Those that know me personally know that I have been collecting video games (among other things) for a long time. So long, in fact, that it probably felt like it was part of my DNA. At my peak, I owned 455 unique games. This number doesn’t account for controllers, consoles, TV screens, cables and adapters, etc. On top of that, I owned 200 musical albums, evenly split between CDs and vinyls discs, and some 30 books and novels.
When I was 16, if I had seen that picture online, I would have dreamed to live in that bedroom. True story, I used to watch James Rolfe’s Game Room Tours and drool.
However, life sure has its ways. Now that I have experienced the reality of owning all of that stuff, I want to share the story of how I realized my collection was bringing me more pain than joy, and how I managed to let it all go (well, most of it).
I owned a lot of stuff
I started collecting video games in 2009 when I got disposable income. I had not collected anything in my life before then. I still vividly remember the rush of walking in the game store and looking at all these old games, artifacts of a different era. Some of them I had always wanted to try, some of them I had never heard of. They fascinated me. Of course, my parents were not thrilled, but it was my money so I made my own decisions.
Looking at websites such as racketboy.com, I was fascinated by their game lists, organized by the historical relevance, or modern value of games. In particular, I was very fond of their shoot ‘em up guides. It was thanks to this website that I learned about Treasure Co Ltd., who is now arguably my favorite video game developer. For a few years, getting to play games like Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga were my biggest ambitions, back when they were only available on their original hardware. I remember daydreaming about what it felt like to play Radiant Silvergun, since I was unable to emulate it. At over $200 for a copy, it was my Mt. Everest.
Over the years, I made friends inside the video gaming community. In fact, one of my closest friends came from this community (you know who you are)! By being able to put our interests in common, we were empowering ourselves to go deeper in this hobby than any of us had previously thought possible. It’s very easy to get in a rabbit hole when all your friends are also doing it. But that’s also what makes it hard to stop: it’s difficult to decide between leaving your “addiction” and potentially distancing yourself from your friends.
In America, the dream society gives us is to live large, but there is something to be said about living small. In a way, it forces you to only focus on what matters in your life.
Growing up, I had the luxury of having a bedroom that could almost contain my current kitchen and living room combined. It wasn’t particularly fancy, but it sure was big. It was filled to the brim, not only with my own stuff, but with my father’s hoardings too!
Moving into my second apartment, this time with my partner, things got small. However big you imagined my first bedroom, the new space I could claim in the apartment (excluding storage that was hard to access) would shock you :
Meanwhile, here’s what part of my collection looked like when I moved in the apartment:
Another true story; for some months, I stored my entire collection next to my washing machine. Admittedly, not the sexiest storage strategy, but I needed to fit it somewhere. You can imagine how unattractive it was to play games when they were stored this way.
Eventually, I decided to buy a Billy bookcase to display my favorite items, but that also had its limits. It was double stacked all the time. Overall, the magic seemed lost, despite my best efforts to rekindle it.
I realized that something was wrong when I noticed that I played video games less than once a month. I had over $20,000 worth of games that I had to care for and insure, and derived less then 50 hours of game time per year. The hobby that had defined me for what felt like the longest part of my life didn’t suit me anymore.
Considering a change
In 2020, everything obviously changed, no thanks to COVID. Like everyone, I made a lot of introspection. I felt the time was right to make changes in my life. My collection had been weighing me down for a while. I stumbled upon a resource that nailed exactly how I felt about my possessions. Another video by Toy Galaxy about the stages of collecting also hit the nail on the head for me. This all made me realize how ready I was for a change. On December 22 2020, as a new year’s resolution, I created the “Hoarding Project”. The goal was to get rid of the majority of items I don’t use at least once in a normal year.
Quick disgression, I chose the name for this project on a whim because it felt right to me. I did not initially aim to make this project public. It was pointed out to me that it might give the impression that I think video game collecting is hoarding. I just want to clarify that my collection felt like hoarding to me. I wasn’t having fun anymore: it felt pathological. If you happen to have over 450 games and don’t feel like it’s a problem, more power to you!
