If there was only one game I ever truly wanted in my gaming collection, it had to be Earthbound for the Super Nintendo. Who would have thought that for a brief moment in time, one of my favorite role-playing games would come into my possession, only to be taken from me as quickly as it had been obtained? I never imagined things would turn out the way they did.
As a Sega kid growing up, the Super Nintendo completely flew under my radar. During the rise of emulation in the early 2000’s, I had suddenly been given access to the SNES’s entire library, and oh boy, did I make use of it. I must have spent my entire 6th-grade summer vacation tearing through the best the SNES had to offer. By the end of the summer, I had played my fair share of role-playing games. But there was one in particular that had stood out. A quirky little RPG unlike anything else on the system. A true classic, set in the modern world, with a sense of humor that couldn’t be matched. I knew, that first time I beat Earthbound, that this would be a summer to remember.
When I started to shift away from emulation into retro collecting, Earthbound sat right on the top of my list of must own games. Unfortunately, I had jumped too late into the game; Retro nostalgia was in full effect. Prices were climbing at an alarming rate, with a loose Earthbound cart alone going for well over 180 dollars. However, I knew that the game was always readily available online and that despite the high price it demanded, it wasn’t exactly rare.
There was no fun to be found in simply purchasing the game online. It was all about the thrill of the hunt and I’d be damned before I gave in and bought it off eBay. I remember feeling so confident that it wouldn’t be long before Earthbound was sitting neatly on my shelf. But after a few years of hitting up every thrift store, flea market, and garage sale, I started feeling like I was never going to find the damn game. And then one day, out of nowhere, my luck completely turned around.
My best friend, Will, casually mentioned one day that he had acquired a copy of Earthbound. And I couldn’t believe it. I’d spent years searching for the game high and low with no luck, all while he simply stumbled upon it! It was great to see the game find a good home instead of the hands of some dirty reseller, even if I was admittedly envious. But like the amazing friend he is, he knew just how much I adored the series, and offered to give me his copy. For free. Now, this wasn’t uncommon for me and Will, as we’d often give each other games we weren’t interested in. But this is freaking Earthbound we’re talking about, not just some 2 dollar thrift store copy of Tetris.
My mind was blown. The game that had alluded me all of these years, dropped right in my lap. Words couldn’t describe how thankful I was. I graciously accepted the game and couldn’t wait to get home and officially add it to my collection. And for a few days, all the years spent hunting for retro games felt warranted. It wasn’t just a waste of money and time. Everything was right with the world, and nothing good ruin the good times.
Until the call came. Now, what I hadn’t known about Will’s copy of Earthbound, was that it had been given to him by a friend. Let’s call this friend Don. When Don heard that Will had given his copy away, he was furious. I promptly received a call from a mutual friend, demanding that I return the game back immediately, or shit was going to go down. Despite having never met or interacted with Don, I was now receiving all sorts of threatening messages. The way I saw it, I was given the game by my best friend, and that was the end of the story. But Don wouldn’t have any of it. He would not stop until it was back in his hands.
Now I understand that Will giving a gift away was in bad taste, but he admitted that he had no personal attachment to the game. No real interest in playing it. Will was just trying to be a good friend, giving his copy of Earthbound to someone he believed would get more out of it than he ever could. I don’t blame him for the drama that unfolded. It wasn’t surprising that Don was as upset as he was, but this should have remained between him and Will. Maybe if Don approached the situation with some civility, I would have considered working something out. But he was so ready to get up-in-arms, making the situation more needlessly difficult than it had any right to be.
I heavily considered keeping the game, but at the end of the day, I didn’t know Don personally or what he was capable of. So, I begrudgingly gave the game back, but with one condition. Don had acted so rudely towards me that I wanted nothing to do with him. I would give the game back, but only to my friend Will. I’d let him decide what the next move would be. I was crushed by the loss, but what could I do? Get my door kicked down by some crazy asshole over a video game? It just wasn’t worth it the hassle.
The drama that unfolded over a hunk of plastic left a bad taste for retro collecting that I was never able to shake. All I wanted was to revisit that one beautiful summer when my only worries were eating junk food, staying up all night, and trying to get the Sword of Kings in Earthbound. But others would rather the game sit on a shelf, collecting dust. I soon found my enthusiasm for the hobby wane. It wouldn’t take long before I ended up selling a majority of my retro collection and jumping back into emulation. Sure, there’s a lack of authenticity when playing on an emulator, but at least I don’t have to worry about someone knocking on my door demanding for their 3 MB ROM of Earthbound back. Well, other than Nintendo lawyers.