3

On Game Collecting

Down the rabbit hole and back again.

In May of 2008, I sat down on the floor in front of my coffee table and talked, rambled really, at the camera on my MacBook for over eight minutes with no cuts. I was really enjoying a then little known game called The World Ends With You and wanted to share that enjoyment with the world using a not-quite-a-powerhouse-yet YouTube. Over the next year or so, I would spend time talking about other games I was playing. I was really into Lock’s Quest at the time. I can’t watch these videos anymore. I cringe. I’m fatter and babyfaced, with little comfort in front of the camera.

After about a year, I started receiving a growing number of comments to show my collection of games. For individual YouTube personalities such as myself, speaking about one’s collection had become vogue thanks largely to some folks like PeteDorr and HappyConsoleGamer who appeared around the same time I did or shortly before. I looked around at my collection. At the time, it was roughly 200 games. Probably more than the average person, but it wasn’t very expansive or as interesting as my contemporaries. I was embarrassed to discuss my collection. I wasn’t actually interested in collecting as a hobby, even if I had incidentally amassed what could be called a collection.

But I did talk about it. I made excuses for its small size and lack of popular trophies because I knew I would be compared to other collections on YouTube, something that I noticed is very common for people in my place. People seemed to respond to it though, and I got swept up in collecting.

It made a lot of sense. I loved games. I had an astronomical amount of disposable income thanks to a well paying job that constantly gave me imposter syndrome. My then-fiancee was very supportive, often trekking out to flea markets with me or waiting patiently while I scoured tiny shops in Tokyo. So I collected. Anything and everything. I bought systems and games at alarming rates. I watched other people on YouTube to get ideas for my next eBay splurge and I kept spreadsheets. I still do.

There was no rhyme or reason to my collecting. I wanted every Nintendo e-Reader NES game sealed and carded so I bought every Nintendo e-Reader NES games sealed and carded. Without focus, my collection grew like a weed, branching out in unexpected and sometimes questionable directions. I never really liked the ColecoVision but I figured as a collector I was supposed to have one and that boxed Odyssey 2 with a couple dozen boxed games for $120 seemed like a tremendous value at the time, but I never got much use from it. I sometimes felt the need to “keep up with the Joneses,” occasionally buying games much sooner than I would have otherwise and couldn’t convince myself not to because I had no trouble affording it all. I often channeled money into quantity of games, preferring to spend $150 on a gajillion PS2 titles, versus say a boxed copy of Chrono Trigger.

My mindset wasn’t specifically to go against the grain or quantity over quality. I was just curious. The idea of collecting, to me, wasn’t a materialistic pursuit. I wasn’t after things so much as I was after experiences, and I never bought something that I didn’t want to experience. I wanted to play all I could and share with the world my thoughts on the these things. The looming pile of stuff was just a by-product. A by-product that I liked and took pride in to an extent that makes me uncomfortable to admit, but I think my ex-fiancee was a bit exasperated when I asked to use the spare room as a game room. She let me have it though. My collection had ballooned to 2,500 games and a multitude of related merchandise.

In the following years, a series of events started to make me question collecting. After seven years, my fiancee and I split. I was let go from my job. I had to move into a much smaller apartment. I had to get help for MDD and anxiety after letting them go unchecked for too long. I would discuss selling my collection in vague ways with friends and spend a lot of time looking at the bins of games, now in stacked up in a closet, but had trouble deciding how I would rid myself of the excess.

When you take on something like this, it becomes part of your identity, whether you like it or want to own up to it. I’m not a one-dimensional person, video games were not the only interesting thing about me, but the collection was how I was recognized. Who was I without all this stuff? The subject weighed heavily on me for a while.

I made a plan. Keep the handheld stuff. Keep the Nintendo stuff. Keep games developed by Indieszero and games in the Shin Megami Tensei brand. These were the important collections to me as a collector. Now, take everything else and run it through the following questions:

1. Will you ever play this game again?
If the answer is an honest yes, keep it. A “no” is not an immediate expulsion. If it were, I’d own very little. A “no” put it on a tentative watch list though.

2. Did you enjoy this game?
A “yes” would give the game a reprieve if it could also pass the other two questions, but a “no” was almost always a guaranteed toss. Believe it or not, that wasn’t always easy. I owned series like Mass Effect and God of War, games I didn’t actually care for, but they looked good on the shelf. They looked like they belonged in a “good” collection. I had to shake that outlook quickly. No, Craig. You don’t like this. You’re not going to play it again. Get rid of it.

3. Does this game mean something to you?
If the actual game in my hands was a gift and carried sentimentality, I kept it. If the game was not the actual game from my youth, but one I bought on eBay because of the powerful childhood nostalgia attached to the experience, I usually kept it. Not always. Nostalgia is a helluva drug.

