This and That
by Sean Kelly
Collecting the Press
Classic videogame collecting has slowly been becoming a "legitimate" hobby to the rest of the world for years now. It's getting mentioned more and more lately so I thought I'd take a look at the different places information or mis-information can be found other than in these fine pages.
One of the better (or worse) places to start would be the book Joystick Nation by (whatever the fuck her name is). Most any magazine or newspaper article that talks about classic games is going to refer to it as sad as that may be. The fact of the matter is that this woman is clueless. While I have only skimmed through the book, it became apparent to me right out of the box that the project was likely assigned to the author rather than it be a labor of love. In fact, she probably had to be shown what a joystick was. I guess I really don't hold it against her as she probably didn't have a choice in what she wrote about, but it's another sad example of the first rule in publishing - if you've been published, you will get published. Doesn't really matter what the subject is or if you know anything about it, if you're a published writer, publishers will take your word for it.
Our very own John Hardie was consulted a few months back for an article in Entertainment Weekly about classic games. John submitted a bunch of factual information to the article's author and answered any questions they had for him. Despite the fact that John has forgotten more about classic videogames than Ms. Joystick Nation will ever know, I'll give you one guess as to what was quoted in this article. John's name did not appear at all and yet there were numerous references to Joystick Nation.
I find myself traveling down what will probably be the same road right now. A couple weeks ago, someone from the New York Times contacted me looking for information for an article they are doing on classic games. They aren't talking so much about the games themselves, but rather they are doing some sort of evolution of controllers thing. I sent them copies of old videogame mags from the 80's that had feature articles on controllers as well as a copy of our fine Digital Press CD-ROM. The other day I spent a good two hours on the phone with them running through a timeline of sorts and discussing things that I felt should be mentioned in an article about controllers. I've come to find out, however, that there has been a recent addition to the writing staff at the NY Times. Our friendly neighborhood Joystick Nation author has been hired-on there as a permanent columnist. I can't help but chuckle when I think about what this article is going to look like. Although I did make the people I've been dealing with very aware of my opinion of Joystick Nation. While they claimed to agree with me, I have this strange sensation of smoke in my ass for some reason.
Leonard Herman has been selling copies of his "Phoenix: The Rise and Fall of Videogames" for years now. About six months ago, I finally snagged myself a copy of his book and it's not bad at all. Leonard really seems to know his shit but, nothing against Leonard, I can see why he had a difficult time getting it commercially published. The subject of videogames and what happened with them in the 70's and 80's is boring no matter who's writing about it. It needs to be embellished considerably to keep the reader from falling asleep. A joke strewn in here or there, a personal experience, someone else's personal experiences, whatever. Just reading about what was released or what problems may have arose or what was shown at the various SYS shows gets boring.
If you want to check out the most comprehensive timeline regarding classic videogames you are ever going to see, Don Thomas' webpage must be seen. Don is not just a former Atari employee but he's as much of an Atari fan as anyone. The things he remembers are outright sickening to someone like myself that can barely remember today's lunch! He categorizes everything by year and then by month. So you click on a year and then click on a month and you will be greeted by a listing of EVERYTHING that happened during that month. Don has the same problem that Leonard Herman ran into. The timeline, while extremely informative, gets boring pretty quick. In fact, the part of his webpage I liked the most was the introduction. It's quite lengthy, but it's a lot more personable than the rest of it. In the introduction, Don spends a great deal of time discussing how he came to work at Atari and various things that he personally experienced while he was there....very interesting reading.
There have been a couple different contemporary videogame magazines that ran feature articles on the history of video games. For the most part, the articles are well-informed and to-the-point. That's not to say they are without mistakes as both the articles I've read had some mis-information in them but not so much as to ruin the article for me. One thing I noticed about them is that they are not very particular about where they snag their pictures from! They use images that were obviously snagged from various webpages. Whether they bothered to ask for permission is not really the issue. You would think they'd take some photos of their own.
You're probably going to see more and more of this type of thing in various publications as more people start to jump onto the bandwagon. I personally welcome it as it makes information more readily available but I would really appreciate it if they'd spend a little more time making sure the information they are presenting is correct. I'll tell you something else too...this bandwagon is starting to get a little crowded! Oh how I long for the days when I could be so naive as to think I was the only one collecting this stuff.
