Do Computer and Videogame Collectors Have an Overriding Responsibility?

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Bill Loguidice's picture

The Warp Factor (SSI, 1981): Front of box image from an eBay auctionThe Warp Factor (SSI, 1981): Front of box image from an eBay auctionAh, the wonders of eBay. While you can occasionally get a hard-to-find game for a low price with lots of luck - say maybe $35 with shipping - other times you'll see boxed software go for ridiculous prices that no mere mortal can afford, like SSI's classic "The Warp Factor" for the Apple II, with a very recent final sale price before shipping of $449.44! Even though it's sealed, it's still an amazingly over-the-top winning bid. As is usual with SSI games - particularly pre-1986 SSI games - the cover artwork is beautiful and there are nice extras inside the oversized box. A fine specimen or not (though this one is actually a bit crushed!), average-to-good game itself or not, it can't help but make you reflect on the meaning of collecting, particularly as it applies to our hobby.

The Warp Factor (SSI, 1981) - Rear View: Image from an eBay auctionThe Warp Factor (SSI, 1981) - Rear View: Image from an eBay auctionAs someone who can be considered a hardcore computer and videogame collector myself, I certainly find that I desire boxed product such as the "The Warp Factor" (especially being - in this case - a big fan of SSI as well). Heck, I even actually did bid on it, though I rarely - for any software and moreso in this case - go above $60 or so as a maximum (often including shipping), and only when my financial situation is particularly favorable for the short- to medium-term (most of my "fun money" goes to my hobby). So even though I have countless software titles to go along with countless hardware, accessories and other doo-dads, even I can't quite understand the mind of the New Old Stock (NOS) enthusiast with amazingly deep pockets. To me, it's one thing to collect something like "action figures" or coins and keep those sealed in the box, it's another thing entirely to desire the same for software, something that by its very nature is meant to be USED. That's what it was designed for and to me that's how it can best be appreciated. While it may look nice on the shelf, the REAL benefit doesn't come until you put the - in this case - disk in the disk drive and boot the thing up and PLAY it. This is in addition to actually interacting with any of the included materials such as maps, firing tables or any other physical items. Digital representations are nice (and ROM images are nice for restoring corrupted files), but having the real map, for instance, laid out on your desk makes the experience what it should be to me - complete. For those collectors that place ultimate value on something staying new and unopened, it obviously creates scenarios where bidding escalates into wars and the permanent value of an item - new or not - becomes all but forever skewed, like in the example above.

This same thing applies to a recent experience I had from a few days ago where I was to pick up - for free - a small collection of mostly obscure computers. Unfortunately, a gentleman who I'm friendly with somehow beat me to it and added it to the collection of the museum he's associated with. Even with duplicate hardware, he scored all but one of the systems in the collection. If I had the opportunity to pick it all up, I was to keep one of the systems for myself and distribute - for free - to other collectors the rest of the collection, minus the cost of shipping (per prior arrangement). I can see museums needing one to put behind the glass and never turn on, but more than one simply takes it out of collector's hands, who are more likely to put it to actual use and help to share knowledge as much as or more than a physical museum possibly can. Again, I like the idea of computer museums, but unless you can guarantee working interactive exhibits, I somehow feel that museum hoarding is a high crime in our hobby along the lines of bid wars resulting in inflated pricing for something sealed. One example behind glass should be more than enough

Sour grapes on my part? Perhaps. I can certainly also be accussed of "hoarding", as it will take the rest of my life to get through even my current collection and share it with the world, but through options like Armchair Arcade, the book that I'm writing for a mainstream publisher and the many other things I'm involved in, I"m at least in a position to give back to the broadest range of people possible. It's a position that I don't take lightly.