After weighing nearly every game I own with these three questions, I got rid of about 500 games and a handful of systems. My copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga went to my sister. Jaws dropped. Why shouldn’t I sell it? I played it and enjoyed it, but I’ll never touch it again and I have no attachment to it. Might as well make a few bucks and make my sister happy. All that Panzer Dragoon Saga had become was a trophy. And not really the game, but the name. I owned other things that were close to or as valuable as Panzer Dragoon Saga and nobody cared because they had never heard of them. I was no longer interested in owning a name and notoriety.

And so went hundreds of other games. It was difficult at first, but it became easier after the initial batch. After expelling so many games, I’m only just now getting to what feels like the tough decisions. I’m delaying selling my PlayStation 1 Final Fantasy titles, for instance. I won’t ever play them again and I have no nostalgia for them (I played them mainly after their heyday), but dang do I like Final Fantasy. I do plan on getting rid of them though, as well as other tough calls, in the future after the shock of selling 500 games has worn off. I still own in the neighborhood 2,000 games. I’m not hurting for something to play.

Through the years, armchair Internet psychologists have posited my motivations for collecting (not to mention whether I’ve had sex or if I live in my mother’s basement). They now hypothesize why I’m trimming the fat. It’s never made much sense; I’ll simultaneously regret buying all this stuff and I’ll regret selling all this stuff.

The truth is, I don’t regret collecting at all. I’ve experienced an amazing number of games and forced myself out of my comfort zone. I have fantastic memories of tracking down and playing games with friends and people I dated. It opened doors and gave me visibility. I’ve made friends. I enjoyed every moment of collecting. On the other hand, I don’t regret purging my collection either. It’s freed up space in my studio apartment, put several thousand dollars in my pocket and now my collection is leaner and focused. Collecting and collecting less are decisions I made at different points in my life and both were the right decisions at the time.

Collecting games can be fun. Do it if you like and if you have the means (please don’t put yourself into debt doing this), but if the time comes, get rid of what you don’t want. Make no excuses for your collection. Collect what you like in your own time, it’s not a competition. Or don’t. Play games and then trade them in. That’s ok too. Everyone has different motivations and values. I’ve seen a lot of lines in the sand in my time playing games, and the collecting community is no different. But if you like playing and/or collecting, for whatever reason, you’re welcome under our umbrella as far as I am concerned.

Video games have always meant something extraordinary to me. You only have to watch a handful of videos in my Context Matters series to understand how I feel about the medium. But I don’t need a closet full of cardboard and plastic to prove it.

4

Social Justice Warrior

Every time a chorus of pieces emerge discussing the game industry’s lack of diversity across all sectors, an outpouring of broadband philosophers stroke their sparse chin straps and pose a...

Every time a chorus of pieces emerge discussing the game industry’s lack of diversity across all sectors, an outpouring of broadband philosophers stroke their sparse chin straps and pose a variety of counter arguments they seem to be under the impression are unique or thoughtprovoking. Unbiased and logical, I’ve actually been told. They don’t usually seem to attack the idea of inclusivity itself, because few people want to actually do that. Instead, they try to lend support to viewpoints diametrically opposed to inclusivity because they are “rational” and because they don’t really want the weight on their shoulders of saying what they really mean: “Fuck anyone else who isn’t me.”

“Who cares?”
Well, given you’re responding to an article, video, tweet or Facebook post, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that person cares. And all the other people producing similar content care. Plenty of people care.

“No, no. What I mean was, I don’t care.”
Yeah, no kidding. I got that vibe. Fine. You don’t care. I wish you did! I wish you cared about a wider array of gameplay experiences and writing that better represents all the different kinds of people in this industry and hobby. But maybe you truly don’t. Maybe you like playing the same stupid spaceman games and don’t give a shit about anyone who doesn’t look, think or feel like you do.

Fine. You don’t care.

But apathy isn’t a stance. It’s the exact opposite of one. And so every time someone expresses an interest in diversity and inclusivity, and your response is to snarl “I don’t care”, you have actually taken a stance. You’ve positioned yourself opposite of someone who actually has a viewpoint for the sake of positioning yourself opposite to them. If you don’t care, then shut up and let the people who do actually care have a conversation. Otherwise, you’re just a bratty child in the backseat of the car.

