How Are Video Games Like Breakfast Cereal?


When did video games start coming with toys in the box? We got used to bonus items in the collectors’ editions of games a long time ago. Hell, we grew to expect them. We’ve gotten maps, figurines, lunchboxes, bobbleheads, and whatnot. I used to snap them up without question, but these days I have little room for extras with all of the games and systems that I have collected over the years. I just had to learn to say no. I can’t be a game packrat forever, right?

This week I broke my own no swag rule. I got my pre-ordered copy of Harvest Moon for the 3DS and it came with a very cute stuffed alpaca. I pre-ordered the game just so that I could get the damned plushie. It’s cute, but it adds nothing to the game. It takes up more space and I really should just give it to Pea…but I want to be selfish. I want to keep him all to myself. Smart money is betting that she will get him in the end. (Be forewarned that there is a whole post coming on Harvest Mooon soon). But the thing is if she does get him nothing changes for me in my gaming life. The alpaca in my game still eat, breed, and even die. Unfortunately the same does not hold true for Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure.

Adding in-game content has just kicked it up a notch. Now before I go on I want you to understand that I have never been a card gamer nor have I played games that required figures. Not because they were just too nerdy even for me (ok that is part of it) but because there was more crap for me to have to keep up with in the end. For this reason Skylanders was the perfect game for me to leave at the store. That was before my kidlet spent half an hour at the display at the store switching the figures out and watching their little trailers (she figured this all out on her own while I was contemplating other game purchases). By the time I was finally able to convince her that we would need to eventually leave she looked at me and begged for the figurines. Not the game, or the “movies”, just the “dolls”. Unfortunately as I watched some of the trailers that had played in the last 1/2 hour I had developed a bit more than a passing interest in the game. I asked the couple who had come up during this time and were trying to decided between a Stealth Elf and Chop Chop as an add on if the figurines really had to be on the little plastic portal and attached to the console in order for them to be playable. I damn near fainted when they told me yes. YES? Isn’t this the age of DLC and growing hard drive requirements? Why did I actually have to keep up with the “dolls” and put them on a portal when I could much more easily download the characters into the game and move on? The young couple (who were also buying infant sized clothing and thus had not yet gotten to the point when said kidlet would run off with their stuff) smiled the smile of the uninitiated, shook their heads at the crazy woman and the demanding toddler and walked away. (I can’t wait until their day comes!)

But I digress, what is it with this move to physical manifestations of add-on content in games? The card add ons to some of the earlier games was short lived (and ill conceived in my mind) so why has it come back with a vengence. Not only do the figurines hold the content but the also have memory units of some kind as they save their progress and achievements. Are these physical add-ons an attempt to help us hold on to the ”real” world? Are people so afraid of being sucked into an ubiquitous virtual space that they are now using die cast figures as tethers to keep them from being permanently sucked into the Metaverse? Or is this just a way for game companies to charge us $8.00 for a one character DLC instead of the $6-ish price point for the digital download with no crappy plastic toy? Oh yeah, and you have to buy it again if your sweet little one runs off with it. 

So if by the grace of God I can keep up with (or kind) Spryo and his buddies when I go to play the game (WAIT! What? Oh yeah, I forgot that part. yeah, I plopped down the 70 bucks and got the starter pack with the game, portal, and 3 “dolls”) I have to hope that they haven’t been banged together, shot out of canons, rocketed through space, or bubble bathed to the point where the portal doesn’t recognize them or the memory unit has given up the ghost.

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One Response to “How Are Video Games Like Breakfast Cereal?”

  1. Adam says:

    Nintendo used to have the Game Boy E-Reader, so you could buy Pokémon cards and get a random assortment of characters and scan them into games, if I recall. Thinking further back there was the digi-pets, like Digimon and Tamogatchi. I suppose it wasn’t so much a central hub for games to plug into, but doling out parts of an experience so that you needed to collect ‘em all for the full game.
    I think that “collectable” element is key, or even more so the growing chase element you see in these figures. Physical demand for DLC, almost. If just anyone can go online and drop 5 bucks for the DLC, it’s lacking the excitement of finding the figure in a store. Or finding a character to use that your friend can’t find. And instead of it being in-game, you have to physically find it and pay for it. The rare physical item drop!