Last weekend, my recently acquired Commodore 1084S monitor popped out of existence. Well, it didn’t exactly pop out of existence, rather the flyback transformer died, and took the usefulness of the screen with it. I got less than 24 hours of use out of the damn thing before this happened, so I was pissed. Crazy man pissed.
Repair is possible, but it still put a thunderous cloud over my plans to spend the weekend glued to Amiga games.
But some good can be scraped even from the fried components of a Commodore monitor, so the whole experience gave me an interesting topic to write about. If – like me – you’re a collector of old (pre 2000) gaming gear, you’ve probably had things die on you more than once. It’s part and parcel of mucking around on equipment that for the most part pre-dates the DVDs, the Internet and Jesus Christ. But doesn’t it make our hobby a dangerous one? Are we funnelling money into an activity that has an extremely limited life span? Floppy disk media is well past end of life, older arcade machines are prime candidates for chip failure and your average Nintendo Virtual Boy is a potential festering field of dry solder.
Henry Miller said “I have always looked upon decay as being just as wonderful and rich an expression of life, as growth”, which only proves that Henry Miller had never dropped $200 on a Vectrex only to have the vector screen wink out of existence a week later.
The decay of hardware and media is a cold, hard reality of collecting retro gear, but how often do we factor this in to our collecting? I’ve spent some serious money on certain items in my collection. In my mind, the price was justified because the item was exceedingly rare or prized, but the moment I look at the item in the context of its longevity I have to acknowledge that in almost every instance, I’m overpaying. A lot.
How much can you really value something that even with proper care may only last a matter of months before turning into a worthless lump of PCB and solder? Some retro gaming stuff – the 1084S for instance – can be repaired depending on the fault, but if something more exotic like a vector screen fails, you’re pretty much stuffed. Viewed in this light, the humble Nintendo Game & Watch probably makes the most sense as a purchase because it’s highly collectable, valuable and theoretically will last until most other things are nothing but dust and memory.
I think it’s worth considering the longevity of older game systems when you’re looking over items in your collection and wondering if they’re long term acquisitions or something you may be selling onto the next person. If someone asks me whether they should hold onto or sell a NES, Game Gear, Virtual Boy or Vectrex I always ask them to consider what they’re holding onto. This stuff isn’t the smartest long term investment (if that’s why you’re collecting) and that while it might be a valued possession now, it may be worth selling it onto someone else so that when it finally gives out, it gives out on someone else’s watch.
Me? I don’t collect as an exercise in re-selling when the value has raised by a certain margin, I collect because I love playing these games. If that means I get a day with my Virtual Boy, or a year then so be it, the investment – in my eyes – was completely and utterly worthwhile in either case.