E3 2018 is in the rearview mirror. And while the biggest game show of the year brought us plenty of new games to look forward to, they’re still months from hitting the market. For some gamers, though, the latest and greatest titles aren’t worth waiting for. Instead, they’re hunting through garage sales, flea markets, eBay and speciality stores for games that came out 20 years ago. And they’re willing to pay top dollar.
That’s right, those vintage consoles and games your mom dumped in the basement years ago could be worth some serious cash to the right buyer. Got a copy of “Nintendo World Championships 1990?” Then you’re looking at $100,000. But it’s not all about the cash. Many collectors are more interested in rounding out their personal game libraries, reliving the games they loved as children or simply exploring the history of the gaming industry first-hand.
It’s part nostalgia, part hoarding and part discovery, and it could be in danger of disappearing from the face of the Earth.
Antiques of a new generation
“I collect vintage games pretty much because I’ve been doing it ever since I was handed a video game as a child,” said game collector Paul Solomine during a balmy May afternoon at the Digital Press vintage game shop in Clifton, New Jersey.
“I could never let anything go, because I had such an attachment to all of these games, the amount of time that I’ve spent playing them, the amount of time I’ve spent thinking about them, talking about them.”
Vintage video games from that era are the electronic equivalent of what classic cars or fine China are to older generations. They’ve been around for the majority of collectors’ lives, and hold a special significance for them.
It’s that desire to replay the games he loved and lost, and relive the joy of discovering new digital worlds, that drives David Crosson to collect his favorite vintage titles.
“Just, like, going back and finding these games that you had as a kid and for some reason you probably either traded in or sold it or your parents got rid of it at some point … Getting that back and sort of reliving those memories, that’s kind of a big piece of it,” he said.
Looking forward by looking back
The desire to relive the past often drives people to collect vintage items like video games. And while it may seem counterintuitive, wanting to relieve experiences from the past actually helps us focus on the future.
“A lot of times people think nostalgia is something that keeps you focused on the past,” said North Dakota State University psychology professor Clay Routledge.
“What we’ve found in our research is that there’s actually this kind of paradoxical effect where when people are engaging in nostalgic reflection, or are oriented towards nostalgia, they also become more future-focused, and they become more motivated for pursuing more future opportunities for social connection.”
Routledge isn’t an outside observer of video game collecting and nostalgia, either. He’s a card-carrying collector himself.
“Full disclosure: I actually have a pretty modest … video game collection,” Routledge said. “But I have most of the consoles going back to the Atari 2600 and a couple of arcade cabinets in my basement as well. So I’m with these people … I don’t even know how many games I have.”
From collection to museum
The average game collector doesn’t have a massive library of games, but the outliers out there have some truly impressive collections. “Radical” Reggie Williams, a YouTube personality who focuses on gaming, says he has two rooms full of games from a wide array of consoles.
Williams started his collection in 1996 when he bought Sony’s original PlayStation console. At his last count, about two years ago, he had as many as 2,500 games, which he says are valued at about $200,000.
Fellow YouTuber John Hancock has an even more impressive stockpile of vintage titles with 11,000 games that he’s collected over the course of 25 years. A second-grade teacher, Hancock says he plans to turn his library into a gaming museum.
Joe Santulli, the owner of Digital Press, however, has a collection that dwarfs both Williams’s and Hancock’s. At 30,000 games insured for $1 million, Santulli’s library runs the gamut from some of the first video games ever made all the way up to Microsoft’s Xbox 360.
He’s the owner of 21 complete collections, meaning he has every game made for 21 different consoles. He’s even got one-of-a-kind prototypes of games that were never mass produced.
“I don’t play everything that I collect,” Santulli said. “My goal was always to complete collections. I would just play like anybody else. I played what I wanted to play … some of them for moments and some for weeks on end.”
Santulli is also the co-founder of the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, Texas, where his massive collection is available for the public to play so they can experience gaming’s history for themselves.
An end in the Cloud
Video game collecting is enjoying a bit of a moment thanks to the increased interest in the vintage market brought on by the release of retro consoles and remakes of various classic games. Unfortunately, it might not last.
Outside of games’ physically degrading over time, whether they’re in cartridge or disc form, there’s a greater threat to the continuation of game collecting: the cloud.
See, the sale of physical games has steadily dropped as more and more people download digital copies. We could eventually hit a point where physical copies of games are no longer available at all.
“There’s less of it being made in physical media and more people buying them digitally,” Santulli said. “Just by the nature of that, we’re going to have less and less to collect, there will be less and less collectors.”
But all hope isn’t lost for game collectors. Instead, Santulli says vintage video game collectors could become the same as audiophiles who collect records.
Regardless of whether new physical games continue to be made, collectors like Santulli will ensure the history of gaming lives on well into the future.
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