YouTube Video Sparks Debate About Relabeling Vintage Cartridges

A YouTube video about relabeling cartridge games opens up a whole can of worms on the ethics of how to restore old, worn-down video games.

The 8-bit Guy, a hobbyist retro game collector, released a video yesterday detailing his methods for restoring and relabeling old cartridges he's bought. Being a hobbyist, he documents his experiments with different methods of printing and adhesives. Specifically, he redrew the labels from scratch, removed the old label and then applied a new one. It's an interesting watch, but the comments section has turned into a polite, if very passionate, conversation about whether or not he should have replaced the labels, especially in the way that he did.

"When I do these restoration videos, there's always someone in the comments complaining that I should have left it the way it was," he says in the video. "Even when you look at classic cars, is it wrong to take an old rusty classic car from the 1950s and repaint it so it looks new?" He also compares this process to caring for old coins, saying that some people prefer to keep them tarnished, while other prefer to clean them.

"Ultimately what it comes down is that these are my cartridges and I can do whatever I want to with them," he says. "I can roll them over with a steamroller if I want, and I have done that in a previous video."

No one can argue against the fact that these are his cartridges and he can do whatever he wants with them, and the finished product does look like it's brand new. But the coin collectors in the comments make sure to point out that cleaning old coins reduces their value. Numismaster.com, a website run by the publisher of Coins Magazine, says in their guide to caring for coins, "This is a good place to repeat, 'Don't clean your coins.' If you don't learn anything else from this section, this rule should be it."

In a similar vein, most commenters note that if they were buying a vintage cartridge, they'd want to know if it had reproduced labels. In his video, 8-bit Guy says that he has no intention of selling them until maybe he's "old and grey." While he won't sell them any time soon, the mere idea of relabeled cartridges sparked a debate. Patrick Scott Patterson, curator, owner and operator for preservation and research facility Archive Alley, said over Twitter DMs that relabeled cartridges are a concern for the reselling market.

"Most sellers that I see fail to note that a label has been replaced and/or they charge the going rate for a nice condition 100 per cent original game when they are selling something that's not original," he said. And even if they do disclose to the seller that the label has been replaced, does that person disclose it to the next person and does that person disclose it to the next? Probably not."

But Patterson has other other concerns from the perspective of a preservationist. "While I can understand a collector's desire to have nice condition items, I'm pretty strongly against relabeling a vintage cartridge," he said. "Each game has a story to it that goes beyond just what that game is worth on a price chart or in a shop somewhere. I think part of the preservation of that item is to preserve that item's individual story along with the item itself."

This is a similar line of thinking to that of fine art conservationists, who have an ethical code that dictates in part, "the obligation to safeguard authenticity — a culturally relative condition associated with the fabric or fabrication of a thing or place as a way of ensuring authorship or witness of a time and place."

When I asked arts educator Hanna Exel in an email about the crossover between preserving vintage cartridges and conservationists that work in the fine arts, she said that a key practice and ethical concern is reversibility. It's the idea that whatever you do can be undone in case the restoration was messed up in some way or if there's an advancement in techniques for restoration.

Once you remove a label, it's pretty much gone forever, and whatever stories we may have about how these cartridges were used by their original owners is also gone. It's not a standard that everyone holds or should hold themselves to, but it's not difficult to understand why people invested in vintage video games would also be invested in keeping their original labels as is.

Obviously, you can do whatever you want with the cartridges you own. You can run them over with a steamroller or even relabel them, as 8-bit Guy did. But for people invested in preserving these items, leaving that crusty, partially torn-off label is the obvious choice.


Comments

    Purists are annoying and po-faced by nature, but on the other hand maintaining the integrity of retro stuff is also important. There isn't really a balance here. It's either or.

      Exactly right. Replacing a label will just make the carts with original labels more valuable, while there may still be a market for a cart with a replaced label anyway. Different strokes and all that.

    Why is a dirty coin worth more than a clean one?

      It's just an antique thing, the original finish is always worth more. I guess the patina itself has value to collectors, If they wanted a shiny new version of something old they could always buy a reproduction.

      This goes for just about anything collectable.

    Oh look, a new thing to have an opinion on.

      Just be glad it is not the bridge burning kind (hopefully not at least).

    Stories...? I don't see any interest in the 'stories' (if any) that can be gleaned from an original label. Comparing old cartridges to fine art and how they should be treated is like comparing apples and oranges imo. Horses for courses I guess.

      I kind of see it. I collect coins but my coins are all bundled together in a jar. I like to spill them all out from time to time and finger them. My grandfather keeps his coins in sealed holders, which are held in albums. I love the idea that the coin I'm touching has been touched by someone, possibly by hundreds of people in different countries and over sometimes hundreds of years. Great feeling.

      "We can tell from the label that the owner really liked snacks with artificial cheese."

      Mostly, "As you can see by this permanent marker, this copy of Mario Kart was owned by a kid called 'Cody.'"

    The printing methods of the labels may be different too I think. Depending on what type of printing the manufacturer used, gloss finish and glue too if you want to get super picky.

    So the artwork may actually look different depending on the source of the images and the label paper and finish.

    It depends. The age of the game in question, the state of the label - like is it completely ruined? Is it just for your collection? Are you planning to resell it? There's so many factors that would decide whether I did this or not. I'm not flat out against it though.

    The idea of things looking shiny and new is great, but when i look at all my old game cartridges, I love looking at all the scuffs, the scrubbed out cheat codes, the time my mum wrote my name on the game because I was lending it out to a classmate, it reminds me of all the time I spent with it. I like looking at it.

    I suspect it's a generational thing now, I prefer all my optical media to be in pristine condition, as my memories are much less tactile (don't need passwords for saves, never had to cram a disc in at a certain angle/blow on it to make it work).

    It's all sentimental value though, I have no interest the idea of owning any game that doesn't hold any emotional weight. If you want things to look good, why not replace the label?

    For me it becomes a problem when people aren't identifying the items they're selling as repro carts/boxes.

    I've seen a few sellers on eBay that sell very sought after SNES games like Mega Man X and others, and they'll sell them at very high value as if they're original carts and boxes, only when you actually ask do they fess up and say its a repro cart or repro box.

    I guess there's dodgy people out there with anything.

    I have a fairly large collection of retro games and I'm not sure where I stand on this one.. If the labels were REALLY well printed and looked and felt like the real thing and I couldn't tell, I honestly probably wouldn't mind that it was replaced. But then, I wouldn't want a good or half decent label removed... It would have to be in VERY bad shape before I considered removing it and relabeling it because I would prefer the original where I can. But I don't collect for preservation, I collect to play the games so some others may have a different opinion.

    As long as no one is trying to present a relabled cartridge as all-original, then there's no problem.
    Same as a restored/repainted vintage car vs all-original.

    I see no issue with it. With the labels being ruined on those carts as it was, a replacement was in order.

    Even if he`d been going in with the intention of reselling them, people wouldn't want to buy a cart with a damaged label compared to one with a nicely reprinted one. The facts speak for themselves (sales wise).

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