When people visit my apartment for the first time, they’re always disappointed. Box picture from Shutterstock
Maybe they expect something a little different, something more substantial. Maybe they expect consoles stacked upon one another like a stupidly expensive game of jenga. Or drawers and shelves overflowing with the latest releases. Knowing what I do for a living, I think my friends expect my apartment to look a bit like a colourful museum, a testament to a virtual life well led.
The truth is my apartment is quite dull.
At any one time I own a maximum of maybe 30-40 video games. I have all three major consoles, accessible, but not really on display. I have handhelds hidden in drawers. A DS, a PSP, a Vita a 3DS.
I have no last generation consoles stuffed away in an attic. I don’t have a PS2. I gave my GameCube away to a family friend years ago. I literally have no idea where my Xbox is. I had three of those over a period of about five years. I sold two, and have a sneaking suspicion the third is gathering dust at my parent's house. I don’t have a retro collection, I don’t keep gaming figurines unless I receive them as gifts and they have some sort of sentimental value. I just don’t keep anything.
I think my situation can be summed up with one simple sentence: I like video games, but I don’t like boxes.
-------------- As I type this post, I’m sitting 20,000 feet in the sky, en route to Boston. When I arrive in Boston I will go to PAX East where I will see so many video games. I will get excited. Probably a little too excited. There will be announcements, games I’ve never heard of, brand new games, incredible stories, incredible people. It will reinvigorate my love of gaming culture – the games, the developers, the people.
But not the boxes. Never the boxes.
The day I left for Boston my wife politely made a pile of my stuff. She laid it on the living room floor. In that pile: a Nintendo Wii, a glut of Wii games, my old PSP, a spare DS I never use. “I’m putting all this stuff on Gumtree,” she said. It was barely a question. I think she expected a fuss, but I just nodded my head. Actually, I went into my rotating pile of 30-40 video games and chucked a few more on the pile. Games I bought but never played; or games I bought but finished years ago.
Maybe at one point in my life I had a sentimental attachment to boxes, the media encasing the games I once played. But now I’m only attached to the memories of the games themselves.
I hear stories about people who regret selling a specific game, or throwing out old magazines. Maybe they regretted tossing their Commodore 64 in the trash, but I’ve always found it easy to let these physical objects go, and it’s only gotten easier the more I throw away.
On my bedside table is every volume of Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond. All of them, save one -- I'm missing volume 21. Every time I look at that pile of paper – bound and printed, assembled into separate books – I feel a little twinge of emptiness. There’s something absent.
But I think I understand. The only reason I feel that emptiness is because I own volumes 1-20. And volumes 22-25. What I’m trying to say, I think, is that when you begin collecting something you are essentially creating a gap in your life where there was no gap before; an emptiness that's almost impossible to fill. There will always be something else to collect.
You might think that sounds like generic anti-consumerist clap trap and you’re probably half right. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their collection, whether it be comics, video games, manga, figurines, baseball card – whatever. In fact, I understand it. When I was a teenager I used to collect anything Star Wars related. And I mean anything.
It started with books. I loved the Star Wars expanded universe and I wanted to read everything I could. So I did. I bought books, comic books – but before I knew it, the books began to sit on shelves. They began to gather dust. Books I never touched, never even opened. Before long I realized I was buying this media, not to consume it, but to fill some kind of idealised space.
-------------- It was hard to get rid of things at first, but then it got easier. When I was 20 a deranged junkie broke into my apartment, stole my CDs, set a big stupid fire and left. I lost a lot of stuff.
My roommates really struggled with it. They lost photographs, clothes. They lost physical things that meant something to them personally. So did I, but I was surprised by how little it hit me. How little it actually bothered me.
At age 21 I moved overseas. All I took was a backpack full of clothes and money. I was stupid, I didn’t actually understand how much I should be packing or even what I should be packing, but I remember how good it felt to have my entire life for the next year in a medium sized bag. It felt like an adventure.
I lived like that for the next five or six years. I had very little, sold what I had before moving on. I was forced to let go of things frequently, but what I found was the more I let go of things, the easier it was to remember them. And the less stuff I carried around with me, the less gaps I had to fill.
My wife reckons she’ll have sold my Wii before I get back. But I probably won’t even notice. I asked her not to sell Mario Galaxy 2, because I think that’s a game I might like to play again on my Wii U.
It’s a great video game, but I don’t think much of the box.
My plane is about to land. The first thing I’ll do is get to my hotel, check-in and probably try and get some sleep. But the next day? I have a bit of free time and I probably won’t be able to help myself. Maybe I’ll head out to the shops and try and find volume 21 of Vagabond by Yoshinori Inoue.
I suppose everyone has his or her own gap to fill.