Sunday, May 18, 2014

Question: Are video game carts cooler than discs?

This morning I read this article by Andrew Leonard about vinyl records and CDs and it got me drawing some of the obvious parrallels between collecting music and collecting video games.  The point that he makes begins with the observation that there is still a lot of demand out there for vinyl records.  In the American market last year saw the biggest sales numbers for vinyl in over 15 years, with the few factories that still press records ramping up production in response.  In Japan I can say that a similar trend exists, there are tons of record specialty stores in most cities (the Osu neighborhood that I featured last week has at least half a dozen record stores stocked with tons of vinyl). 

Music CDs, on the other hand, seem unlikely to see a similar resurgence of interest.  Vinyl`s resurrection from obsolescence lay in the fact that the physical act of playing a record on a turntable is significantly different from that of listening to a digital audio file.  It is also kind of cool.  CDs on the other hand don`t really offer that distinction.  Vinyl is analogue.  CDs are digital - too similar to the technology that replaced them to really offer someone an incentive to maintain a large collection of them. 

This got me thinking about the video game connection: are carts like records?  Does that make them cooler than disc based games?  Are people therefore more likely to collect carts than they are disc based games?

In some ways music and video games are similar  Carts are analogue (edit: actually they are digital, but they kind of `feel` analogue).  They offer a different physical experience to CDs - the feel of the plastic in your hand, blowing on the connectors, trying to get the thing wedged in correctly.  Its all different in ways that make them kind of cool.

Carts also seem to lend themselves more easily to being collected than discs.  Really what you are mainly after if you are collecting disc based video games is more the box and manual with the artwork rather than the disc itself.  A video game disc on its own is almost worthless (well, its worth whatever the game itself is to play, but not much more).  The CDs just don`t display the cover art of the game very well and you can`t handle them in a carefree way like you can with carts. 

There is also a bigger generational factor at play with video games than there is with music.  An album released on vinyl was probably also later released on CD. The Beatles for example released all their albums years before CDs even existed yet every one of their albums (and more) have been released on CD. Anybody collecting albums though is going to want the vinyl version rather than the CD, thus making the CDs redundant from a collector`s point of view.

With video games though you don`t have as much cross-generational releases on different media.  Most Famicom games were only released on cart based systems and never got released as disc based games (save on various collections, which don`t really count).  So the medium is more readily tied to a specific generation than with music.  Also, most disc based games (unlike music originally released on CD) can`t be retroactively released on a cart based system due to the technological limitations of that medium.  I can get a copy of Nirvana`s Never Mind on vinyl even though it was originally released on CD, but I`ll never be able to get a copy of any PS4 games in cart form.

So while there is a similarity between carts and vinyl, there are still some differences between video games and music which make the carts/vinyl analogy a little problematic.  Still though, I think carts are way cooler than discs.  Anyone agree?  Or violently disagree?


  1. Absolutely agree with you. The key factor here is that you can actually hold a cart in your hands and easily put it on a shelf without using any boxes. Famicom ones have different shapes; it also adds to the feel that you are holding a specific game, not a generic DVD, which you can burn on your computer

  2. Carts are still digital just very primitive. But I do prefer rectangular boxy things more than discs. Take a flash drive for instance, compared to CDs. The only maintenance you need for carts is to clean the contacts when you buy them. Discs? You have to worry about keeping them upright, or make sure they don't get scratched. Once to see a sizeable amount, it's useless.

    I think carts or at least something like it deserve a comeback in this new generation of video game systems, especially if they keep getting ridiculously bigger. Here in the US, consumers are learning more about Net Neutrality and how the telecoms treat the Internet like parking spaces or water rationing when they clearly have the knowhow and ability to improve the infrastructure. They will put a cap on how much you use and how long because they use an excuse that it will cause congestion or something. When all the companies are telling us to go digital for their huge 20GB+ games, how is one supposed to download them fast enough to enjoy them?

    Nintendo was way ahead of its time with its Disk System, and with so much DRM, why hasn't anybody adopted physical store download model on proprietary flash drives?

  3. Yes, of course carts are cooler than discs, etc. Is this some sort of trick question? ;) That said, I do think the form of the cart matters here. As much as I love my 3DS, DS and even GBA games, for instance, I wouldn't put those carts up against the Famicom's in terms of coolness or attractiveness. In fact, I'm not sure I'd say many other gaming carts are all that appealing, save for the NES', the original GameBoy's and maybe the Game Gear's. (I guess some might consider MSX, Sega Mark III and Mega Drive carts to be nice, too.)

