Are the "Wrong" Motives Behind Your Fixation?

Why Some Collectors Might Feel Their Excitement Dwindling

by Chris Federico
(Inspired by a discussion with Adam Trionfo)
(1999, Revised Version May 31, 2011)

The reason for the quotes up there is that I hesitate to call anything so subjective "wrong" or "right." What attracts some folks doesn't do it for others, and so on. It's just that I've read the words of a few classic gamers -- those who seem to find more thrills in the process of collecting than in playing the games -- describing a loss of fascination, a decrease in the compulsions that they once entertained so joyously. Their affections for the hobby itself haven't dwindled, so they're confused about this disillusionment. A couple of them have sold their entire game libraries, the treasures they've spent years hunting for. I read of one who started all over -- he had more fun finding than using. Being so directly honest with himself led to more enjoyment than he'd experienced in simply harboring and fetishing a bunch of discontinued products.

So let's be slightly unrealistic and define the player with the ideal motive: one who's happy in the moment while playing. By contrast, the collector with the ideal motive is one who's happy at the moment he's discovering and obtaining something rare. The former sensation lasts much longer (or forever, if one truly lives in the moment; such a time period has no ending). Maybe that's why premium players don't often become dissatisfied with their old-school interests. They have an abstract love of engaging microprocessors via abstract cartoon interfaces and not only an urge to accumulate tangible items. I once assumed that the typical participant in the classic community fell into both categories simultaneously -- happy finding things and happy using them -- but I've found that this very frequently isn't the case.

To my knowledge, this point hasn't been addressed: The main reason behind a collector's receding flame seems to be the gradual but very real transformation of old, fascinating objects into new, familiar ones. Let's say Robot Tank fascinated someone when he was 12. He therefore gets a stimulating rush of recall when he finds the cartridge in a thrift shop and plays it at age 30. It's an old source of enchantment that still works, since he hasn't seen it for many years. Bits of his brain are getting high on the reopening of old synapses.

Further, finding carts (or consoles) that he didn't have in the past fulfills the desire in his little-kid counterpart to attain things he couldn't afford at the time. Simple enough principle; it applies to most of us, including rabid game fans. Another factor is that some people had grisly childhoods and try to lighten the accumulated psychological load with old games, consciously or not.

But our hypothetical collector pores over the software and manuals and boxes to such an extent that these things (and perhaps even, tangentially, the experience of playing the games themselves) gradually evoke the present day just as much as, say, any brand-new, first-person shooter that he might also occasionally play on a more recently released platform. They're no longer games from the past, as far as his mind's concerned. He's been obsessing over them long enough to unwittingly transform them into modern entities instead of revived fixations. He might get the occasional spark of deja-vu upon glancing at the lettering on a box or one of the goofy illustrations in the old VCS catalogue, but even the new version of the enchanted little kid seems to have grown up. A gatherer of fixed items, rather than someone who continuously experiences, seems to be chiefly preoccupied with retroactivity, and doesn't perceive it merely as a fun side-effect.

At this point, it might be time for him to stick to the games he genuinely likes to play. Plugging in oldies that suck just to remember what they're like can add to the fading general intrigue. If he doesn't truly find pleasure in playing any of them, maybe it's better if he sticks them in the closet for another few years, instead of getting rid of them. The kid inside is never gone. This even goes for those ardent players who get burnt on their favorite games. If you truly enjoy an old video or computer game, the same mental principles apply as if you were to momentarily get sick of a current epic.

You never lose the person you were in those simple, eager days of your youth. The brain itself is amazingly retroactive; it references its own old neural pathways to conjure emotions as well as concrete thoughts. That's why you have memories. Games won't stop enticing you, even if you have to take breaks; likewise, they won't cure old troubles.

But those of you who admit to more passion for collecting than playing can take heart in at least one thing: You accumulate cool stuff. For example, you definitely have something over us players-above-all-else if you've got the Odyssey 2's Quest For the Rings. Try beating our high scores in Joust, though (evil laugh). CF