This week’s all about The Witcher 3, and in getting ready for it I realized how much has quietly become habit in the days or weeks before we play a new game. Without getting into arguments for and against pre-ordering, one thing I hope most of us can agree on is that pre-loading an unreleased game is brilliant. It’s a modern ritual, building excitement as we fill sectors on our hard drives and worry if it’s downloading fast enough, before turning to trying to work out exactly when, to the minute, the game will decrypt and unlock.
I did this with The Witcher 3, and even though it would be days before I could play the thing, I sat and watched that pre-load bar on Steam fill for an unhealthy amount of time. This routine returns just a little bit of the lost anticipation which came with purchasing a physical copy of a game, running our hands and eyes over its box and dreaming of the wonders it might hold, but having to get it home and installed before you can find it out if it meets your impossible expectations.
“I sat and watched that pre-load bar on Steam fill for an unhealthy amount of time.”
Pre-loading takes out some of the agony, too. Back in the optical media dark ages, even after purchase you’d need to sit there impatiently for the best part of half an hour, some dry installation screen blaring bad, bleepy music at you while it copied bytes to your hard drive with all the urgency of an old couple driving to Sunday sermon.
None of that, now we don’t need DVDs and our SSDs are so darn fast. Thanks to my impatient preloading, thanks to already having cleared out the requisite 35GB of hard drive space, thanks to ensuring all my drivers were up-to-date, come The Witcher 3’s release date this Tuesday, I awoke with the certain knowledge that this wildly-anticipated dark fantasy was already on my PC. It was there, waiting, ready to go, all mine as soon as I chose it to be so.
We’ve thrown so many babies out with the physical media bathwater, but we’re building new rituals, brand new ways to become excited about purchases which we can’t hold in our hands. It can sound silly on paper, but in practice it’s important: make the games we buy feel like meaningful events in our lives, not just another chunk of data downloaded onto a hard drive.