Friday 3 January 2014

Unwrapping The Addiction

There's so much excitement that comes with a present. There in front of you is a box of wrapped up hopes. Is it the one thing you want, that illusive object you've longed for all this time? Will it meet your expectations or exceed them? Will the moment of ownership be as good as this moment of anticipation?

You unwrap it, hurrah it's what you've always wanted! The subtle hints have paid off congratulations you own the object of your desires. You give it a cursory look and then put it to one side. Then you move on as there more things to open, more surprises await.

This process of anticipation, receipt then moving on is familiar to many of us, indeed I've written about it before. It's the same process we (as collectors) go through every time a new game enters our collection.  Much like the decision to put the unwrapped present down and move on to the next gift, as soon as we have a sought-after game our attentions move to what we will get next. Of course once the presents are all opened you do go back to look at them again, much like we go back to favourite games over and over. The fact remains though- an active collector is never satisfied, there's always another wish to fulfil. It’s a belief that that’s echoed by other collectors across the Internet. Retro-gaming YouTube celebrities such as Stu ‘Ninja Bear Hug’ echo my fear, “I don't think I'll ever be fully satisfied with my collection, although strangely I very rarely play what I've just bought, it generally goes on the shelf and awaits its turn.” Another who certainly knows the mentality of a collector more than most is Russell '
Mr Wistles', who is probably the only person in the world who has a complete PAL Sega collection; Master System, Mega Drive, Mega CD, 32X, SG-1000, PICO, Game Gear, Saturn and Dreamcast. When caught up in the never ending collecting tunnel he recalls the irresistible drive for more; “There are five or six games for the game gear which are all borderline grail territory. Every single one of them provided the same feeling when I unwrapped them “I thought I would never find this” but as soon as I had it up on the shelf I moved instantly to the next.”  

Is it then ever possible to quench the collectors thirst? From my very first post (well technically my second) I’ve made it clear I wanted the Mega Man X Snes Trilogy. I tortured myself when I bought them and had to settle for a 'reproduction box’ for Mega Man X3 but I essentially fulfilled a wish I thought was beyond my means. So what followed? I was happy to own them, lined them up on my shelf but then started looking on eBay for other things. How much does ‘Mega Man 7’ set me back, is ‘Mega Man Soccer’ really that bad and what about ‘Rockman and Forte’ - do I want the Super Famicom version or a fan made translation?  Where will my desires take me next? Will I want all the JRGs or all the silver box Konami releases? Dare I ever whisper it – the full UK Snes set? There's a thrill to collecting that I enjoy but it's ultimately sad that I seemingly can never be satisfied without an end goal to aim towards. Pete ‘Snestatsic’ has solved this, by (like me) writing up a definite list of games he wants in his boxed MINT NTSC Snes collection, and (unlike me) actually having the strength of will to stick to it. “It’s all about the gaming for me” he notes, “what’s the point in owning a game to not play it? I don’t want to buy games for the sake of it.”  On his massively popular YouTube channel every time he gets a new game he unwraps it on camera, sharing with the audience all his first impression from opinions on the cover art and condition of the box all the way to sharing the first half an hour of game play with the viewer – be it good or agonisingly disappointing (the latter being the funniest truth be told). In this way every game Pete buys he plays, at least once. He is a disciplined collector, refusing to pay over inflated prices and almost annually refocusing his collection by selling en-mass the systems and games he has fallen out of love with (even if half of these are bought back within a year!) Annoyingly, this accumulation of bulk is a pitfall other ‘hardcore’ collectors also talk about – an unavoidable by product of getting “bundles” on eBay or just caused an obsession with buying. Stu says that he when he started out was like a retro gaming hoover and couldn't resist taking home everything he saw. “I believe I became addicted to collecting games. It was no longer about buying good games to play, it was just about buying games. I bought huge bundles of games that never even got played, I bought computers and consoles I neither liked nor wanted just because I could.  At one point I had close to 4,000 games - I was a hoarder. I was in danger of becoming one of those crazies that you see on 'How Clean Is Your House'!”  Russell too became addicted, but not to the thrill of simply spending, for him it was an obsession with inching closer to a collecting goal. “I would visit about 20 different forums every day, multiple shops, email distribution lists and eBay, oh my god eBay. I refreshed that site every 30 seconds without fail. Out for my wedding anniversary meal -phone on the table searching, kids wake up in the night - check the phone before going into them, in a meeting with the big boss - phone behind my notebook.”  

