Welcome to the new beta.  Found a bug or issue? Report it here.

The Coronavirus Highlights Rural Gamers' Biggest Challenge: Buying a Game

Buying digital only works if your internet isn't slower than molasses.

Fanbyte readers, I greet you for at least part of this post from my local Walmart, where I’m currently writing on my phone while an employee tears through the backroom to find copies of Final Fantasy VII Remake. We’re still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, so I’m wearing a mask made up of a bandana I had at home while I pace through the electronics section. At the moment, it’s not even 8 a.m. ET, and I’m here at this ungodly hour for a few reasons:

  1. I genuinely worry the game will sell out if I’m not the first one here.
  2. Walmart locations are no longer open 24 hours a day because the company is attempting to make its stores safer for inventory employees at later hours of the day, as well as implementing new sanitation measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus. So I wasn’t able to pick up Final Fantasy VII Remake at midnight as I would have under normal circumstances.
  3. It’s just not feasible for me to buy a 100GB game digitally.

I live in a small town in Georgia with a population of a few thousand people and exactly one store that carries video games: a Walmart. In a lot of cases, if I wanted to get a game that was even slightly beyond the most mainstream titles, I would have to drive a town or two over to a GameStop, but those stores aren’t open for business right now, so this Walmart I’m standing in is my only option. Luckily, Final Fantasy VII Remake is about as big as it gets, so while the wait has been a little long as they search for wherever their copies are, I at least know it’s in the store.

But for a lot of people, they’ve been playing the game for up to eight hours now, as they ordered it on PlayStation Network and were able to pre-download it for instant access when the clock struck midnight ET. You might be wondering, if I had gone that route, I’d probably not be in this Walmart at 8 a.m. with a makeshift mask over my face during the coronavirus pandemic, right? Well, the more likely scenario is that I wouldn’t have been able to play the game at all because I would still be waiting for the game to download.

You may also like:

For anyone who fortunate enough to not know this, living in rural areas like the one I live in means your internet speed is going to be incredibly slow and your ISP probably has a monopoly of the area, so you’re stuck with what you get. Right now, I’m working with a Windstream plan that supposedly gives me a 10 megabytes per second download speed. A quick test of my internet speeds on Speedtest shows me I’m getting about that much right now, but on some days it can fluctuate to anywhere from 3mbps to even lower than 1mbps. If my download speed were consistently at 10mbps, I could feasibly have downloaded Final Fantasy VII Remake in about a day and a half, at the expense of any other activities or work tasks that required any bandwidth that downloading Cloud Strife’s painstakingly crafted arms were taking up during that period. For the same reason, getting the game shipped to me by buying it online would put me probably a day behind as well, because I wouldn’t be able to start downloading day a one patch until the copy arrived, and the entire installation process is already lengthy as it is because the game’s file size is so large.

But not only is my internet speed unreliable, you also have to take into account that Sony has intentionally slowed download speeds in the United States due to increased home internet usage during the coronavirus pandemic. So while my ISP might be giving me shoddy speeds and telling me I should thank them for it, downloading anything to my PlayStation 4 is going to take even longer right now anyway. By the time I get Final Fantasy VII Remake installed on my console, the rest of the world will have blazed through it before I’ve seen the recreated menu screen on my TV. 

So that’s why I find myself in this situation where, if I want to play Final Fantasy VII Remake on day one, I have to leave my home and self-quarantine to go out into the public space. During times of normalcy, the Walmart I stood in today is typically the most occupied space in my town. Right now, it’s one of the only places anyone can go, so that’s doubly true. While the store is taking precautions, complete with a gated line where tape on the ground signifies the standard six-foot rule of social distancing and only a certain amount of people are allowed in at a time, it’s hard not to still feel the swelling of anxiety every time you pass by another person shopping there and we’re all wearing masks to protect ourselves from the invisible threat of the coronavirus.

When we’re not in a state of emergency, we don’t really appreciate how much of a necessity the internet is, and even right now, when we’re almost exclusively relying on it for social interaction, work, and access to things like children’s education, we still don’t. In a time where America is realizing just how unprepared it is for the slightest interruption of the systems it has in place, it’s hard not to find just another nugget of resentment as I come back home, take my mask off, and scrub my hands down because that’s all I really can do to protect myself from the coronavirus at this point. There are bigger issues here than whether or not I can play a video game on day one, but it still feels like a symptom of a larger, systemic issue of how we commodify the public’s most basic needs. And after everything that’s happened in the past month, I’ve been given no reason to expect anything to change.

About the Author

Kenneth Shepard

Kenneth is a Staff Writer at Fanbyte. He still periodically cries about the Mass Effect trilogy years after it concluded.