As a long time collector of different media (video games, music, movies, etc.), I think the most concern for me, regarding digital media, is the uncertainty that what you collected has the potential of one day unexpectedly disappearing on you.
This can be somewhat mitigated if you have control over where and how it’s stored. Like, if the digital content is a complete package that you’ve downloaded to a hard drive, you can at least back that data up onto different storage devices/locations. However, if the digital content is something that you cannot store, but rather something you must stream from a third party service, then you really don’t have any control of that data. So, in this case, do you really own (or collected) anything?
Having a physical copy of the media in my collection is so important to me. Once I buy a game title, music album or movie, I want to be able to access that content any time I want. I don’t want to be at the mercy of a service provider or publisher, who can deny me the content I’ve purchased when ever they see fit to do so. I want the content I’ve purchased to be mine and mine alone, to do with (at a personal level) as I see fit.
Now don’t get me wrong; I do see the value of digital forms of media, as long as I retain control of the data. In fact, in order to play many of the modern gaming consoles today, software stored on a mass storage device is the only option. There are not many consoles being made today that actually support cartridge or disc based media. So, i realise that there are definite advantages to digital content, and I do use it when I want to do things like play games between my PC with VICE, GP2X and C64Mini. And I am appreciative for the fact that there are disk images out there for the games that I actually do have floppies for, as it saves me a lot of trouble trying to convert them to a digital version myself. I feel this even more so with my Intellivision games, as I have no way of taking the many cartridges I have and convert them to play on my portable devices.
But, I guess the collector in me feels a little “short changed” when I can just go and download any game ROM I can think of, play for a little while, then just move on to another one of the thousands I have on the SD card. Even as a teen, trading C64 games and copying them to floppies had a cost associated with it. I only had so much money to spend on floppies and they could only hold so much information. So, I had to pick and choose what I copied (aka collected).
Besides, I always feel better having an actual legitimate license for the games in my collection. I think the best way to ensure this by having a physical copy in some form. And the collector in me really likes to look up on my bookshelf to actually see that game I bought sitting up there, where no one can take it away from me. Although, lately I’ve had to settle for digital downloads of my C64 games from itch.io, but that’s just because of budgetary limits I’m facing right now.
In the past, I purchased quite a few digital licenses for games on my Nintendo Wii, via the Wii Channel. But, that was such a waste of money, as now that Wii is not functioning properly. So all of those games are unplayable for me, which really sucks, which is why I will no longer support such content distribution models in the future. If I can’t at least copy the content I download to my own storage device and use on another system if I need to, I’m not interested.
Another thing that bothers me about streaming content is the potential of censorship and post-editing by today’s overly paranoid “nanny state” mentality. Without owning physical copies of your favourite media, those in control can go in and edit what’s stored in the cloud when ever they want. We’re discovering that many of the icons and pulp culture we remember from the past has now been erased by people who think they know better. It’s not right, in my opinion and we, as collectors, need to do our best to preserve the past.
What’s the point to this long winded blog post? I guess it boils down to my opinion that physical media is more desirable than digital and we collectors should support those companies and individuals who provide such content when ever we can. We should not let this digital “in the cloud” age convince us to give up our right to own the content we pay good money for. And, we should be encouraged to hold on to and cherish the physical media we already have in our possession, doing what we can to keep it from going into landfills and being lost forever.