Dust of Shame

A man loves baseball cards. He scours the Internet, drives hours out of his way to view the missing piece in his collection, the one he’s been obsessed with for what seems like forever. The seller wants too much. It’s overpriced by twenty percent. He buys it anyway.

The spot in his home where it will live has been reserved well in advance. He smiles as he studies the sideways grin of the player, his eyes move now to appreciating the quality of the ink. Flawless after so many years. He flips it over. Dry lips move as he reads the yearly stats of all nine seasons played in the big leagues a full decade before the collector was even born. His treasure is put in its place. The man is happy.

Until tomorrow. When the hunt begins for the next one.

The above scenario could be about anything collectible: stamps, beanie babies, spoons of locations experienced in travel. Now imagine the collector buys the card in a sealed black box and never gets to appreciate it. Or, another man altogether finds a record he’s been dying to own but never listens to it once he has it. Is the love of baseball or music the hobby – or is the act of finding and collecting the joy? Does the failure to fully appreciate the collectible diminish the value of it?

What if the collection is digital and exists only as an abstract combination of code inside a computer?

These are the questions that serious game collectors have all had at least once. Does owning a copy of Earthbound even matter if you never have time to play it? Does playing a recent release over a classic title make looking back on a treasured era of gaming pointless?

It’s not fair to have shame in passion. But unfortunately for many, the amount of uninstalled games in their steam account, or unplayed cartridges sitting on a shelf, serve as a reminder that gaming isn’t a hobby that can be enjoyed passively like an audiophile listening to a track in the background as he does something else. We have to be there. The medium doesn’t play as intended on it’s own.

The example used at the beginning was me and It obviously wasn’t over a baseball card. I asked a local chain of retro game stores to call me if Skies of Arcadia ever came in. The Sega Dreamcast isn’t the only console I collect for, but it’s far and away my favorite. The game isn’t the rarest I would own. A search at the time of this article showed I could buy it now on EBay for around the price of a new AAA release. I considered just doing that, but I had some duplicates I could trade in to grind the cost down. One day the phone rang from the store location farthest from my house. A complete copy was on hold for me for the next twenty-four hours. I went there to look at it after work the following day, crawling through rush hour traffic. When I arrived with a plastic bag full of games to exchange, the clerk handed it to me. Complete, manual intact, and not a scratch on the plastic. The store hadn’t even put a sticker on it yet.

“How much?” I asked.

I don’t want to attack a local company, especially one that I have bought product from at reasonable prices for years, but on that day after my trade ins were tallied, I would have been better off saying “no thanks,” getting a copy online, and saving my trade ins for another day.

But it was there in my hands. I walked out the door with it. That was in January of 2013. I still haven’t played it.

Friends of mine both online and ones I’ve grown up with comment on it. “Skies of Arcadia, great game,” they say. I nod in agreement, knowing that they won’t ask if I’ve played it, happy that I won’t have to lie if they did.

That’s the sad truth with most if not all of the game collectors I watch on YouTube or blogs I read about collecting. There’s no way they’ve played a fraction of what they own, and who’s to blame them? With new releases coming out each month and real life commitments it’s impossible to play them all on top of the enormous amounts of quality media in the market now in the television and movie genre.

But we have it. And we probably bought it knowing we never would play it other than testing it to make sure it worked. In many ways this is no different than the baseball card collector looking over the cardboard for imperfections, and certainly the collection cannot be admired everyday. That’s where the similarities end. The binder can be opened at will and the every page seen in one sitting, or the average time it takes to play the tutorial level of some RPG’s.

The problem is the even with the understanding that our medium is the longest form of art to consume it doesn’t stop the feeling from creeping in from time to time that the investment is a waste. Other collectors know it, and most that I’ve met will refrain from bringing up the subject. That doesn’t change the fact that at this moment within arms reach of the keyboard I type on are games that measure in the hundreds with an overwhelming majority unplayed.

I wouldn’t give them up, though. Once a game is mine it’s hard for me to find value in getting rid of it. I’ve done it before and have never felt the return was worth it. So they sit. Collecting dust. In the spirits that one day I’ll get the inspiration to share the experience with those who keep them relevant. To see what the fuss was about.

To wipe off the dust from my obsession.

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