In the end, even if I'm worrying for nothing and the future for these new alternatives is bright, for me at least, something will still be missing. Part of it is physical presence. There's something inherently fun and engaging about perusing a slew of titles that are in your face. And then there's that other way that the online models fall short: payment method. Like just about every corporation out there, it seems, online rental companies are intent on latching onto subscription based models (and by extension, customers' wallets). Which is not to say their prices are unreasonable. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. Frequent videogame renters will almost undoubtedly save money by going to subscription, but gamers strapped for cash might not be able to justify the steady expense, no matter how much value it represents.
So what are we really missing by losing rental stores? In a word, spontaneity. Everything about the rental store lends itself to impulse shopping. When I stood there, studying the titles on the shelves, I was entirely at the mercy of my own whim. Five minutes away from my house was a place where, for a few days, for a few dollars, I could play any game that grabbed my interest. I didn't have to plan out my gaming priorities or create queues, nor did I have to heavily research coming titles, afraid of wasting valuable money. If a game was bad, or short, or just plain broken, it was only a matter of minutes until I could have a new one. If I was with a friend and wanted something to do, I didn't have to put it on a list and wait for it to be shipped.
There is a freedom that comes with that kind of impulse shopping - a freedom to rise up out of the ruts we've dug for ourselves, to indulge in trial and error without the worry of excessive loss, to open ourselves to new experiences and expand our known horizons. It's the freedom to experiment. For me at least, the loss of something, anything, that provided that kind of freedom, is something worthy of a moment's reflection.
So here's to Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, to mom and pop rental stores, to unclear due dates, exorbitant late fees and scratched discs ... and to spontaneity, freedom, joy, and an avenue for gaming that was, for a time, my only one.
Victor Kretzer resides in Maryland where he has recently completed his degree in Simulation and Digital Entertainment. He spends his time writing as well as working on game design.