by Sean Kelly

An interesting thought occurred to me the other day and I can't quite decide which side of the fence to be on - kinda unusual for me huh? It has a bit to do with the player/collector debate, but the issue is a bit more complex than it might seem at first glance.

We had something of a wake-up call here at the 'ol ROMpage headquarters over the summer. About mid-June there was a storm like I had never seen before. Rain by the bucket-fulls, literally constant lightning, power outages, flooding - you name it. The flooding aspect of things was what hit home. The wife and kids and I were sitting around watching a little TV in our ROMpage capes when we noticed things starting to float by. This is no exaggeration boys and girls! In a matter of minutes we had a good 4 inches of water down here in our basement family room! Before all was said and done, we had over three feet.

It was a once in a lifetime kinda thing I'm told. The neighbors on either side of me have each been here for over 30 years. Although I find it curious that the 85-year-old man on the south side of me had taken measures to prevent flooding and was likely the only one for blocks around that didn't get water. There's a mall less than 50 yards from my backdoor which was under about five feet of water. A mini-van parked right near the entrance was completely invisible except for it's luggage rack.

Where's the pertinent info? Well, much of my videogame collection was stored down here in "my part", as my wife calls it, of the basement. I had three small file cabinets used for storing instruction manuals - all toast. More than 75% of my classic videogame magazine collection was underwater and didn't fare too well. Numerous cartridges, boxed carts, and even shrinked carts were down here floating around. Eleven Vectrex systems defied the "do not expose to moisture" warning on the back of the units - although there is no warning against swimming. This is just the tip of the iceberg folks.

I'd guess the loss that has bugged me the most has been my magazines. Once we got rid of the water, I did my best to dry them out so they were still legible although not what I would consider collectible condition anymore. The pages didn't stick together, but they dried with this rippling that I don't think will ever flatten again.

Loose cartridges seem to have handled the water without any trouble. Boxed cartridges were a different story and shrinked carts were generally ruined as the water was trapped inside them with no real way of drying out. Literally 97% of the manuals down here were completely ruined and I had several thousand of them. I tried to dry them out to no avail. Throwing out manuals like Intellivision Congo Bongo, 2600 Mr. Do's Castle, 5200 Meteorites, etc. etc. etc. just KILLED me!

Now it was not my intention to sit here and cry in my beer about the stuff I lost. I did have flood insurance and was compensated more than justly, but the issue really has nothing to do with the money. What I'm thinking about here is how many more people is something catastrophic like this going to happen to and what effect would it have to collectors several years down the road. Never mind catastrophic losses by collectors, how about the average Joe that just throws the stuff out that's been collecting dust is his attic for the past ten years.

We could sit here and debate whether there even will be collectors several years down the road, but it's been done before and it gets old. I believe the general consensus to be that this is not a fad and collecting will continue for many years to come. The values of individual titles may change due to increased or decreased demand for them, but there's always going to be people collecting this stuff. Take a look at the toy collectors. How about the antique collectors? They've all be doing it for eons and for basically the same reasons we are collecting games if you take it to it's most basic level.

The major fuel feeding the frenzy of collecting videogames is nostalgia with historical and preservation interests thrown in there as well. I am simply not convinced play value has as much to do with it as some might lead you to believe. Sure some of the games are a lot of fun to play, but if you had never played, seen, or heard of them before, they wouldn't be anywhere near as attractive as they might be to those that spent a gazillion hours trying to beat a game fifteen years ago.

 The word "nostalgia" comes from two Greek words - nostos and algos which mean "a return home" and "a pain" respectively. How particular is this pain though? Can it be soothed by the likes of emulators, pictures, and stories? Do the actual games have to be in your possession or would viewing them in a museum type of setup be sufficient? Of course the answer is something of personal thing, but I believe a general answer common to at least most collectors is not much of a stretch of the imagination.

