There was a time, back in the day, when games didn't just exist in the computer. I'm not referring to board games or other forms of non-computer play. I'm referring to the accessories known as feelies.
Feelies brought a game to life. How better to feel you're Bobbin Threadbare than with your very own Book of Patterns? How better to understand Atrus' journey than by reading the beautifully-bound Book of Atrus? How better to feel like an adventurer than with your very own cloth map? These things meant something, and were worth something - they gave us a chance to believe that the world we were entering might have been real, once upon a time. And, in many cases, they set the scene before you'd even managed to start installing the game.
Many moons ago, games had to do this. One need only look at King's Quest 1 (thankfully remastered!) or Quest for Glory to know that 8-bit colour was the best we could do. The book you could hold in your hands, the map you could refer to, made the world real already, so stepping into the game was like stepping into a memory. You were there. All the computer needed to do was provide the interface.
Collector's editions these days are a shadow of the glory of feelies. My Aion collector's edition contained a special title for my character, some special dyes, and some special wings. They're all things to show other people. It's not about me, it's about bragging rights. But what do we get out of it, exactly?
I have the matching set of World of Warcraft collector's editions. I also have the leather-bound hintbooks for the three most recent Zelda games, even though I don't even own Spirit Tracks. I bought the Bioshock 2 collector's edition to get the record of a soundtrack I not only can't listen to, because I lack the hardware, but that I also bought from the iTunes store. What do I really need a record for, anyway?
Out of all of those examples, Bioshock 2 may be the only one that got it partially right. Back in the time period when Bioshock was set, they would have only had record players. Even the CD version of the OST is a miniature record. It's beautiful and evocative. By comparison, the clunky, heavy, prone-to-falling-and-breaking statue of a Big Daddy that came with the first one is surely just aquarium fodder.
I saw Darksiders. It comes with a statue of War. Why? Likewise the Avatar game, Settlers 7, Street Fighter 4 and Pokemon. Do we really need physical representations of the characters we're going to be encountering virtually? Does it really help to set the scene that I can hold a Big Daddy in the palm of my hand?
Bayonetta came with a replica gun. I have that on my TV cabinet. Fallout 3 came with a Pip Boy bobblehead, relevant to an important in-game item and, if you were super lucky, a Pip Boy replica that functions as a digital clock and can even be worn by the particularly fanatical. Items from within the game world evoke far more realism than statues of important characters, especially when they're no bigger than my fist.
StarCraft 2 is going to come with a limited edition comic. They're almost there. It's a step in the right direction, anyway. The hook is what I want. I want to believe. It could be a diary, a novelisation, or scribbles in the margins of the manual like Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book. Anything that makes the game world more real for me, sitting out here in the real world, earns the magnificent honour of being dubbed a feelie.
I'm interested in the behind-the-scenes, sure. I like the soundtrack, definitely. Art - sign me up! But a coin of Uriel Septim? Now you've got my interest. And, in important terms producers, marketing staff and distributors can understand - you have my money.