At the very moment the cartridge based gaming of systems like the SNES, Megadrive and Jaguar gave way to the CD based media of the Dreamcast, Playstation and Xbox, gaming died just a little bit. Actually, that’s a lie – it didn’t die at all, but it did lose a little of its luster. A bit of shine here, a little sparkle there, the modern age of CD/DVD based gaming media has none of the win-factor of its plastic encased predecessors.
The cart was something mysterious, magical.
Every console from the pre CD era had a different take on a gaming cartridge. The Nintendo 64 had its weighty nuggets of plastic, the Atari Jaguar had its quaint carts with little handles on top and the Sega Master system had miniature VHS tapes. Carts had style, something CDs lack entirely. As a storage medium, CDs are so run-of-the mill, if they were a food they’d be porridge, if they were a sex position they’d be missionary. With clothes on.
In separate beds.
A CD is just a sliver of polycarbonate. Nothing is hidden, nothing is intricate. They’re in your Xbox, they’re in your CD player, they’re in your PC DVD drive. Boring. With the cartridge, the plastic outer shell hides an entire civilization of chips and circuit pathways. When you buy a cart based game you feel as though at least a part of the inherent value of the game is actually contained in the storage medium. The software wasn’t just burnt to a disc, it was crafted – assembled – into a cartridge, a self-contained motherboard of gaming bliss.
The cart is dead. Long live the cart.