Choices: The Death of Video Rental

As a kid my weekends were best defined by Choices. It’s very weird to me that I am possibly part of the last generation to benefit from DVD rental stores, like these days it’s a total thing of the past…everything is online. You don’t go into a store anymore and browse films or video games, you hear about them online, you watch trailers or game footage on Youtube, you stream stuff on Netflix or download games on Steam or pre-order them on Amazon. I don’t think I can argue we can go back to this old model; we’re maybe too far gone from that period where we needed physical stores manned by people in their late twenties. For half of my life span at this moment of writing, Choices has been absent from my life, and I want to talk about that.

            I used to go in with my mum and my brother on a Friday after school and we’d pick out video games to rent for the weekend. The few that stick out in my memory include The Simpsons Skateboarding, The Simpsons Wrestling, and Scooby Doo! Night of 100 Frights. The last one particularly has meant a lot to me, but we’ll get to that. It felt nice that for a small fee we had something to pass the weekend with and that there was a certain responsibility (at least for our parents) to return the game by Monday.

            There was also a flipside to the more fun, cartoony options at Choices, namely horror and pornography, categories I would not properly be acquainted with for some time. I remember there being displays of films like Saw and The Nightmare Before Christmas, two films that in my mind at the time were equally disconcerting. I never really knew, or at least I don’t remember there being porn at Choices, but my brother affirms that in their dying days they shifted their business model a tad. This clearly didn’t save them in the end, but I have got to hand it to them for trying. In any case, walking around a store with as diverse options as gory horror movies and random Simpsons sporting games felt wondrous to me, it was a place that at once balanced familiarity and safety with concepts that teased at stuff beyond me, that I would only appreciate in the future. Of course…the future came.

            I think it’s fair to say as a kid you don’t really appreciate all the weird, complex factors that make up the economy or what that means for you or your life or anyone else’s. Suffice to say, the internet threatened physical rental stores like Choices and soon it went into administration, with what assets it had being sold off to Blockbuster. Choices didn’t adapt in the same way Blockbuster had tried to with online streaming and unfortunately it paid the price. If memory serves me correctly, Choices in my town closed in 2007, and the stout, redbrick building it once occupied remained a husk for some time. I grew up. A bit. I would walk by after secondary school sometimes as a teenager and see an empty store and feel sad. Eventually my school had secured space in the empty store to display students’ art which was at least a nice use of the defunct store. Then it got divided, with one small portion of the building being converted into a Chinese takeaway, and the surplus space eventually becoming a charity shop. I think I have stepped into the charity shop only once so far since it opened. It’s strange, the building I am so familiar with in my memories being so alien now in the present. Perhaps that’s okay, things change, and the economic factors which fuel competition and innovation which put video rental stores out of business are far out of my control. The internet offers a level of productivity and stream-lined supply which meets the demands of the 21st century in a way that video stores just can’t anymore.

            My last vivid memory of the store was late night shopping, the annual Christmas consumer spectacle for our small town. I used to love it as a kid. The music in the square was always blaring, you had live bands on sometimes, and a firework display, though sometimes we were the wrong end of town to properly see it. What could be more fun than staying out late? Eating bad food like cotton candy and chips and walking around shops late at night…who decided shopping late at night was somehow culturally alluring? Even as an adult I don’t understand it, but I concede there is something attractive about the notion, it makes even the most innocent purchase of something like a tub of ice cream seem seedy. I digress, my family went into Choices during late night shopping and it couldn’t have been long before they closed. It might have been their last Christmas.

            My happiest memory of the store was the day I bought Scooby Doo! Night of 100 Frights from Choices. I still have the copy. Choices the store might be gone and for all intents and purposes fading from both public and consumer memory, but their blue £9.99 sticker still occupies the upper right corner of my copy of Scooby Doo! Night of 100 Frights. I am fond of Choices for its part in my childhood and I am neither naïve nor cynical in my fondness. I have a complex relationship with the capitalist culture that bred video rentals and subsequently buried them. Here I put forward a dialectics of naivety and cynicism, a sense of sincerity, where the building that still stands in my town square has some profound place in my heart but the very material and spiritual circumstances that once joined us has become wholly disparate.


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