You know a documentary is good, when your notes for the review are more about the topic than about the film itself. That is what a good documentary should do: sure, make something that looks good, sounds good, is interesting, etc. But more than that, make your audience question themselves. Have them ask questions about their lifestyle, their belief system. And in my case, about my love for video games.
NOT FOR RESALE is a documentary which focuses on physical video games, video game stores (and their ongoing extinction) and video game collecting. These are topics that have been important to me my whole life, much like for a lot of people in my generation. Kevin J. James’ documentary shines a light on the legacy of physical media, its value as a preservation tool, and the memories imprinted on people who remember going to a brick-and-mortar store to buy video games.
As such, it does a fantastic job. It looks beautiful, it sounds great (which isn’t always the case with indie documentaries), and has fantastic interviews with people from video game’s whole history (not just young or… more mature, collectors). There’s such a strong sense of community shown on screen that I felt fuzzy inside, seeing myself, seeing my people, portrayed at last.
But then, as I watched, 2020 Marcos began to battle with 2005 Marcos. You see, for the past couple of years, my wife and I have gradually migrated to a more minimalist lifestyle, focused on reducing our reliance on material possessions to bring joy into our lives. Also, we’ve been making choices taking their impact on our environment as a very important factor. And this brings me to the questions I’m still asking myself about this beautiful hobby of ours, some of which I wish this documentary touched upon. Because, surely, there’s another side to the story.
First off, the whole concept of collecting has been changing for me. Of course, I am not here to pass judgement on how people spend their money, or what brings them happiness. But accumulating material goods, even if they are part of an artform (which video games are)… How healthy is it? How environmentally friendly is it? Surely, buying an old game is better than buying a new one, as its carbon footprint will not increase? But what about shipping? That’s a huge climate change catalyst, particularly airplane transportation.
What about the digital demon? The concept of digital ownership is ever-changing, and collectors often cite DRM and other instances that eventually prevent gamers from playing the games they own digitally as reasons to collect physical games. But, do we all really need all these games? Is it really that bad to rely on digital to “rent” a game (essentially a digital purchase), and then, once it’s gone from that storefront… just not have it anymore? Isn’t the ephemeral nature of digital games an allure onto itself?
But surely, we must preserve these pieces of art? Yes. We must. But, must we all? Is a private collection really doing conservationist work if the general public isn’t allowed to see it, play it or benefit from it?
What about re-selling physical games: sure, physical helps perpetuate that particular copy of the game, but the developer does not benefit from subsequent copies. Are we prioritizing the conservation of the object more than the creator? And if so, is that right?
I don’t have many answers, but I have a lot of questions. And I like that. Even my wife, who is not a video game collector (but funnily enough is a regional online Tetris champ) and I had very interesting conversations about this topic following my screening of NOT FOR RESALE. She has no fond memories of video game stores, like I do. She has no attachment to physical games. She never interacted with an EB Games store clerk to have them recommend a killer game she’d never heard of. But she has also never, ever contributed to the oil extraction that is required to produce physical games, or the fuel spent on shipping them.
Is the future of video games more important than the future of our planet? Or can we find a happy middle? Does it even make a difference, how we consume video games? Well done, NOT FOR RESALE. You have me asking questions. And there’s no higher praise for a documentary film that I can think of.
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THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT OUR SISTER SITE, INFINITE FRONTIERS.