TWO HUNDRED games. It doesn’t begin to settle in until you have it all in front of you. Surrounded by the sheer number of them, staring back at you silently, a testament to your collecting abilities, you are left in awe. When amassing two hundred of anything, it’s a sign that you’re committed, that you’re not only a collector, but an aficionado. In this case, it’s Mega Drive games. A few days ago, my two hundredth Mega Drive game arrived in the post, a complete version of Battletoads. I knew the significance of its arrival, even if others could not seem to grasp it. For me, it was a sign that what had once started as a semi-impulse has turned into something much more.
A collection tends to sneak up on you and a Mega Drive one is no exception; however when you start, you start with the bare minimum of gaming materials. For those that started right at the beginning, it was usually the pack-in game and perhaps a few others, if they were lucky. Recently it’s often whatever one finds with the console on eBay or the local shop. Unless you know what you’re doing, you may end up with games that aren’t exactly the stellar jewels of the Mega Drive library. One of the three games I started with was PGA Tour Golf II (and I’d be lying if I said I played it non-stop).
Eventually you build up your library and get the must have games and the ones of your childhood. The iconic games always come first, then the ones that you always wanted to play but couldn’t. If you never had a Mega Drive before, you usually do a little homework or join an online community to game recommendations. And then there are the impulse buys when you are out shopping; those games so cheap you just can’t afford to turn them down, no matter how bad they are.
By the time you turn around it hits you; you are no longer just buying them to play them; you’re collecting them. You have games you never play, you start to buy sports games, you look for games just because they’re rare and sometimes, you can’t help but grab whatever you can. I realized it when my housemate asked me “why are you getting that game?”. Sometimes I could give him an answer, but other times I just couldn’t (not one that made sense anyway). I can blame my library expansion the joys of eBay, but you can’t blame patrolling thrift stores and retro game stores on sheer convenience alone. Nope, I had a collection and that was the way it was going to stay.
So what is the difference of being a collector compared to being a casual gamer? To many, a collector is someone who just has a lot more of something that others don’t. But there’s a lot more to it, especially when it comes to that little black box. Consider the following:
Obscurity: For starters, a Mega Drive collector will delve into depths that others wouldn’t even think of. Research and time goes into increasing the collection. At the start, lots of things are easy buys, but it takes a little more digging to come up with some of the classics of the console that a casual gamer will miss. Games like Pulseman aren’t heralded as great simply because many don’t want to look beyond their local stores. People know Golden Axe III exists because people looked for it, followed a breadcrumb trail to find their gold at the end of the rainbow (or fools gold depending on your view). Mega Drive collectors shell out more for money for games then normal gamers, but they find the rewards are well worth it, if only just to show their friends something they’ve never seen before.
Rarity: I am not referring to people slapping huge price tags on Phantasy Star IV. I am referring to games that actually are rare, the ones which are hard to find. They’re the kind of things that make people look puzzlingly and and ask “WHAT game?” They also have the price-tags to justify such a remark. Just as an example, any collector worth his salt will have bought Beggar Prince or be trying to track it down. A casual gamer would balk at even thinking of paying $100 for a game or surfing the far depths of the Internet for a single game, a game that often is not actually that good. Sometimes games suck. Royally. But a collector simply must have it, sometimes in any way possible. When you’re looking at a $70 game and thinking for more then three seconds if it is worth it, THEN you’re a collector.
Condition: A casual gamer won’t care what condition a game is in, as long as it plays. That is why people devote their time to cracking consoles and finding ways to run pirated versions of games on their machines, as well as why ROM sites are popular. Not for a collector. A collector has standards that they wish to maintain (although I sadly admit that getting the game itself usually takes priority over it looking nice). On that note, if I can pay a little extra for it to have a box and manual, I’d do it in a flash. Some collectors won’t settle for less than complete, including whatever tiny inserts came with it. This can sometimes make the difference between a cheap game and a not so cheap game, but to a collector the latter is usually never even an option.
Appearance: The very fact that a person displays their Mega Drive games is a sign that they consider them worth showing in a day and age where such things are often stuffed in the darkest corner of the room. My own collection is displayed in alphabetical order, neat and even dusted. The notion that you think that it looks better that way, the fact that you tell people about it if they come in, and the very idea that you seriously consider buying more shelving when you start to run low is a sign that you are a collector.
Being a collector is quite odd for me. I seem like a very strange person; rooting through the small metal bin where the old games are kept in my local store and bringing a list of the games I already have so I don’t buy the same game twice. My friends wonder why I “waste” all of my money on Mega Drive games, saying they’re old, that I cannot possibly play them all. They’re right, I really can’t play them all and I know that there are a lot of far nicer looking, newer games that I could be purchasing instead of games that are as old as my sister. But I also know that that’s not what being a collector is about. Collectors show dedication to something they deem worthwhile, something worth spending money and time on. Just as a man would painstakingly steam stamps off envelopes, I painstakingly sift through masses of non-entity gaming to uncover my own golden chalices, my own little treasures which I will display and smile about when I stare at them.
And then there’s what I like to call “parallel collecting” (don’t google that one). When you collect, sometimes things get lumped together with things you didn’t mean to get. An item online will have one thing you are dying to buy along with a score of rubbish that you would throw out were it not for the fact that you are a collector. I can confidently tell you that I have a parallel collection of eighteen games that are spares, as well as another game that I have three copies of, and another two Mega Drives. Any combination of these could be the start of another gamer’s collection were I to give it away or sell it.
Collectors can also be stereotyped as “fan boys,” fanatics and in extreme cases, addicts. While it’s true that these titles are sometimes deserved in a number of cases, with the 16-bit Mega Drive there’s one thing that makes me a collector. When it came out a game literally was a game, something to sit down, pop in, and enjoy. I don’t need to worry about finding the Oberion cube in level thirty-five, area B because I didn’t have the quad jump drive, and I don’t need to have to extend a short, flashy game by doing the time trials or collecting the extra gems. All I need to do is prepare for some pure excitement, powered by technology approaching being two decades old. If the past was good, what’s wrong with living in it, even if just for a game or two (hundred)?
In the end, I look back on my collection and ask myself, Do I regret buying them? If I had been asked that when I only had three games and one Mega Drive with a controller that was partially bare wire, I’d have thought about it. But now? Not a chance. The collection snuck up on me and took me for a roller coaster ride, and it’s a ride I don’t want to off of anytime soon. A hobby and a gaming experience all at the same time, I can safely say that collecting for the Mega Drive has never been better, especially with the revival in retro gaming taking place before our very eyes thanks to the Virtual Gaming console and Xbox Live Arcade.
It beats collecting stamps, that’s for sure. Can you play a Penny Black with a friend for two hours straight?
I didn’t think so.
Genesis games picture property of psychic1.
Genesis games with shelf property of Goodwill Hunter.