Back on topic, the Hoarding Project was actually the culmination of a process that had already begun years ago. In 2018, I had already started selling what I considered “junk” in my collection. By “junk”, I mean objects that I hadn’t touched in over 3 years. None of this was in display in my bookcase, believe it or not…
As my first move in 2021, I started contacting my collector friends on Facebook to see who was interested in the remaining stock I was willing to sell. Slowly, but surely, I shipped packages all over the province of Québec and met people in person to sell my games. That was the eureka moment: I brought joy to these people by ridding myself of stuff that made me unhappy (and, as a bonus, I made a bit of money). It was a win-win!
It took a long time, but eventually I managed to separate myself from most of my possessions: games I grew up on, games worth hundreds of dollars, games that were gifted to me, games I forgot I had, and games that could have gone straight to the trash. With a little help from my Everdrives at first and eventually my MiSTer, the original game cartridges became nothing more than fancy packaging. And since I’m all about function and not about packaging, this is when my mind was finally put at ease; all I was losing by purging my collection was the weight off my shoulders. Sometimes, losing is great! And I must admit that cataloguing services like pricecharting.com were a tremendous help to find fair prices for my items. It was exciting to see the value of my collection drop as I was confirming sales.
At the same time, my partner was shocked, since she had gotten used to my collection taking up the space it did. In her own words, she “even began to find its presence comforting”. My apparently quick change of heart made her worried that I was selling too much too fast. However, when she understood the joy it brought me to free myself of this burden, she did not mind! 😃
Eventually, when my contacts on Facebook slowed down on the buying, I sold at a loss to Retro MTL. I wanted to get it over with, and I was happy to support their business. To be fair, they did offer me a reasonable price.
Looking at the games that remain in my collection, I find it interesting to notice that, on average, I have only kept about 5-6 games per console. The Sega Saturn is over-represented here, because I am waiting for the Saturn core to arrive on the MiSTer before selling any of those games. As for the pink Famicom cartridges, they are the only unplayed games I will tolerate in my collection: they are too pretty to let go. 😃 Fortunately, their value is quite low, so they are not stressful assets to own.
This is what I keep for now, but nothing excludes the possibility to trim the collection down even further. I’m not making promises to anyone, anymore!
Of course, I’d be hard-pressed to be separated from my precious Radiant Silvergun copy. To me, owning this game is like owning a picture of myself on Mt. Everest. It was the goal I had set out for myself, and I have the proof that I conquered it. Sure, since then I have owned games that were worth triple its value, but that was not my original intent. Radiant Silvergun is now the crown jewel of my collection 3.0, as it rightly deserves.
I feel freer than I have ever felt before in regards to my possessions and my personal space. I feel more in control of my destiny. I feel like I own my possessions, instead of the other way around.
I used to be afraid that by selling all my stuff, I would lose a part of who I am. In reality, I feel more like myself than I have in many years; I feel like, in some way, I managed to slightly reconnect with who I am at my core.
My friends who still collect might disagree with my decision, but they appreciate the fact that I did this for my own good. They are not complaining about the friendly prices I gave them on some nice items, that’s for sure! 😃 In that sense, my fear of being alienated from my community by getting rid of my stuff was unfounded.
I also ended up selling 90% of my vinyls, and am in the process of finding use to the majority of my CD collection. I now have more storage space than I know what to do with, and it honestly feels wonderful. If this sounds like I’m bragging, I want to assure you that I’m not. I am simply relieved that I managed to find the light at the end of my collecting tunnel.
This might surprise you, but looking back, I realize that for the longest time I wasn’t collecting for myself; I was collecting for my (still unborn) children. I wanted to give them artifacts of my youth and of a generation’s youth, something my parents did not pass down to me as much as I’d naively hoped. My goal seemed noble enough, except it was flawed. Would I have children in the first place? Would I want to be pressured by my collection to have kids? If I did start a family, would I want them to spend their time looking at a screen? Was there even a guarantee that they would share this hobby with me? Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that kids need love and time, not things. On that front, I was very fortunate, because my parents gave me plenty of both. I have come to appreciate that it truly is the most generous gift a parent, or anyone really, can give.
There is something about retro video games that will stick with me forever. While I can’t really pin down what that is, I now know that the physical objects themselves, for the most part, are not it. Now, whenever someone tells me “wow, you had that in your collection?”, it feels bittersweet.
Yes, I owned a lot of cool things. I accomplished more than I could have ever imagined. But above all, I am happy to report that this hobby did not consume me.