Well boys and girls, I can't recall if I've tackled this issue before or not, but even if I have, we need to chat a bit about all this shit I've been reading about people selling games. As crazy as it may sound, there are people actually selling their classic videogames to other collectors for more than they paid for them!! DO YOU BELIEVE?!?!
A big thread in the classic games newsgroup on the internet has been about a certain webpage called "eBay" or "AuctionWeb" - take your pick. Apparently a few collectors are disgruntled about the prices occasionally being fetched on eBay for classic videogames and systems. One example of this is a new-in-the-box Atari 5200 system that sold for over $400 recently. You also have the kid that put his 2600 Chase the Chuckwagon cart on eBay with a starting bid of $500. He caught some major flack for that one!
Call me crazy, but I could have sworn this is a free market and people have the right to price any item at any price they care to. If the price is too high, then nobody will buy the item and the seller should re-consider his price. What about the guy that was auctioning the 5200 system? Should he have pre-maturely ended the auction because he was getting too many bids on it? Or better yet, he could have had the common courtesy to offer to take less money from the final bidder since the winning bid was much too high. Please, feel free to take another hit on that crack pipe of yours.
There is and likely always will be such a thing as supply and demand. You see, not everyone has the time or inclination to go scrounging the thrift stores or flea markets for their games. They might have a lot more time than money and would prefer to pay for their nostalgia fix than spend (and waste in many cases) hours on end trying to find it. Does that mean they aren't welcome in our little videogames collecting clubhouse? There's another way to look at it for those of you that think it's much better to go out and find the games yourself. You might consider spending half as much time WORKING AT A JOB as you do digging through skanky boxes at thrift stores to find Atari 2600 games you probably will never play. Perhaps you'd soon find yourself on the side of the fence with the guy that has more money than time? Touche....
So.....we have a demand for games by the people that can't or won't find their stuff themselves. How do we fill that demand? Well, judging by the bitching and moaning I've read many times over the years, that demand is supposed to be filled by fellow collectors out of the kindness of their hearts. Despite having spent several hours walking up and down the aisles at their favorite flea markets on any given Sunday morning at about SIX IN THE FRIGGIN' AM, this poor sap is supposed to sell or trade his extra games to you for the same price he paid for them? He's certainly pond-scum if he dares to put his extra copy of 2600 Stargunner up on eBay for auction. You might actually have to pay a price dictated by the very same clubhouse you belong to!? We can't have any of that bullshit!
An argument can certainly be made for prices becoming artificially inflated in auctions just out of the "heat of battle" though. What I mean is when a group of people are interested in the same item up for auction, a sense of competitiveness does come in to play and the price can definitely get higher than it "should" because of person losing sight of what the hell he/she is doing and worrying more about not losing than how much they are paying. It happens all the time. Sure-fire way to avoid this problem is to not bid. Hey....what a great idea!
Have you ever tried to buy a game from a person that has listed several games for sale at what most of us know are prices much lower than they should or could be? I know that by the time I get around to emailing the person, he/she has already been contacted about 87,000 times by other collectors. Now could it be that all of these people, hey...myself included, are trying to take advantage of this person because they know more than he/she does regarding the value of the games that were listed for sale? NO WAY - not us! I wonder how many of them will bargain the person "up" and offer to pay more than the listed price for these games just because they were priced too low? Now let's take this same person and "adjust" their prices the other way. We'll post his list with prices ten times MORE than the games are really worth. I wonder why these same 87,000 people are going to publicly tar and feather the poor bastard now? Practically everyone has "taken advantage" of someone selling games for less than they're worth. It's part of the fun of collecting and while some people may view that as disgusting, it's only because THEY didn't have the opportunity to do it before everyone else. Bargains are becoming more and more scarce and we should just learn to live with it. Face it, John Hardie and myself snagged all the bargain games years ago guys.
Here's a collector that's probably going to find himself on most every other collector's shitlist. How about the guy that buys games up with absolutely zero interest the games and is only out to make a buck on them or hoard them until they are worth something more? Did I make you cringe? Did I? Huh? Well, the worst of this type of nuisance is the one that is uneducated about what they're trying to do. You have some schmooze show up in the classic games newsgroup that nobody has ever heard of before asking "how much are these worth". THIS guy deserves what he gets! At least educate yourself a bit! At the same time, however, I don't necessarily have a problem with him in general. If he were to buy up stock in some company he thought was going to do well in time he wouldn't be looked down upon would he? How is this different? Oh....I always forget about that part. He's taking away games that YOU might have found isn't he? I guess you should look a little better next time huh?
