Video game cartridges versus video game discs. Which technology is truly superior? The fact that cartridges came along first would most likely indicate them as being less advanced than the shiny discs that have pretty much rendered them obsolete. But is modern always better? Don’t those clunky little plastic cases that Generation X grew up with have some advantages over their successors?
Let’s first take a look at durability. With older video games (ones released in the cartridge format), whenever you read the familiar phrase “Game Over” (which literally used to mean exactly what it said), it was okay to yank the game out of its console and throw it against a few walls, as long as you weren’t acting like you were in the bullpen. The video game could actually handle a fling here and there. Now with discs, you have to toss them like a Frisbee, and while they are very likely to survive such a trip across the living room, if they end up skidding across a rough surface when landing (they always land shiny side down—it’s the same principle as buttered bread), the words “Game Over” again mean exactly what they say. Now you have to waste good money on another game, or else invest in one of those scratch remover kits that never work anyway. Unfortunately, even cartridges are mortal, and when I review my own body count (video games killed out of rage), as well as the body count of those close to me, the ratio of cartridges-to-discs is pretty close to 1:1.
When cartridges first came out sometime in the ‘70s, they were rather simple: You’d play the game until you were sick of it (which couldn’t have taken very long back then), and then you’d quit. Then next time you turned it on, you had to start the game from the beginning again. Eventually, as video games grew more and more complex, manufacturers began including passwords in their games. As you went along on your simulated adventure, you’d uncover passwords, and the next time you played, you could punch in your most recent password and continue your adventure from the point you left off. Pretty neat, huh? Well, sometime later, these cartridges were suddenly able to store saved data on their own. Unless I’m mistaken, this amazing new feature was first available in the NES game The Legend of Zelda (1987). The technology caught on, and passwords were slowly but surely phased out.
Now we have our games on discs. While able to store monumentally superior amounts of memory, making for more complex games than ever before, these discs are generally unable to collect saved data! In fact, some of the consoles that originally supported CD media had to have their own separate memory cards to hold the data. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to rummage through my library of Nintendo Gamecube games, looking for that elusive little card (that suspiciously resembles a miniature cartridge) before I could start my game. Fortunately, the latest consoles generally have gargantuan amounts of free memory space built right into them, so now, unless you’ve got 5,000 video game discs, you won’t have to worry about running out of memory space. On this last note, discs have pretty much solidified their place as being a cut above their predecessor. Just don’t get too attached to your discs, because they’re probably already obsolete.