Growing up with PC games in the early ’00s was a strange time. Gaming successfully breached the mainstream. PC games were the hot new thing, and edutainment was king as classrooms around Australia used educational games as a way to teach young kids. Adaptations of Arthur and The Magic School Bus played on lone classroom computers. A rambunctious ghost taught kids to type in the aptly named Kid’s Typing. If you knew where to look, you could find PC games everywhere. If you regularly hung out at Harvey Norman, you could even find some real treasures.
The bargain bins at Harvey Norman were the holy grail of video games when I was growing up.
Inside, you’d find a range of PC games from humble adventures to story games and maths challenges. For a young girl earning $2 pocket money a week, it was the only viable source for nabbing a decent PC game for cheap. While there were often duds in the mix, you could usually find middling to great games in the bowels of the bargain bins if you spent enough time fishing.
Cheap early 2000s PC games would go for $5 and $10 a pop. For that, you’d get a few hours of fun and probably a life lesson or two. Some went in the actual bin after you loaded them up, but most were solid fun.
If you were lucky, you could find some real gems in the pile, hiding beneath the top layer of boxes and jewel cases. My copies of Freddi Fish, Spy Fox and original The Sims were excellent dumpster dive finds at Harvey Norman. In fact, I nabbed most of the classic Humongous Entertainment line-up.
Later dives yielded copies of the much-beloved (but long forgotten) Fairies of the Forest, created by defunct Australian studio Glow Zone Interactive. There was also a maths game where you played as a little helicopter, a game called Kiki’s Forest starring a little cat and several ‘1000 Game‘ collections filled with shovelware. The CDs weren’t always the best, but they were always a good time.
There was also Reading Blaster 2000, Jump Start 2nd Grade and Thinkin’ Things 3 in later bin searches, all of which are personal favourites for me. They’re weird, very niche and I wasted many hours as a kid playing them on the old family Shuttle computer.
Bargain bin hunting for video games was the original ‘loot box’ system for gamers. If it had an interesting enough cover or it was cheap enough, you probably just gave it a go. It was better than nothing, if you could afford it.
I’ve kept all my CDs from the glory days of dumpster diving at Harvey Norman. The vast majority of them no longer run without emulation or some other workaround. Most, you can barely find mention of online. But that was part of the joy in the bargain bin — finding real, uncut gems you and your mates had never heard of.
As physical media becomes less common, the joy of finding a great PC bargain has almost vanished, and that’s a real shame.
Do you remember the great days of the Harvey Norman bargain bin? What gems did you find? Tell us about it in the comments below.
This article has been updated since its original publication.