Don't Fear the Neuter

Who are these people? You know, the ones who are always paying more, sniping your auctions, getting to the flea markets before you? Hanging out at the thrifts all day? Those nameless, sexless (mostly male, granted), hopelessly annoying people that are pathetic enough to get to the good stuff before me- or after me. Do they have no morals? Didnít they realize that game was meant for me? Who are they, and why do I care?

Iím not sure if this column fits into the Neuter issue because the people that you are competing against are neuters, of unknown species or sex or locale (ĎSumguyí,) or if I want to neuter them after they out compete me for the goods.

In collecting, youíll run into these faceless, nameless (well, they may have a user id) neuters around every corner, unless you live in Maine like my friend Willie. Willie is the only video game collector in all the state of Maine. In fact, Willie may well be the only person in Maine. (If you are from Maine, write to Digital Press and prove me wrong.) For the rest of us living in places less similar to Canada, we encounter the neutered competition in every venue.

Since Iíve been doing this for a long time, I know most of the collectors who are my competition on the internet. And I like most of the collectors that I know. It makes it a lot less painful when I lose an auction to a friend, than when I lose an auction to a mysterious new user with a feedback level hovering around nil. Although I know many of them from the Internet in general, there are many Iíve met through eBay. Most of the people Iíve gotten in contact with through eBay seem happy that someone went through the trouble of contacting them. A lot of them arenít even in the classic video game circuit as we know it. Some of them even have a few spare things to trade, occasionally something cool. Although itís uncommon for competing bidders to write to each other, most of us are pleasantly surprised, as long as the note is of goodwill (ďwe come in peace and will not outbid you.Ē)  eBay can be such a vicious, anonymous site, that any human contact makes it a bit less carnivorous, and a bit more pleasant.

There are a number of people that I write to every time I stumble upon an auction they are bidding on. Sometimes, with some of my more trusted and better friends, weíll even talk about bids. Why bid your friends auctions up without making sure that your bid will be higher? Itís just wasting each otherís money. (Perhaps this merits an extensive discussion of eBay mechanics in a future column.) Of course, this is a major leap, as you have to trust each other not to use that information against each other. And you canít change your mind about bids without contacting your friend in time. In other words, it forces you to value friends more than auctions, which is no stretch for me. And in the end, it makes eBay a less bitter experience, because I donít feel so bad losing to a friend.

Unfortunately, most of the people you meet Ďin the wildí arenít your friends. Iíve been hunting for old video games for some time, and Iíve had many competitive moments with the enemy. The wild eyed looks we get from our nemesis when we run into them hunting through a pile of tapes at a thrift store or walking the aisles of a flea market are sheer paranoia. One encouraging thought is that everyone has their limits, and not everyone sees and buys the same stuff. Most of the perceived threat is from hunters less educated about old games, and less open minded about keeping valueless ones. If you read Digital Press, and you like to hunt for goodies, youíre more likely to spot a peculiar system or cartridge than the average profiteer or junk collector. Having more knowledge always makes you better equipped to out-compete the Sumguys and eBay sellers who are trying to make a quick buck. And frankly, many of the items I cherish most in my collection have the least perceived value.

I have run into other video game buyers at markets and thrift stores that became my friends, although my first response was always deflation. Iím plodding along, minding my own business, looking for scores, and then suddenly, Iím forced to acknowledge that Iím not alone at this flea market. A mysterious force has already consumed my power pills, and left me with ghosts. Basically the feeling is the opposite of finding a Vectrex- especially when they have an armful of goodies. I find that the best way to curtail the brief depression that follows the realization that your territory isnít virgin territory is to talk to the person. Sometimes youíll make a connection for trades, purchases, or just gaming. I remember a story in Indiana where a collector was buying a few old video games, and a guy came up to him and asked him if he was interested in more old games. In the end, the collector came away with over 400 boxed games, many really sweet titles to make even the most seasoned veteran jealous, for about $200. All from a chance meeting in a thrift store. One of my closer video gaming buddies was someone I met at the now gone South Van Ness flea market in San Francisco (ĎRoagie.í) I ended up running into him at the Bay Area collectors meeting later that year. 5 years later, we live in the same town again, and now I have a buddy to hunt and game with. Really, it was a combination of chance meetings and the internet, but certainly I turned the nemesis neuter into a buddy to share the gaming with.

Then again, I remember running into a major collector at a thrift store in Chicago, when I was maybe 2 years into collecting. He was sorting through a tangle of cords to liberate a Colecovision Roller Controller. I badly needed and wanted a Roller Controller at that time. The price couldnít have been more than $3. After speaking with him for a little while, he mentioned that I might be able to trade the thing off of him, although he already had a few spares. He bought it and left. I ran into him at several regional collectors meetings, and he still had that spare Roller Controller for years to come. In retrospect, I find that unforgivable. In the same position, I would unquestionably hand over the item to the needy collector, especially given that I already had a spare.

A key point to remember when confronting neuters in the classic collecting hobby is that you are also the neuter to them. Thereís no need to tell them outright that you have 500 Atari 2600 cartridges, that some are worth big money, and that the Music Machine cartridge theyíre carrying up to the register is worth $200. Theyíll freak out. Take it easy. Take it slow. A little knowledge can be dangerous, and introducing people to the hobby can rapidly induce greedy thoughts without a dose of realism. Iím not advocating scamming people, but if you immediately make someone know that they are ignorant, they will immediately respond by proving you wrong.  I recommend that all talk of numbers with neuters be withheld until the conversation is between friends.  Figure out where your neuter stands, as if you are talking to a complete ignoramus, or a Salvation Army regional manager, you may have just prevented anyone from ever finding another game in your county or someone elseís.

Some people are far too paranoid to even advance past an angry glare. Or a cursory or unreturned email. It probably isnít your fault. Some folks just canít handle the concept of sharing. And many people just canít get past the initial feelings of anxiety. But donít let that stop you- there are always gamers happy to connect with their kind. Youíre bound to run into them sometime. Some will even become your friends. The others will always be neuters, probably without anyone to share video games with. And that just isnít as much fun, is it?


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