  4. Strongly agree with all points. The main thing for me is that cartridges are just more fun and easy to display. If you've got a bunch of CDs they tend to be relegated to a row of thin titles on a shelf or (worse yet) a CD binder where you can't even look at them easily. I won't say that CDs will never see a resurgence for nostalgia's sake, but if so it'll probably be quite a long time.

  5. I was actually thinking about something similar to this yesterday while in the car running errands. Don't know why... just random thoughts. To me carts and the generation that used them almost feel like "toys" whereas discs are closer to the generic electronics end of the spectrum.

    On a slight tangent... during the dvd age and into the hd-dvd/bluray era I went full throttle into it. Now that the new tech sparkle has worn off, I've found myself getting much fewer blu-rays but being drawn back into laserdiscs. Almost like the vinyl of the video format. Gotta say the big, beautiful cover art on LDs wins by a mile.

  6. Gabber - I agree, the fact that you can hold them in your hand is key. Discs are, as you say, a bit too generic.

    Angryrider - good point, I edited that bit! It would be pretty cool to see an FDS Disk writer style model of distribution make a comeback. I wish I had been in Japan at the time to see one of those kiosks actually in operation. Must have been cool.

    Bryan - yeah, I thought you would agree! I think you are right too, I never really cared for the shape of GBA carts, but the original GB ones I rather like (maybe the size and shape?). Some 2nd generation consoles have cool carts too, but with those it often depends on the maker of the games as there was a lot of variation.

    Bruce - The display factor is pretty big for me too. I have all my PS/PS2 games in a CD binder, which doesn`t display at all well (and my PS2 is broken so taking them out to photograph them for this post was the first time I`ve seen them in a couple of years). I wonder if CDs might make a nostalgic resurgence in the future? Perhaps we are just too close to their time to appreciate them.

    Stealthlurker - DVDs and LDs are another interesting comparison. In the music analogy I guess VHS would be the equivalent of cassette tapes. I once made a small library of my favorite movies on VHS, only to see it made redundant wtih DVDs, which put me off buying movies permanently. I have been tempted by LDs though, in fact I have a couple that I bought at Book Off just for the cover art (Bladerunner and Return of hte Jedi). My concern with them is disc rot though, I`ve heard that LDs are nearing the end of their life expectancies. Not sure if that is true, but it has discouraged me from actually getting an LD player.

  7. With carts, it's pawsible to make stacks and collages and sculptures and all sorts of stuff! Like that Luigi mosaic at that one store. Love them.

  8. You can make a cool collage out of CDs too though, it's just better if it's flat!

    Of course, carts are cooler! But for me there's two things in play, the cart itself, and the art. There's no reason that art on a CD couldn't be cool but often times it isn't, your photo shows the trend tends to be a single-color image, to keep costs down. Sometimes you get someone crazy like Working Designs popping a full-color design on there (Another great example is the Japanese release of Klonoa on PSX) but those are pretty rare. For whatever reason, carts almost always have full-color art on them, even if that art is just a chopped-up version of what's on the cover.

    Also to disc's credit the standard clear packaging lends to some neat things you can do with the design, I always love it when I lift off the disc and there's more art underneath. That doesn't have anything to do with the media itself, but because carts are never in clear CD cases, it's something that you don't see there.

    But the really cool thing to me about carts is that they're all different! They have different shapes and sizes and it varies by hardware (or region, or manufacturer in some cases), and it's neat to see how they all look. That really lends a certain historic quality that you don't get with discs, which are always just discs. One could also argue that cartridges represent a wilder time in game development, and with the move to a "standard" format the games themselves also become less unique as AAA development costs drove out riskier titles. At the very least, for retro gamers, the cart itself is highly symbolic of the time the product was made.

    So, carts all the way, if you've got a choice about it! :D

  9. Logan - yeah, stuff like that Luigi mosaic are awesome (BTW, sadly they disassembled that one a few months after I posted about it). I`m often tempted to try something like that with my carts!

    gsilverfish - very good points. The single color on CD art is usually pretty dismal compared to the colorful cart labels. ALso good point about the CD cases containing interesting art sometimes. I like the different shapes and sizes of carts, even for a single console (like hte Famicom). Carts all the way!

  10. i like carts better, cause you can hold and feel the back without scratching it

  11. Yeah, the scratchability of discs definitely works against them!

  12. "I`ll never be able to get a copy of any PS4 games in cart form."

    Right, but Laserdisc into a cart seems reachable :

    Very cool blog by the way ^_^