But Russell’s determination lead to him achieving a goal, and the joy felt on the way made the effort worthwhile: “Someone gave me the heads up [that the last game needed was] being sold in a bundle and I managed to buy it. The joy of finding that missing game of that fabled rarity; to say I was elated was an understatement.” For Stu too, the true happiness associated with finding a big desire has often been experienced. “My hoarding has evolved into a neat, tidy, alphabetically ordered collection of games that I am truly proud to own. Adding a new game to the collection is now a great moment as I have often been searching for the game for quite some time.” 

Stu, Pete and Russell, though all very different collectors all seem to subscribe to a belief that as long as you're a collector you will want to collect, but after an initial spending spree all three have found a way to collect in a measured way. [My obsessive 'buy everything' period] was a few years back now, and I still consider myself addicted to collecting games” says Stu, now the owner of a complete boxed Mega Drive and Master System set.  “Now my collection is focused and healthy, there's still parts of it that are insane, (my love of console variations and game cover variations to name two), but I'm happy with my collection and feel that I have it under control. I have actual aims now, and they are good aims, not the sort that include buying every game I see. And most importantly, I enjoy both gaming and collecting as a normal everyday hobby now.” Russell of course has also met his goal of owning literally all things Sega and now can sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labour: “If I am honest I don’t really miss it. I have done everything I want to in the computer game collecting world.  As far as I am aware I am the only person who has a complete Sega collection. If I was to collect something else it would be the gameboy but I really don’t have the time to go all out again. I am too busy with work and I am the type of person who has to finish something once I start.” Pete meanwhile, like myself, is still on the collecting journey (maybe because collecting for Nintendo consoles is much more expensive than Sega ones). Perhaps his slower approach allows for perspective. “At the end of the day you can look at your shelf and just enjoy what’s there. If I want to play a certain game I can, and I’ve got something valuable for a price I wanted to pay for it”.   For most of course the limits are a lack of time and money, rather than a lack of things to want. “Slow and steady is the way to go, especially with Snes collecting as the prices are crazy at the moment.”

There's no point trying to get the best collection or prove you're the biggest fan of a series by owning the rarest things because there will always be someone out there with more money who can get more things than you can should they so desire. Russell knows this more than most, “there was another person going for the full Game Gear set at the same time as me. We had pretty much identical lists so it was always a race between me and him. He was just as dedicated, if not more. I used to hate it when I saw he got a game that I would have if I had been a couple of minutes earlier. In the end though we helped each other out. The final game I searched for 4 months and once I had found it DHL miss-delivered it to a house in a different road, I felt like killing someone (so sad over a computer game) but I had been collecting for nearly a decade and this was the final game, it finally turned up though and my collecting was done .”

I don’t know if I will ever reach Russell’s point of completion, after all I never thought I’d spend so much on the MegaMan X games! I suspect that if I ever did fulfil the ultimate impossible metaphorical dream of a complete PAL boxed Snes collection the hoarding impulse will be so ingrained in me that I couldn’t stop. Stu after all is doing just that, now having moved onto aiming for a complete Game Boy set. “I just enjoy researching the subject and hunting down those ultra hard to find games. I see collecting as a kind of personal challenge in the same way I'm never happy with completing a game, I have to demolish it, finish it 100%, get the platinum trophy, I struggle to things by halves!”

Clearly, successful collecting really should be about making yourself happy, using the resources (be it time or money) in a way best suited to achieving a set goal. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of Pete’s book and remind myself to enjoy what I have rather than immediately wanting more, focus on the joy of each new discovery each new purchase. Much like presents, it should really be about taking pleasure in what's unwrapped for a little bit before opening up the next box.

My Thanks of course go to 
'Ninja Bear Hug' :
'Snestastic' :
'Mr Wistles'

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