“I don’t have anything against gay people/people of color/women/etc but…”
No. Wrong. Stop. Whatever you’re going to say next likely invalidates anything you said before the “but,” and is probably some form of crowd control, telling these marginalized groups how they should feel and how they should react. If you exist outside of the marginalized group you are poised to criticize, you have zero room to talk. You don’t understand the experience and you likely never can. Your best bet is to shush and listen to what these folks have to say. They’re not homogenous; one woman may feel the complete opposite of another, for instance. But many people have valuable insights into what it means to be marginalized. Stop telling them how they should react. You have no place.

“The game publisher put out they game THEY wanted to make.”
Not a point that is in contention. Anyone can make, say or do whatever they like, but there are consequences to doing those things. If a game is a product, then it’s only fair that a customer or potential customer is allowed to criticize that product. It doesn’t matter if GM made the car they wanted to make, if it blows people up, I think there’s strong case to be made that people can call that a lousy car. If games are art, then they’re probably subject to even more scrutiny than a simple appliance. Frequently people might say “Art shouldn’t be censored.” Look, art is nebulous so there’s no way I’m going to define it, but one thing is for sure: Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Art tends to reflect society and culture, and if art is doing that poorly, then perhaps someone should tap the artist on the shoulder. Art is not beyond critique. It’s not a protected status.

The idea that someone can make something and that someone else isn’t allowed to react to it is asinine.

“Right, people can criticize a game, but only reasonable criticism.
I don’t really know the onomatopoeia for a long, breathy, exasperated sigh, but I would type it if I could. I’ve literally been told before that inclusivity isn’t a reasonable criticism. I don’t know when it happened, but apparently someone appointed this guy Arbiter of All That is Reasonable and I missed it. He insisted that things like framerate or controls are reasonable things to criticize, but not inclusivity because it is too emotional.

Ok, so the Arbiter of All That is Reasonable is a robot. Maybe he doesn’t have emotions. But to reiterate, if games are art, and art often reflects society and culture, then people should absolutely speak up about their emotions. Games, like books or music or movies, sometimes make people feel things. That’s actually often a game’s intent. Why should we not speak up about it?

And if the game is just a series of moving parts, just a framerate and some controls in a plastic case, that still doesn’t excuse it. Kentucky Fried Chicken is owned by YUM! Brands. YUM!’s CEO is a super white guy. If he suddenly decided tomorrow that KFC’s slogan is now something crazy racist that plays at racial stereotypes, it doesn’t matter how good the food is. People are not going to be happy.

And you know why?

BECAUSE YOU CAN’T DIVORCE THINGS FROM THE UNIVERSE IN WHICH THEY INHABIT. CONTEXT MATTERS.

“Ugh. Can we just go back to talking about games?”
lol ok here’s another regurgitated press release about map packs or double XP or something for you

0

Tearaway

A clumsy, but likable, papery hug.

My face scowls in the sun. Suddenly aware of his audience, my face opens his mouth wide and makes a series of quick, sloppy gestures before disappearing behind the horizon.

I did that on purpose, of course. The Vita’s front facing camera picked up my dumb head and stuck it into Tearaway’s sun and I couldn’t resist being a moron on screen. It makes me wonder why iota wants to deliver a message to me. I’m an idiot every time I show up in the game. But iota is earnest. Tearaway, as a whole, is earnest. Its papercraft world, blunt and saccharine storytelling, and borderline non-sequitor cast of characters could easily come across as hokey and forced, but surprisingly (and much to its credit), it usually does not.

That is not to say Tearaway doesn’t stumble. It does. As an omnipotent sun-dork, my job is to force myself into iota’s world and help him deliver his message to me. The Vita’s touch screen screen, the rear touch panel and even the gyros are put to work here, and it’s a double edged sword. On the one hand, poking, prodding, swishing and tilting are all novel inputs for a platformer, and Tearaway generally pulls its ideas off to good effect. It’s fun and engaging. But on the other hand, the Vita is a large, heavy system. Fumbling around with it to do what the game asks of me is, at times, downright annoying. At one point, I had to interact with the rear touch panel with two fingers while also guiding iota with the left analog stick. What the hell kind of hands does Media Molecule think I have?

With Media Molecule’s reputation, in all fairness, I expected a lesser game. The single player campaigns in the LittleBigPlanet games are dull and exhausting affairs, to put it kindly. Tearaway doesn’t break any molds; iota trucks through a linear adventure finding hidden presents, collecting junk and helping denizens with the most simple of tasks, but despite having done all this in any number of Nintendo 64 platformers, Tearaway does what it does well. Media Molecule wisely sprinkles new ideas for both platforming and combat at the right time to keep the simple systems from growing stale. A few segments drag on a bit too long, but it’s rarely boring.

Tearaway asked me about the size of my hands, the color of my skin and even which gender I prefer to be addressed as. It’s a game that tries very hard to be likable, to put you in a creative and prominent role in the story. Sometimes, especially the ending, it comes across as heavy handed, and the variety of inputs are occasionally cumbersome. But Tearaway dusts itself off and tries again, and I’m glad that it does.

