital consumption, but is there something to be said for taking a more involved approach and adopting Bugsy’s aforementioned hydra of gaming systems? The question doesn't only apply to electronic gaming, either, with digital tabletops continuing to increase. To boil it down to a single specific question: how much does the format matter when it comes to games? -A

A: To me, the most obvious argument to me that specific format shouldn’t matter is ease of use. Do I need extra cables, to fiddle with settings, to clean any old components, to find the space and time to get all of this together? Especially when, for a small fee, I’m can get something closer to the same experience with much less effort? I for one, and I am sure I’m not alone, don't have the time for all of that. Somehow, I can say that while still having an Atari 2600 and an original NES taking up space in my living quarters. So, clearly I do appreciate something about the original formatting, even if ease of use is still a major consideration. I think Bugsy may have touched closely on it with the Retrogame Therapy closing: getting an old system to work with your old favorite game (or even one you've picked up and haven't been  able to try before) does feel like something of an accomplishment.

On the other hand. one place where I don’t think that argument works as well is when it comes to tabletop games. “One D&D” is coming, and progress won't stop there. We're quickly crossing the threshold (or perhaps already have), where the majority of tabletop content is going to be digital. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this -  I champion digital TTRPGing quite often. The question actually came up during my last digital gaming session: “Don’t you miss physical books?” Everyone assembled agreed that they did, and while that's a significantly miniscule sample size, I can only agree with the one player that expressed “there's something satisfying about having a physical book open on your table, to just the page you need, sitting there waiting for you.” The books themselves aren’t the only thing to miss - the maps, the terrain, sharing or showing off physical dice and miniatures... While “One D&D” will open up some fantastic things with their immersive 3D digital tabletops, and others are creating amazing pieces of art in digital miniatures and maps, the same can be said of their physical predecessors. Bugsy, where do you see the line when it comes to digital and physical tabletop gaming?

B: I think you nailed it when you mentioned having both digital and physical versions around - none of us are going to purely in on one format or another, and the lines between them continue to blur. Last week I mentioned flash carts: they're amazing little boxes that allow you to play ROM files that were originally meant for emulators on original console hardware. The modern convenience of file management applied to everything we liked about the old systems. And without the plugging and unplugging of all those cartridges, it's healthier for all that aging hardware (plus collectors can actually play the games they acquire without damaging the precious packaging). Likewise, even people with large libraries of physical media probably have a streaming subscription or two. And I'm certain that some fans are starting to build up physical media libraries with the recent reminder that favorites are always just a corporate decision away from vanishing from streaming services. It's always about compromise, finding the fit that's right for you and for the works you love. While we all have our dream libraries in mind (other people do that, right? It's not just me?), in real life we have to deal with limited space and time. So we reserve that space for the things that we get the most benefit from having, and the digital realm allows us to create our own libraries of all sorts that make the legendary one in Alexandria look like a ransacked bookmobile. 

RPGs are another perfect example of this. A few weeks ago, I mentioned how I've purchased a few massive bundles over the past few years. With the handy Bundle Browser tool, I can see that means I've acquired over 1,400 tabletop games and related works. Even though many are smaller than larger published game books, it's simply staggering to think of how much that is, far beyond the possible limits of any kind of physical space. And that's not even getting into the Bundle of Holding purchases, or the DriveThruRPG ones... I've become something of an RPG Scrooge McDuck, with so much abundance the individual titles lose all distinction, forming a pool into which I can dive any time. And there are still so many more out there. With the prohibitive cost of physical printing gone, stranger and riskier titles can become available... although fewer people also means fewer eyes looking things over, fewer test runs done, and even games simply being less complete. It results in a different kind of relationship to games, one where much more of the nitty-gritty is determined at the table and experiences varying vastly depending on who is involved. 

For all of it, though, I still have and cherish my physical game books, which is a format I find better suited to games that are more refined and developed. I find it easier to retain information I read on a page than on a screen, although this may simply be a matter of practice - those bundles certainly give me plenty to work with! If I do run any in person, though, I still suspect I'll print them out to have them handy rather than try to work from a tablet or laptop. And if I really like something and expect to read it often, I'll try to spring for a physical copy, both for ease of reference and to support the creator that little bit more.

This is a hierarchy that each of us will work out on our own: what's to be gained from something taking up physical space (Ease of access? Nostalgia? Having a really cool squishy cover?) and what doesn't require that physicality. All of which can change along with our relationship to the things we love - digital versions could even be seen as a "rental" of sorts, a "try before you buy" edition of something you'll acquire physically if you end up liking. Format selection is a proverbial land of contrasts, but, like the settings of our games and stories, they're lands will build and populate ourselves, ever-shifting depending on their contents and the needs of the visitors. Never be afraid to radically alter your library landscapes, as storytellers, we're more ready than anyone to take on that exciting, if sometimes daunting, challenge.

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