This week on the No Quarter podcast (http://monsterfeet.com/noquarter/ episode 87: Combat School) the hosts Mike and Carrington got into an argument about whether or not someone who buys their games on eBay is an actual collector. I was inclined to agree with Carrington that collecting off eBay can still make someone a legitimate collector since the markets for old games are not readily available. Yet, the co-host Mike mentioned that being a true collector needed to involve some social aspects that you don't get from eBay. I guess I could see where he is coming from too.
The fact of the matter is though that there are a lot of aspects to collecting, especially in retro gaming, that need some defining. What makes a true collector? What make a legitimate retro gamer? What just makes someone a hipster doing this on a lark? The fact of the matter is no one can really seem to say.
I don't know if I ever mentioned this or not but I actually come from the hobby of model railroading, specifically O-gauge. In the hobby of model railroading for O-gauge there are two different types of collectors. One are operator collectors, those who buy these trains and operate them either on a private layout, or through a club. Then there are straight up collectors, guys who just buy trains and stick them on a shelf. These two different methods of collecting lead to some animosity between the two types of collectors. Operating-collectors will point out the folly of buying something made to run just to place on a shelf where is can be wasted and rust away. Collectors on the other hand cover their eyes in fear as operator-collectors race these sometimes as much as $2500 scale detailed replicas down the tracks. The argument then breaks out as to who the legitimate collector is, but for the most part I side with the operating-collectors who like me have often been operating and collecting since being small boys and who know this equipment is made to be used.
So what do electric trains have to do with retro video games? Well I think we are reaching a point when retro gaming like electric trains, is beginning to enter into an era of having to define who the collectors are, who the hipsters are, and who is the most legitimate. The hobby of course has always been very inclusive and welcoming, and with these definitions I imagine it will remain the same, but that doesn't mean there won't be some division as time wears on.
The eBay Dilemma
As I said above both hosts on the podcast had fairly good arguments. Of course having built the bulk of my collection off eBay I tend to agree with Carrington. At the same time though collecting should come with some social aspects to increase the sense of community and build a network of collective consciences to propel the hobby forward and make more folks readily available to help others.
My way of thinking about it all is like this, before eBay there use to be a lot more places to physically go out to and look for items. A town a few miles from me actually made a huge amount of money during the summer by dragging tourist bound for Wisconsin Dells into its many antique stores. As of about 10 years ago most of those antique stores went out of business. Now of the 20+ that town once had only 2 remain. Sure things like flee markets, garage sales, rummage sales and thrift shops still remain but they aren't always readily available especially when the winter puts a kibosh on 3 of those 4 events. So eBay is the place to look, and with games being sold tested and cleaned with a Paypal guarantee it seems like the best place to look and find what you want.
With all that said I do agree a true collector should exercise some social interaction with members of his respective community. For me I often gravitate to TNT Games a retro video games store near me. Sure I may not always find the games I'm looking for, and the ones I do find may be a little bit higher in price then what I can find on eBay, but I go to be part of the crowd. To swap stories with the store clerks, and talk to other gamers like myself. To me the little extra I pay on some of the games (yes, I have gotten better deals there then on eBay for many items) is worth the interaction, as is the ability to touch the products and even be playing them a few hours later.
To me in our current world there is nothing wrong with a collector building his collection off eBay, as long as he can make himself part of the community elsewhere and actively feel that sense of community by doing so.
Hipster or Legit?
I think one of the biggest issues irking some members of the retro gaming community is people they call "hipsters". To me whenever I hear the term "hipster" I think of an old episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine accuses Kramer of being a "Hipster Doofus", but that's just me.
In actuality though a "Hipster" is someone who is into collecting vintage items, wearing vintage styles and who see's the humorous irony in things. Reading through a few different definitions of "Hipster" I had to ask myself if I was one, especially since I collect retro games, and vintage records, and I tend to find humor in the irony of things. However, I found out differently when it was mentioned to me that hipsters are generally into things that came before there time. To a 20 year old hipster for instance an NES is just an old curiosity of early video gaming worth having in his collection, even though the NES is far older then he is.
So I found out that I am more what some circles have called a legitimate retro gamer. Since the Atari 2600, and NES and everything else are systems I played as a kid while those systems where still new I fit this category. The legitimacy is based on the nostalgia, and the retrospective (look for the retro) of returning to a place and time in your memories, and connecting to them via these old systems.
In a way this division is almost reminiscent of the above mention hobby of O-gauge model train collecting in which there are operator-collectors (legitimate) and collectors (hipsters). Those of us who collect and play to remember and those of us who have the system on a shelf to show off as an antique of sorts. As I understand it a good example right now are systems such as the TurboGrafx-16, and Atari Jaguar which are slowly becoming battlegrounds between legitimate collectors reconnecting with their past, and hipsters collecting these systems due to there ironic nature and percieved rarity.
So the question is will I someday have someone 10 to 15 years younger than me walk into my house and be horrified that I have all my old game systems hooked up to my TV and ready to play? Or will I walk into their home to find and NES or a Genesis sitting on shelf surrounded my other antiques? Time will tell of course.
For now though we remain a somewhat welcoming and open community bringing in eBay buyers, hunters, hipsters and legitimate players alike.