Let's set the scene here:

It's 5am Christmas morning 1980. You wake much earlier than your parents will allow you to get them up so you just kinda hang out around the Christmas tree for a while trying to figure out what might be in those neatly-wrapped packages. You mull around for a bit peeling back a corner here and there to see if you can catch a glimpse. With not much else to do, you fall back asleep on the couch. When you awake you rush to the clock to check the time only to find out it's now 5:20 and you have another hour and forty minutes to wait. It's torture and you contemplate setting all the clocks in the house ahead by an hour but can't figure out how to change the one in your parents' room without waking them.

The time has finally come and you wake your parents, practically dragging their butts over to the Christmas tree waiting for the "green light". You'd previously scoped-out the packages and had the first one to open ear-marked. The words "go ahead" are faintly heard and you're off! Wrapping paper? Heh, you tear through it like nobody's business. There it is staring you square in the face - the Atari 2600! You just kind of sit there in awe for a few seconds with this big-ass smile on your face.

What I have tried to describe above is a feeling that's, for the most part, indescribable. As an adult the only thing that can compare to it is sex for those of us that know what THAT feeling is like (sorry Clint). The feeling you're trying to recapture can be all the more real by holding the actual item in your hand. If I were to re-write the little scenario above and instead of using the Atari 2600 as an example, I could write something like this:

"There it is staring you square in the face - an old re-labeled AOL freebie floppy disk with God only knows what on it."

Doesn't quite have the same effect now does it? I'm not ragging on emulators at all. I'm more trying to demonstrate a situation or a feeling.

Where I've been heading with all of this is what happens when finding the actual components is practically a lost cause? There's no real way to tell exactly how often it happens, but each year more and more of the stuff gets destroyed in one way or another. Chalk-up a few thousand boxes and manuals right here this summer! How will it be possible to fill the nostalgic void when you can't find the stuff anymore?

The memories will always be there and they'll naturally be more vivid or fresh if you are able to obtain the actual item for which you have fond memories. What you use to bring them to the surface will have to adapt with the time times though. Naturally you'll do the best you can to get a hold of the things that are more important to you, but the things that have little or no nostalgic value to you will either be too expensive or impossible to find. This is evident to many collectors even now. Here's where the historical aspect of things slaps you in the face. Did you actually have a Chase the Chuckwagon cartridge when you were a kid? Is the game even the least bit of fun to play? Most collectors will answer "No" to both questions. Therefore the only possible explanation for any desire to have that particular game (as well as many others that would fall into the same category) in your collection would be a: "Wow! I never knew they made that game for the 2600!" In the years to come, such interests wil harder to pacify and information about these types of games will have to suffice.

I'm not trying to start some sort of panic here - only bring an issue to light that should be considered by most collectors as it will likely be a factor in the years to come. Looking at pictures of the 2600's system box might not seem like the way to go now, but it may be the best you can do at some point. Playing Adventure on PCAtari in a window on your computer will never be the same as playing it on a real 2600 hooked-up to a TV, but you're at least able to play it. You might even consider settling for pictures of a Chase the Chuckwagon cartridge and playing it on the emulator. You'll quickly find out that the game sucks and pictures of the box and cartridge along with 8000+ others can be had on one of the products I'm about to plug.

OK time for a quick couple of plugs here. First off, John Dondzila has completed his latest title for the Vectrex - Spike Hoppin'. The game features you know who playing out a little Q*Bert fantasy he's had for years. John did a good job on it and it's well worth the meager twenty bucks he charges for it so go get that checkbook now. For those of you that have my Vectrex multi-cart and are wondering if it will be included, the answer has yet to be determined. The game is larger than any other Vectrex game to date and I don't know if my cartridge will be able to handle a game of it's size. Even if it can, it will require the elimination of four demos on the cart and I'm undecided if I want to do that or not.

Second plug is for the DPCD. We have a full-page devoted to it, but in case you missed it, get your ass back there and check it out! :).

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 06:01 PM