Would you be surprised to learn that people cop a bit of flack here or there for collecting retro gaming stuff? Probably not. It’s one of those hobbies that from time to time draws negative attention and no small amount of snickering from the crowd.
A bit like collecting toasters or shrunken heads.
Now that I think of it collecting shrunken heads probably wouldn’t net you any bad reactions because people would be too afraid that you’d visit them in the middle of the night, chop of their head and shrink it, thereby adding a new item to your collection and depriving them of their head.
Unfortunately collecting old gaming cartridges presents no such threat to the general population, so they’ll often feel free to throw in a few verbal jabs – good natured or otherwise. Don’t stress though, it’s just a case of simple ignorance. Collecting retro or vintage video gaming paraphernalia is actually a noble endeavor, with a respectful nod to a noble art-form. I own 23 consoles and God knows how many games, and every single one of them is a landmark piece of history. The evolution of gaming is the intricate story of humanities foremost interactive art form. It is the tale of countless designers, artists, pioneers and entrepreneurs and every machine collected is another piece of the storytelling. The diversity of system designs and alternative approaches to the same basic premise of providing digital entertainment to the masses creates a collecting hobby that’s near infinite in its variety and depth.
What other form of collection allows you to actually engage the collected items in a meaningful way? I can’t play coins, stamps or pez dispensers. I suppose I could make up some kind of game with stamps, flip them upside down and try to guess which stamp was which underneath, but that’s just creepy and sad – and likely (in conjunction with dressing up like a Clown and spying on people from their attics) to get me locked up for life.
When you collect video game systems, you get to enjoy them beyond a static item on the shelf. You get to power them up, chuck a game in and get lost in a piece of history. When you get your game on with a NES, Master System or Intellivision, you’re able to recreate the same sounds, images and feelings of the era the game was released in. That’s powerful.
But beyond how cool it is to collect something you can use and have fun with, the most important thing to remember is where we started this conversation, that gaming – all gaming – is a noble art form. Up there with Film, Theatre and any other art form you care to mention, gaming is a finely honed form of human expression. Collecting pieces of that art form, doing something to preserve and capture the long and inspired road from the first archaic gaming systems to todays high definition powerhouses, well – that’s something special.
And if – for some reason – it’s not your thing, that’s okay, there’s always collecting shrunken heads.