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Goodbye plastic


I've been thinking about my gaming habits since finishing Metal Gear Solid 4 last month. Without realizing or fully appreciating it, I've been living in the promised land. Everyone said this day was coming - we've seen it on the horizon for 20 years - but as is often the case with thresholds and paradigms, we don't notice them until they're in our rear-view mirrors.

It hit me when I noticed a small pile of orange Gamefly envelopes on the table next to my consoles. They've been siting there, untouched, for a month. As my wife will corroborate, that's very unusual because I keep our mail carrier very busy shuttling games to and from our spacious villa overlooking the ocean that exists only in my fevered mind.

The final wake-up call came last night as we were playing PixelJunk Monsters co-op, and she asked me if I planned to keep this one. "Keep it?" I asked. "Or send it back to Gamefly," she replied. "We already own it. I bought it online." "Oh. Nice," she said with a smile. [Note: When your spouse smiles at the news of a game purchase, you have officially unlocked the "Soulmate for Life" achievement.]

In all my time as a gamer, I've never had a playlist that looked like this: Geometry Wars 2; Braid; PixelJunk Eden; Castle Crashers; Quest for Glory 2 (remake); The Last Guy; Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty; Madden '09. All released in the last month (Eden a bit earlier). One game with shrink-wrap, seven without. All are good, solid games. A couple might even be called great games.

The long-awaited day of top-drawer, well-designed, original downloadable games has finally arrived. Sure, it didn't just emerge out of thin air, and we all know XBLA, PopCap, and the indie game scene (among many other outlets) have been delivering all sorts of good stuff for quite some time. But the general marketplace always lags behind the enthusiasts, and very often it's a convergence of events that brings the mainstream up to speed. Lots of us were ripping music, tweaking MP3 bitrates, and downloading files long before the arrival of the iPod and widely available broadband internet.

When a non-gaming media outlet like National Public Radio runs a feature piece on Braid, something's up. When intra-office competitive juices flow madly over Geometry Wars 2 leaderboards, converting Silver members to Gold in droves, a threshold has been crossed. When millions of iPhone users experience the world of downloadable games for the first time and discover they like it, a door has opened. When readers write to tell me they have purchased PS3 systems purely so they can play Everyday Shooter, Super Stardust HD, flOw, and the PixelJunk games, it seems to me we've arrived somewhere we've never been.

Lots more plastic discs in plastic boxes wrapped in plastic are on their way, and I'm sure we'll be happy to see them, especially with titles like Fallout 3 and Little Big Planet emblazoned on them. But I wonder if someday we'll look back and see this as the moment when the big transition began.