Retro Gaming: Crossing Over To The Dark Side

Hate collectors who don’t play the retro video games they own? Then read this...

The cellular makeup of a human being, not counting neurons in the cerebral cortex, is constantly in flux, with cells continuously being replaced. While these various cells in our bodies change at different rates, on average, every 10 years almost all the cells in your body have superseded those that came before them.

You are now, crudely put, a different person genetically to who you were 10 years ago.

Kind of weird to think through, right? After all, it is only human to think of yourself as a singular entity. We tend to think of ourselves in the now, who we are and what we stand for on any given day. I think, in general, people tend to forget or ignore who they were in the past as it can often destabilise who they are now. It’s not so much about admitting fallibility, so to speak, than submitting to the inevitability of change. Change in all things, including yourself and how you think.

Which, in a long way round, brings me onto the topic du jour - video game collectors.

Over the past 10 years it is fair to say that retro video gaming has not just become a thing within the gaming community but exploded out into the mainstream too. Prices, as you all will know very well, have literally skyrocketed, with games that cost pennies or a few pounds at the turn of the century now costing more than a brand new AAA title. For some rarer titles, these price increases have become so insane that they are now prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of people, costing thousands or tens of thousands of pounds to purchase.
I myself, as you will no doubt have heard on the DreamPod, have railed against the cause of this for years - collectors. It is collectors, after all, that have fuelled the price madness we are all now subjected to. It is the collectors who are willing to pay up to £3,500 for a copy of Metal Slug on Neo Geo AES who have driven prices that high. It is the 100 percenters who mean that you don’t own a CIB copy of Earthbound. It is the collectors who prevent me from picking up that Special Edition Sega GaGa on Dreamcast.

How many times have you had that talk with your mates about how expensive everything is before complaining about the collectors who are ruining your hobby? How they’re the worst and that retro gaming should be kept for the gamers, not the collectors who will stick the box on a shelf and play the thing once in a blue moon and why won’t they just sod off and die! I know I have. In fact, I wrote on the 'Yard last year that I felt I was coming to the end of my Dreamcast collecting journey in part due to this phenomenon, now priced out of the market for the select titles I still want to play.
Since then, over the past 11 months, what I have come to realise though is that I am in fact becoming what I once complained of, I am becoming a collector. I’m not getting richer or picking up more games - in fact I am picking up fewer than ever - however I am finding myself, for a myriad of factors, finding myself playing the retro games in my collection less and less. I’m spending less time than ever playing the games I own and more and more time talking about the experiences they have offered me with others - all the while the games sit there, on my display shelves (CIB and in protective cases) being unplayed.

Does that make me the enemy then? Traditionally I would have said yes, for sure, speculating quite unfairly that I had overpaid for these games, driving up prices, and was now keeping them out of the hands of the “real” gamers. Of course, in reality, the most expensive games I own are ones I have owned for over a decade, since the beginning. But I’m not the enemy, I’m just a guy who spent his formative years being shaped by the beauty of video games in the arcades and at home who now doesn’t have the time or, whisper it quietly, the desire to spend vast quantities of my spare time playing games anymore.

But I’m not the enemy of retro gaming, I’m just a potential version of you.
Now look, I’m not defending those investment suits who have, with dollar signs in their eyes, bought up swathes of expensive games to fleece gamers, or those that horde groundbreaking, super rare titles in private Swiss vaults. No, not at all. However, those people are the minority who have exploited people’s love for something. Just as people have done in the art industry, music industry - basically any industry you can think of.

No, what I am saying is that I feel the current attitude the retro community holds toward this issue is very polarised, with “gamers” held up as angelic demi-gods and “collectors” the corrupted fallen, ruining retro gaming for everyone. They’re like the collector in Toy Story 2, taking away great toys from children just to stick them on a shelf for ever and ever and ever. The truth is far more complex.

Playing games is just one facet of one of the most creative and exhilarating entertainment mediums on Earth. Let’s not forget about how people watch films and documentaries about video games, read magazines and books about video games, discuss games with their friends and colleagues, put on exhibitions of gaming hardware and software in public showcases, create video game art and music and, yes, even buy and collect specific types of video games too. To say that it is only the gamers - read: hardcore players - who have the time and will to spend large swathes of their time actually playing and replaying the retro games they own who are the “real” gamers worthy of respect is horribly reductive and false. By thinking like that you are shutting out so much of what makes retro gaming great and, while you may disagree now - as I did in the past - collectors are part of that.
Part of the problem is perspective and altruism, that difficulty in feeling as others do and placing yourself in their shoes, however let me tell you that this issue becomes a lot more nuanced and refined once you cross over to the dark side so to speak, when you start thinking of yourself as a collector. Because the reality is that for each person, including you, gaming and collecting are not only concepts on a sliding scale - with movement from one to the other natural - but, from a detached perspective, one and the same thing.

And, what’s more, there’s a very real likelihood that at some time in your life how you feel about video gaming could change dramatically. You could even wake up tomorrow and find yourself a different person, which genetically, you very well could be.


CD ageS said...

Damn. This particular article struck a cord with me... -_-

FlorreW said...

Good article ! I found myself changed over the years. In the beginning i was just playing for fun. Now it is for collecting mostly.

Still have as much fun as ever playing the games but i nowadays i always seal the good ones up and put them among the rest of the collection , instead of playing them i use copies or play them via dreamshell just to keep the originals good.

flan said...

>Prices have literally skyrocketed

How far in orbit are prices right now?

Tom Charnock said...

I'd say they're somewhere around Space Channel 5's main broadcast station right now, flan.

FlorreW said...


Father Krishna said...

Just about sums me up as the vast majority of my 200 Dreamcast games are in the loft! Most of my retro gaming takes place on my 360, PS3 or PS4. I completed Jet Set Radio, RE:CV and Sonic Adventure on these consoles,not the Dreamcast.

Unknown said...

Very well written. I feel almost the exact same way. I used to play the games every free moment I had, now I get the same enjoyment from collecting and hunting—and get to play once a week (or sometimes once a month). I blame being an adult. I don't like it.

Tom Charnock said...

I've never completed Code Veronica. I have failed at life :(

DCGX said...

I do find myself collecting more, but with that said, I don't collect anything I wouldn't play. Maybe I don't play them right when I get them, but I don't buy a game just to have it.

Case in point, Limited Run Games's Vita releases. Out of all the Vita games they've released, I've only bought two so far (Volume this Friday though) because I knew I would play them, and have. The rest I left for other people, yes mainly collectors, but I would never play Octodad on my Vita, for example, so I didn't bother with it.

I have a complete US NGPC collection (plus all UK only releases and a few Japanese releases), but I've played them all. Even Ogre Battle, and I don't know what the hell is going on in that Japanese only release.

Tonal Bliss said...

Very well written. I always buy games that I desire and will play. However, I work two jobs, have to work on home improvements, am married, and have a number of kiddos. The time to play games has become much less in my adult life. However, I still play Columns about three days a week! Regardless of this change, gaming is still a facet of myself and that will never change. Thanks for the good blog post.