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.