4

The Nintendo 64

Shelter in a disaster.

My siblings and I had kind of bad upbringing. Not “oh no I’m grounded because I did something stupid and I can’t get my way” kind of bad. Tumultuous, hungry, turbulent, lonely, even violent bad. We poor, abused, confused.

In the mid to late 90s, we found solace and solidarity in otherwise mundane things. Fall afternoons shooting Nerf guns at each other. Hours wasted away watching Nickelodeon and The Simpsons. Three controllers plugged into a curvaceous, charcoal Nintendo 64. Small, unremarkable bubbles that kept us safe.

I’m not interested in discussing sales numbers or the rate at which new releases appeared on the Nintendo 64. I’m not even interested in discussing the quality of the games. All of that whiny shit is just fodder for boring people with no other way to measure the worth of the dollars or time spent on some appliance that now rests, slanted to one side, somewhere in their closet. The value of the Nintendo 64 is not measured in numbers or dick waving for me.

To understand the value of the Nintendo 64 is to understand what it is like to have nothing else when dinner is but toast and watered down Kool-Aid. The terrifying feeling of not knowing when your parents will be home. To know what it’s like to be scared, to not know where you might sleep tonight, to absolutely hate every other moment of your life. Four controller ports. That’s all it took to stave off depression, anxiety, frustration, anger. Nothing else at the time could have bound us together.

The Nintendo 64 was a port in a storm. Shelter in a disaster. It brought me and my brother and my sister together around a mediocre 20″ tube TV, its cord severed and taped together after our father cut it in some fit of rage. Cartridges shoved into a console. Loose, wobbly analog sticks. Shit talking, wailing, complaining, mostly just laughing. We had so very little else. It’s not a number, it’s not just an appliance, it’s not just video games. There is no argument; it might have been all we had.

3

Ennui

Bored and restless.

I’ve long liked video games. Why has always been a moving target, and so what I look for in a game, what I enjoy in the industry, has always changed. It is an eager, insatiable desire to experience and learn all that I can. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like the industry has kept pace with my appetite.

I own somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 games and have played thousands more. I read and talk about them; I’ve written about them both as an enthusiast and as a professional. I’ve covered events, interviewed developers and taken hundreds of photos. I know there are a lot of people in the same position and I have no idea how they maintain driven or excited. I’m bored.

I don’t finish my games nearly as much as I used to and I’ve made peace with this, but in many cases, I feel aimless and tired even within a couple hours of beginning to play a brand new game. I was probably even looking forward to it. But it’s composed of the same systems I’ve experienced dozens of times over, propped up by a paper thin narrative stretched out over 10 or 20 or even 50 hours. I cared, and then I got the game in my hands and then I stopped caring. Most games just feel like sleepy fall afternoon.

Earlier this week, discussions erupted about the resolution differences between games on the upcoming Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Players and writers alike weighed in. Twitter, GAF, blogs. It was pervasive. And I just don’t care. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a judgment. I think other people can value whatever they please. But I don’t value this and I can’t help but feel like a medium, a hobby, an industry I’ve loved for decades has been careening into a direction I can’t understand. My favorite system right now is the 3DS. It’s the size of a couple of Pop-Tarts, it’s the least powerful of the modern machines and it doesn’t get what are considered AAA or blockbuster experiences. I’m on a different planet all together.

Compounding my frustration is that I am a collector. I like holding and preserving these things I really enjoy. The harsh reality? Many of today’s games just aren’t worth preserving, even many of which I actually really like. They’re redundant and too long. Too banal. They’re not challenging, and I don’t mean “challenging” as in difficult to play. I mean powerful, alluring, arresting, interesting. They don’t just challenge me, they challenge the entire medium. Why are these games so few and far between?

Proteus challenged me. Gone Home challenged me. I am glad for them. I wish, though, that more games like them existed. I wish they were physical, I wish I could save them, share them, return to them. Touch their art and flip through the pages of their manual. There isn’t much posterity in a downloadable game. In 10 years, it will be difficult to return to it and in 20, it might not even be reasonably possible. What a blow to what is still a growing a medium: Its most compelling games are essentially born with an expiration date.

Maybe I shouldn’t have gobbled up games and knowledge and experiences like I did. Maybe I’d still be content playing just a handful of samey games a year. Maybe I’d care about resolution and RAM. But maybe the industry can stop chasing overwrought, super long chore generators. I’m tired of the tutorials and all the terrible dialog and the 15 minute credit scrolls. There’s gotta be more than this.