There's another group of collectors that people seem to have a problem with and they are those that do not play the games they collect. I'm gonna let you in on a little secret that will probably get my clubhouse membership revoked for sure. *I* collect 2600 games to line the bottom of my bird's cage with! I never even look at the games. I just toss them all into a large box and when the old ones have too much BIRD SHIT ON THEM, I toss 'em out and grab a new stack and scatter them about the bottom of the cage. Well of course that's not true, but you wanna know something else though? It's none of your business either!
I get so sick and tired of these people that look at collectors that don't play their games like they have a dick growing out of their forehead! If you like to play every game you find to it's very end, that's great! If you never even plug it in to see if it works, that's cool too! Let's face it....there are CERTAINLY games well-worth playing for the classic systems but they are few and far between and anyone trying to convince me otherwise is on drugs. Using the Atari 2600 as an example, I would be willing to bet that the ratio of good games to bad is at best one good game for every ten lousy games. I'd agree that graphics don't always make a game, but they sure help sometimes. Take 2600 Circus Atari, for example, the game has to be among the most simple concepts, but it's fun to play. Now let's look at 2600 Donkey Kong Jr., which I played for the very first time the other day, and compare it to say the ColecoVision version. Can you honestly tell me you wouldn't rather play the ColecoVision version putting aside the differences between the two systems' controllers)???
Let's review what we've learned here today boys and girls. First of all, if a collector feels his or her time and effort in looking for games is worth something if they decide to re-sell their extras, they are allowed to. If you disagree, you are allowed to clam up and not buy their extras. If this same collector would like to put their extra games up for auction on eBay in an effort to get either the highest price or one that is most reflective of market value, they are allowed to. If you disagree, you are allowed to clam up and not place any bids. If a collector gathers up games for the sole purpose of melting them into the world's largest ball of melted plastic, they are allowed to and....you are allowed to mind your own business.
Have a nice day.
Letter to the Editor
It's kinda weird to see myself here especially since we have already talked about this, but I feel it's necessary to put something in print regarding your letter to the editor of 2600 Connection.
The credits department on the Digital Press CD-ROM is far from perfect. There were many people, yourself included, that should have been mentioned by name. I'll take at least part of the blame off myself by saying that the name Joe Santulli is synonymous with "Digital Press" in my mind - I should not have assumed the same for all though.
In defending myself a bit more without getting too much into details, I'd like to make mention of the fact that support in putting together the CD from the Digital Press staff was minimal. While I would have much rather the work was more evenly spread, the bottom line is that I did 90-95% of all the work myself with the second largest portion being contributed by Clint Dyer who was not even a member of the staff here at the time.
Putting together all the data was a monumental project that took nearly two years to do. I can certainly sympathize with what I think might have been a motivating factor behind the lack of support from the staff - the concept would be extremely difficult to complete and may never be completed. Hell, I second-guessed myself many, MANY times along the way. I also realize that not everyone on the staff had the computer equipment needed to contribute, but at the same time, everyone has a keyboard and could have done some typing. Oh how my Carpel Tunnel Syndrome would have appreciated that.
As for the paper guide and/or Digital Press in general, if there is any confusion as to who does what, I'd like to clear it up here and now. I was one of the original six or so people that put together the first DP guide and I continue to offer any help I can with it. I also do my thing here in the fanzine each issue, but that is the extent of my involvement in each. I have never made myself out to be more than that and anyone that thinks I am is incorrect.
The CD, however, is my project. I gathered the information, put it together into a somewhat presentable fashion, arranged and paid-for it's production, distribute it, and make the "not-for-profit" compensation for it.
I have been collecting data for the next revision of the CD since the last one was released and I have a lot more work to do. It is my sincerest hope that we can do the next revision more as a group than this one was. I truly believe that there isn't a problem or misunderstanding that a mention of your name in the credits wouldn't have avoided. For this I apologize. I also believe that more active involvement by the staff next time around will be apparent in the next revision and credit will not only be listed, but obvious.
Senior Writer, Digital Press
Sean Kelly is a long-time collector and gamer, and part-time dealer. He's well known for his multi-carts and excellent deals on collectibles. You can visit Sean's Home Page at http://www.xnet.com/~skelly/
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Last updated Tuesday, February 13, 2007 05:57 PM