What do the latest video game systems--from Microsoft's Xbox (MSFT) to Nintendo's GameCube (NTDOY) to Sony's PlayStation 2 (SNE)--have in common? All run games on disks. And what do all disks have in common? They're susceptible to scratches or scuffs that can cause games to skip, freeze, or fail to load. Music CDs, disk-based computer software, audio minidisks, and DVDs can also be rendered unplayable through mishandling. That's because flaws on the surface can cause the laser that scans the disk to misread data.
Unfortunately, most kids--and many adults--have difficulty handling disks with proper care. The safest way to handle a CD is to hold it by the edges and immediately return it to its case after using it. Even laying a disk down on a carpet while changing games or wiping off a smudge with a shirtsleeve can do damage. At $50 a pop for the average video game disk, replacement is an expensive option.
So what do you do when Johnny's GameCube can't read his copy of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3? First, try to clean the disk with products made expressly for this purpose. Don't attempt to use household cleaners or saliva, which can aggravate the problem. Disk-cleaning kits are available online and at stores that sell video games, DVDs, or music CDs, starting at $5 or less. Kits generally contain an alcohol-based cleaning solution and cloths or pads to wipe the disk. More complicated systems made by Allsop, Discwasher Digital, and Maxell ($7 to $12) provide radial cleaning, a mechanism that allows you to snap in a CD and rotate a disk beneath a cleaning pad by turning a handle.
If dirt or smudges are the source of the problem, cleaning may do the trick. If the cause is a scratch or scuff, the disk may need resurfacing. A device variously called SkipDoctor, GameDoctor, DataDoctor, or DVDDoctor (Digital Innovations, $29.95) purports to repair and resurface some scratched disks, but results can be mixed. All these units are essentially the same, with different names depending on where they are sold and what type of user they are intended for. As with radial cleaners, you snap a disk in place, spray on a special fluid, and rotate the disk by turning a crank. The difference is that an abrasive pad works with the resurfacing fluid to smooth out scuffs and scratches as the disk is rotated with a crank. A motorized version is also available ($49.99).
When my 10-year-old son scratched his favorite PlayStation 2 game, NBA Street, I took the damaged disk to a video game store and brought home a GameDoctor. The diagrams included that show how to assemble the unit and snap the disk in place were too small to read easily, and the directions were difficult to follow. After I finally got the unit working, my son's game, which kept freezing at the same point, wouldn't play at all. Many game enthusiasts swear by the GameDoctor, but in this case it didn't solve the problem.
An effective solution to a scratched video game, CD, or DVD is to have the disk professionally resurfaced. A brochure I picked up at the video game store directed me to Skippy Disc (www.skippydisc.com, 623 825-9003), which will send you a postage-paid cardboard mailer that holds up to five disks. The company will resurface your disks and return them within 48 hours for $3 each, plus a $2.50 shipping and packaging charge that includes the postage-paid mailer. If you use your own packaging, the return shipping cost is $1.50 for up to five disks.
Disks with deep gouges or with damage to the label side may be beyond repair, but the good news is that most scratches and scuffs are fixable. For one Xbox game, that saves more than $40 over the replacement cost. Within a week of requesting the mailer online, my son's copy of NBA Street was back and working perfectly. He vowed to handle his disks more carefully in the future, but I've ordered an extra Skippy Disc mailer, just in case. By Larry Dark