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How I learned to stop worrying and love retro video game collecting

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Dec 1, 2018, 10:48 AM EST (Updated)

At New York Comic-Con this year, I spent a lot of time drooling over refurbished Nintendo 64 consoles and games. I sighed happily at the feeling of an original Nintendo 64 controller in my hands, compared prices on complete in box consoles, and stopped dead in my tracks at seeing an actual copy of the rarest and most expensive games in the wild at the Dial-Up Games booth.

But, as I have for the last two years, I left empty-handed. I reminded myself that if I don’t have the time to game these days beyond subway rounds of Bejeweled Classic, I definitely don’t have the time to retro game. I reminded myself that, as a New Yorker, I play Tetris all day long with storage in my home; adding a game collection to the mix would be like a barrage of Z pieces. And I reminded myself that—according to rumor!—the Nintendo 64 Classic is on the horizon if I really wanted to do this.

And then I went home and immediately bought some dude’s childhood Nintendo 64 off of Craigslist.


To me, this decision felt so sudden. One week, I was idly wondering what a copy of Diddy Kong Racing goes for these days, and the next week, I was happily cleaning 20 years of grime and dust off of a console I have lovingly dubbed “the Little Sister unit.”

But a dear friend of mine pointed out that I’ve talked about this very thing for years. It’s actually super-obvious. My older brother sold our Nintendo 64 when I was a kid, for such bogus reasons like “it was his property” and “he bought it,” and I’ve been very vocal about never forgiving him ever since. (Given how much time I spent on the darn thing, it was like having your older brother sell part of your house.)

So why have I been talking the talk and not walking the walk?

Well, besides the practicalities mentioned above, I haven’t gamed in years. I’m a strictly retro weirdo who loves a Barcade and polygons so sharp they’re practically the shards of Narsil. Entire console generations and game franchises have passed me by since the last time I picked up a controller and spent three days in a game. It’s a very rare year that I have an interest in something that isn’t a Zelda title, and in the age of Let’s Plays and Twitch streamers, those interests are easily satisfied. Are you a gamer in the modern age if you’re only interested in watching YouTube videos about the development of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask over and over again?

There’s also my own relationship with stuff. My grandmother and father both displayed hoarding tendencies. I’d like to chalk it up entirely to their peripatetic lives moving between France and the States, but I’m not, like, confident. As a kid and as a teenager, I experienced the desire to just hang on to everything, just in case. To combat that, I ruthlessly curate, to the point that people are often shocked to hear that I, an ex-book blogger who co-runs a queer book club, only have a single shelf of books in my home. But it took a long time and the KonMari method to get there. So why get involved in a hobby known for complete collections and game rooms bigger than my apartment?

And, lastly, while I was lucky enough to grow up running with a pack of girl and nonbinary geeks who loved Nintendo as much as I did, I have had negative experiences in video game spaces. As a kid, I was a polite novelty, the little sister who would abandon everything to play GoldenEye with the big kids. As an adult, I’ve experienced gatekeeping and outright sexual harassment. I was worried—and not without cause—that touching this hobby would expose me to more negativity than positivity.

This is not a new internal conversation for me. But something’s changed.

Over the last six months or so, I’ve started watching gamers on YouTube whose chill demeanors and undeniable but never condescending expertise appeal to me—gamers like LGR, Kelsey Lewin, and Nintendrew. While they are all completionist collectors (Lewin even co-owns and operates the Pink Gorilla video game stores), they treat the viewer with a kind of inclusive friendliness and respect that made me think, “I could make this hobby my own. I could do this in a way that works for me.”

On a more personal note, my 2017 was awful, between getting out of an abusive relationship and my father’s sudden passing. And, if you haven’t noticed, the world’s sort of actively on fire. I do the work required of me—I educate myself on the issues, I add my voice where it’s helpful and elevate other voices where it is not, I donate, and I vote (hey, hi, quick reminder to check your voter registration!)—and I know it’s my responsibility and privilege to do so. But… it’s heavy stuff, man, and it has been for a while.

So I just finally wondered, after two years: Why not do this thing that makes me happy? Literally, of what use is me denying myself this part of my fannish expression because I’m underestimating my ability to curate and I’m ~worried about what people will think~?

So, to hell with it: I’m jumping feet first into retro video game collecting.

I’ve set some ground rules for myself to keep things manageable—I’m only really interested in the last gasp of chunky Nintendo cartridges, so I’m only going to be collecting for the Nintendo 64, the GameBoy Color, and the Gameboy Advance. I have a budget for my initial start-up costs—getting the systems, getting the core games I want, getting the Nintendo 64 to play on a modern television, getting the Rose Colored Gaming stands to display it, getting the tools I need in order to repair and refurbish systems old enough to drink—that’s roughly the price of a new Nintendo Switch ($300). I’ve already found some pretty decent deals and I’m excited to learn how to repair the Little Sister unit’s second controller, which is completely borked. (Because the Nintendo 64 controller is blissfully and absurdly designed.)

Now that I’ve started, I’m surprised I got in my own way for so long (and not just because the market’s gone up in the last two years while I’ve been dithering). I’ve noticed I’m calmer now that I’ve replaced compulsive, panicked Twitter scrolling with checking sold listings on eBay as market research. It’s important, in times like these, to take our duties seriously, but if we’re doing our due diligence… why not also do something for ourselves?

And that’s the point of this collection. By creating that physical contact point with such a strange time in video game history that I lived and breathed (and, in some ways, came from), I’m regenerating something inside myself the world is wearing away. Which, I suppose, is the point of any hobby: to kindle joy.

Anyway, who has a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask they’re willing to trade?

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