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A crimp in my evening

Annie Hall: Alvy, you're incapable of enjoying life, you know that?
Alvy Singer: I can't enjoy anything unless everybody is. If one guy is starving someplace, that puts a crimp in my evening.

Gamecollection Have you noticed how often we discuss video games, assuming all of us are able to purchase and play any game we like, whenever we want? I do it all the time here or in casual conversation, and I've rarely given it a second thought.

I suppose we bloggers/critics/journos must continue to think and write about games, regardless of the economic circumstances of our readers. But maybe it's time we paused to consider the realities faced by millions of people these days, many of them gamers who love their avocation every bit as much as we do.

Times are hard. In my area, recent layoffs have left thousands of people out of work, with more factory closings and retail layoffs to come. Conversations with students, local friends, and many visitors here on the blog make it clear that an increasingly large number of people can't afford $60 video games anymore, let alone next-gen hardware. One student I spoke to recently was overjoyed by the release of Persona 4 because it meant a brand new AAA game under the Christmas tree for the only console he owns: a PS2. A price tag $20 less than most new games meant that it fell within the $50 limit-per-child that his parents must observe this year.

All of this makes me wonder about the stacks of games scattered around my house. I have a steady job, and I'm fortunate to receive free games now and then for review, so I tend to focus on the latest releases - with an occasional detour for the Vintage Game Club. That means I've got a boatload of fairly recent and older games sitting around that I'm unlikely to play again any time soon. Surely I can connect a problem to a solution here.

I'm aware of rental services like Gamefly, used-game sites like Dawdle, and swapping sites like Goozex, and these are all terrific options. But I'm thinking more locally, hoping to make a difference for families I know or people I'm personally familiar with.

So here's a modest set of suggestions. If you find yourself in circumstances similar to mine, maybe you'll find one of them helpful:

  1. Visit your local library and encourage them to circulate video games. Libraries all over the country, both public and academic, have begun to do this, and many have reported great success. If you donate your used games, you can put a sticker in each indicating that you are the magnanimously cool gamer who made all this gaming bliss possible. In time, you could become the Andrew Carnegie of game libraries!

  2. Set up an email or forum-hosted game-swap club at your school or work and encourage people in your community to join. If you're willing to manage it, you can ensure that the collection grows and people maintain a steady flow of exchanges.

  3. Set up your own lending library and publicize it to students, friends, co-workers, etc. If you get it off the ground and prove it works, you'll be able to convince others to donate their games to your collection as well. A lot of work, but you maintain control and can run the operation as you see fit.

  4. Give your games away on condition that the recipients do the same when they finish them (aka "paying it forward").

Lots of people are facing hard decisions, sometimes choosing between making a mortgage payment or paying the heating bill. Video games are probably the last thing on their minds. If we're willing to share our stuff, we can put these games (and even old consoles) gathering dust to good use, spread some game love around, and maybe help make somebody's day a little more fun.

If you have other useful ideas for those unplayed games on your shelf, I'd love to hear them.

Thanks to Wonderland for the image.