The cover illustration from the Rez box.

There are few things that excite me more than a stack of humble game boxes; because of the promise they bring. The look and feel of the box is largely unimportant.

For me the game box represents more than just the pretty casing of the game I desire, they summarize the range of feelings in those exciting first moments just before playing a new game.

The moment of anticipation

Personally game boxes have only ever served one important purpose; to quell the need to play a new game just long enough until I can do. The period of time between buying the game and finally getting it home to play is usually a minute amount of time, and yet it can be some of the most difficult and agonising moments of a game’s release.

It’s time that I spend that time digesting everything possible about the games controls, concept art, mechanics; basically anything readily available from the back of the box or inside it. Until the time finally comes that I can put the game in the console. It’s childish; but it’s still something I can’t help but do, as it’s one of the few gaming behaviours of mine that have changed little from my first tentative attempts with a video game.

Stupidly it’s one of those secret little pleasures that make that extra moment of anticipation before playing a new game so enjoyable, and as such it’s a little gaming ritual I still can’t help but observe – mainly due to a lack of time to play immediately as I’d like to. This is something that happens almost every other release day as the elation of getting a game I have waited months (or years) for is postponed by the fact that I need to work or observe other commitments.

Ironically, once this initial adoration of the box is over I don’t tend to look at the box again, save to rescue the game I want to play from it. So in some ways game covers and boxes are a metaphor for the time we spend as gamers, patiently waiting for our next big game. For me they’re simply about representing that moment of anticipation as the the contents of the box or art on top of it is muted by the arrival of another, bigger game or surpassed by the desire to know a more about the game than the marketing on the back of the box can handle.

When cover art works

The reason game boxes will never be too important to me is because cover art, descriptions or screenshots will never match the workings of my own imagination. The very best examples of cover art use this to their advantage, encouraging the player to try and pick apart what might be in store for them. Simple designs work best; such as the Rez art above.

I had heard only minor details about the content and design of Rez, and yet the minimalist nature of the European box seemed to challenge me to make sense of what the game might contain. It was an exciting risk but one that ultimately inspired one of my greatest gaming experiences.

I enjoy the process of looking forward to a new game; that whole moment is represented by having something physical in my hands that I cannot wait to open. I suspect this is why downloadable content doesn’t ignite the same feelings of excitement within me.

The hundreds of game boxes stacked in my collection are a proud shrine to the games that have evoked those past moments of anticipation. Every so often I’ll pick up one of those old boxes, marvel at the cover art and develop those same feelings all over again.

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part, please email him for details.

Other takes:

Silvercublogger: Don’t Cover The Art, Unless…

The Average Gamer: Cover Art

Aim for the Head: Browsing the Aisles

SnipingMizzy: In the eye of the beholder

Extra Guy: On Books and Covers

Zath: How Important Is A Game’s Cover Art?

carocat.co.uk: Cover art? No, thanks!

Man Fat: How Important Is A Game’s Cover Art?

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