My life has been a bit of a Tom Waits song lately. Grinding away late at night, drinking on the job, and walking in the piss pouring rain. The other day I went on a bit of a meandering rant about the difficulty of my financial situation, and how this caused me to have to get rid of the majority of my video games. It taught me that the true value of a collection hinges on just how quickly you need cash and have to get rid of it. But it has also made me question the value of things.
One Christmas many years ago, I got NFL Blitz for Playstation. It wasn't the type of game I'd normally be interested in or play; one of those parental, well meaning gestures that says "I know you like games. Here's a Nintendos." I ended up really enjoying it. Right after Wayne Gretzky's Hockey for N64, it was my favorite sports games. Punchy, fast, simple and fun. NFL Blitz was my one and only slit window into the sports world, and though it would prompt me to buy many more games in the genre over the years, I could never quite catch the same dragon. (Until recently with Rocket League which, lets face it, is basically the best game ever made. Just sayin'.)
I held onto it for about a year. But being in a big, new city and learning that there were places you could go where people would actually buy your games, I eventually stuffed it into a bag and brought it to EB Games with the hope of getting something new, shiny, and chrome. Trading in about half of my library for three new games was exhilarating. I picked up Rayman 2, Colony Wars 3, and something else I don't remember.
But there was an empty hole there, for some reason. Out of everything I traded in, there was a guilt eating at the back of my neck, a feeling of shame for what I had done. It wasn't a game I had worked to buy like so many others, spending my hard grinded pay cheque from a busy restaurant to buy the latest distraction. It was a Christmas gift from my mom, and getting rid of it really bugged me.
Some months before, I went to my cousins place in Nanaimo for a month and stayed with them. And as usual, brought a bunch of games as trade fodder. We would typically sift through one anothers' collection and make small trades for stuff we hadn't tried. If we had a game for a long time and were just finished it, it was great. Roughly equal swapping, and then I'd go home and have new stuff to play. And so would they.
But there was one game of theirs that was off limits. Again, we generally dealt in the holy JRPG, a genre viewed at that time with some serious rose colored glasses. For common as they were in the Playstation era, there was still some mystique about them. Today, that genre is like a foul dumping ground for incompetently made garbage, with only a few gems popping up from time to time. But back then, anything was fair game, and all of it was awesome. Even abject shit like Thousand Arms.
But this was Gran Turismo 2. One of the most common, best selling games in the Playstation library. I hadn't gotten a chance to play it and wanted to see what the fuss was about. And like so many copies of Madden stuffed into bargain bins, I figured they would have no problem getting rid of it.
They were hesitant, and firmly resolute in their decision to keep it. Not because they played it a lot or because it was a favorite, but because their stepdad had bought it for them. There was a sentimental value to this piece of plastic imprinted with data that spun beneath a precision laser. Value that it didn't retain at a store. This was a game you could probably find plentifully in Toys 'R Us dumpsters in the following months from the sheer magnitude of excess stock. I was willing to give them some odd rarity from my collection for it, and they refused.
The game had a value that meant nothing to anyone except my cousins. Just like NFL Blitz had for me. It had transcended its plaything identity and had become important. So they held onto it. An I suddenly missed my copy of NFL Blitz even more.
I was considering this very carefully when sifting through my collection. There is a Famicom game called Binary Land that, for whatever reason, my daughter really attached herself too. She didn't even particularly like to play it; it's a lateral thinking puzzler somewhat akin to Lolo where you guide two penguins through a maze whose movement mirrors one another. If you hit left on the controller, one penguin will move, and the other penguin will move in turn, in the opposite direction. It's fairly difficult as such and she doesn't understand it at all. Kids seem to gravitate more to the simplicity of the touch screen. After getting her hands on an iPad, my daughter has trouble reconciling external controls with what is happening on screen. So it's difficult enough for her just to hold a controller properly, let alone control two characters at once as though she were trying to sing and play guitar simultaneously.
But when I put my entire Famicom collection up for sale, I left that one out. A useless plastic cartridge, label faded by years of cigarette smoke, smothered in poorly scrawled out Kanji (probably the original owners name) and generally useless since we no longer have a console to play it on. I gave it to her instead to shove in her toybox because it was too tough to let it go. It was the first game I ever showed her because I knew she liked penguins. She sat in my lap and looked at the screen and giggled. And every time I'd boot up the Famicom, she'd ask to play "the penguin game."
It's easy to say "it's just stuff". And although I've probably sold upward of eighty games over the past month or two and that is mostly true, and my game collection is the very first of my "stuff" that I treat as an expendable commodity, it's not an entirely honest assessment. I spend lots of time with certain games to where they become a part of my life and thought process, at least for a time. I build connections with them, sometimes purely out of sentimental memories they might harbor. Even though there is no foreseeable future where I'll be able to sit and enjoy Binary Land with my daughter, the piece of plastic harboring the game is how I connected to those memories. I just couldn't bear getting rid of it.
We can see this in many ways, people becoming attached to materialistic things. I believe it's a fundamental aspect of the human character, something primal. Things have value to us, sometimes more than people do. We can see artifice on the rise every day, virtual companionship pushing real relationships to the wayside. The entire concept of "waifu" is based on this, the virtual pet, the realdoll. These are more extreme forms of us imprinting on an object, but on a much smaller scale, the stuff we surround ourselves with can have an emotional value as well.
It was hard to get rid of my stuff. A man who I had never met came to my door yesterday and took my Wii games for 200 dollars. It was a deal we arranged, and completely amicable and mutual. Part of me still felt he was an interloper coming to steal a part of my identify, silly as that is. But because my Wife and I had spent a summer playing Kirby on the Wii, I left that one to the side.
Maybe it's immaturity on my part, but I'm no monk; my things have value past their potential for financial gain, and sometimes, that is enough to save them from the sales pile.