Why buy a video game if you’re never going to play it?

No, I'm not calling out your Steam sale impulse buys. Honest

An auction house reckons someone will pay $132,000 for a 34-year-old The Legend of Zelda cartridge.

The flowery listing description that accompanies the lot is certainly something, isn’t it? “Until now, there has never been a single public opportunity to lay claim to this spectacular collection centerpiece (or one even close to matching its allure and significance)” it insists, explaining how this particular variant – produced after the original NES-TM but before the less-collectible NES A, don’t you know – is “no doubt the apotheosis of rarity, cultural significance”.

My favourite bit, though, is when they insist the word “grail” “only begins to scratch the surface of describing this game”.

To be fair, The Legend of Zelda is pretty awesome. Whilst I reckon the third instalment, A Link to the Past, is a smidge better – I fell in love with that lush, colourful, expansive world, and yes, I hold it in higher regard than Breath of the Wild; deal with it – The Legend of Zelda was the game for me. It’s up there with Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill and Resident Evil as one of those games that made me a gamer, one of the first – one of few – titles that felt like an adventure rather than just pixelated sprites buzzing across the screen.

The Legend Of Zelda auction copy
The Legend Of Zelda. Credit: Heritage Auctions

Whilst I grew up in a home that loved gaming, most discs and cartridges in our house were worn out before they were thrown out. A lot were lost and/or scratched. Manuals were ripped and misplaced. Boxes were squished and ruined, and jewel cases splintered and snapped. I’m ashamed to admit that the care I took of my burgeoning vinyl collection seemingly never translated to video games and yes, I know: I’m an idiot. No need to rub that in, especially as most of my old “black label” PS1 originals today fetch north of £100 (ouch).

But here’s the thing: those games were loved. We didn’t have loads of money, which meant the games we did have were rinsed over and over again. I still have a PS1 memory card somewhere with a Solid Snake in a tux and his infinite ammo bandana, because I completed Metal Gear Solid at least a dozen times, and at least once on every difficulty level. I’d tracked down every single collectible, and every quarter heart, in those first few Zelda games, and still know my way through the Lost Woods to the graveyard of the original instalment without looking it up (it’s North, West, South, and West again).

These titles are as much a part of me now as the colour of my eyes. If you’ll forgive the hyperbolic piping of this statement, I’d even go as far as saying they made me who I am. I can’t even begin to think how different my life – my career – might have been if we’d just kept them sealed in a box.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Credit: Nintendo

Remember that scene in Friends where Phoebe gets upset because the unsold Christmas trees don’t get to live out their destiny? That’s how I feel about this game. 34 years ago, this golden cartridge fell off the conveyor belt, shiny and new and ready to drop into the wide eyes of another pre-teen would-be-gamer, only no-one ever got to play that shiny cartridge. No-one’s ever even seen it. No kid with too-big glasses sat with her dad on a damp Saturday afternoon and abused the Nintendo Hotline trying to get through the Lost Woods (well, you didn’t really think I worked it out on my own, did you?). It failed to live out its life purpose.

I mean… games are made to be played, right? That’s literally the point of them.

The pain of a never-played game might be more bearable if it was going into a museum or a video game preservation society. With the advent of digital-only games – and the endless reinvention of the hardware we use to play them – the ability to populate and retain a comprehensive archive of video games is a effort that’s critically important and one we’re still fighting.

The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Credit: Nintendo

But it’s not, is it? More likely than not, it’ll be going into some investor’s dusty vault in much the same way precious paintings are, and comic books, or rare baseball cards. And though it’s good to know it’s out there, I guess – untouched and unsullied by the grime-encrusted fingers of children – there’s something so sad about knowing that this game will never get to live out its destiny.

Look, I don’t buy collectable Funkos and keep them in their boxes. If I buy a game’s collector’s edition, I will proudly unbox and display my figurine, or artwork, or whatever else comes with it. Very occasionally, I’ll buy two copies of a vinyl – one to use, and one to cherish – but most of the time, I buy stuff with the express intention of using it. Bizarre, I know.

Maybe it’s because I spent so many years being skint, I don’t like wasting money on things I’ll never use. Or maybe I’m just the video games industry’s Phoebe Buffay. Either way, it’s probably just as well that I don’t have a spare $132,000 lying around because the first thing I’d do if I won that auction is open that fucking box.

The Zelda cartridge is available now. The current bid is $110,000

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