Comments

Matt Barton
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Preservation Trumps Experience

Good points, Bill. My answer to your question is a definite YES. But I realize that it's a touchy and very old issue. Why shouldn't we "use" this stuff rather than just box it up or put it behind glass? I can imagine people saying the same thing about ancient African and Egyptian artifacts and the like. Say someone finds an ancient bracelet? Isn't it supposed to be worn, not just put behind glass in an airtight tube in some stuffy museum? Or what about those paintings? Weren't they meant to deck the walls of wealthy aristocrats? Why are we content to look at them in art galleries? The list goes on. Nevertheless, although so many thing we collect were intended to be "used," oftentimes it's better to just focus on preserving them. The "crime," if I might use such a strong term, is that so much of this stuff isn't shared with the public in any form, but is locked up in some museum's storage facility. That's sad.

Don't get me wrong--I'd like nothing better than to crank up those old computers and game consoles and put them through their paces. However, I'd also be worried that I might damage it or wear something out that couldn't be replaced. Wouldn't it be terrible if I accidentally destroyed the last working copy of an important videogame? Even if I just played it a few times, I'd be taking a grave risk. We all know that all of those old computers and media are a limited resource.

I really like studying ancient history, and I frequently get depressed to hear about some early archaeologist who, out of sheer ignorance and sloppy methods, utterly destroyed tremendously precious artifacts and information that we can never, ever get back. I'm sure that hundreds of years from now, we'll be lamenting all those computer historians who stubbornly insisted on cranking up and eaking the last life out of those venerable old systems.

There are obviously enough mint condition Atari 2600s and loads of carts out there for this not to be much of an issue (at the moment). However, as time goes by, and especially with very rare equipment, this is already a big problem. The last thing we should be doing with a one-of-a-kind videogame or artifact is casually (or worse, roughly) playing on it. The only exception I can see to this is your example of writing a book or doing real research on the system. Even then, I would urge great caution. As far as unopened games and equipment goes, I'd probably want to keep it in the box and seek out a loose version just to play with.

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Bill Loguidice
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Additional Thoughts on Differences

Excellent points, Matt, but I think there are differences between traditional antiques and "antiques" in our industry. For instance, how many preserved copies of something is enough? Two, three, four? When is enough, enough and the others of its kind can be used as they were intended? Certainly with a one-of-kind Egyption bracelet, there's no question it should be preserved, but for software with a production run in the thousands, isn't it reasonable to say at some point it's "preserved" and the rest are there for usage and PROPER (hands-on) study? (for instance, can I really give a TRUE review of a particularly robust game if I don't in fact have all the fancy inclusions and play it on the real system? In other words, get my hands on it and maybe wrinkle it just a bit?)

If something has already been converted to digital form - the software was turned into a useable ROM image, the packaging and insides were dutifly scanned, etc. - does that then mean we still need an abundance of sealed copies stored in multiple places? If I'm reasonably careful with my collection (and hey, even museums have disasters, natural or otherwise, that destroy things), couldn't I then use it the way it was supposed to be used? It's not like it's really a one of a kind item like that Egyptian bracelette, is it? If the disk goes bad, can't I just re-write the software back to the disk or put it on a new disk? Wouldn't I still have the same physical disk? Also, going back to that Egyptian bracelett or any other museum piece, how many people actually get to handle the thing? Perhaps a few dozen over the span of hundreds of years? Does that really benefit anyone? By keeping extra software sealed or more than one computer stored away, the answer is NO ONE gets to handle it. How is that any more useful than seeing something on the Web in that case?

Yes, it's an old debate, but I don't believe in preservation on the basis of monetary value or for the sole sake of preservation (keeping it intact). I'm not going to keep software I want to open, just because it's worth 50% more sealed. I'm going to open it, experience it and become a better person for it. I don't become a better (or changed) person by having it sit sealed on a shelf inside a fireproof box. And I know there's very little chance of a museum being able to allow people to experience it either. Sure, they can have their one copy, maybe even a backup, but that's it as far as I'm concerned. For the rest, get it out there in the hands of enthusiasts so we can advance the state of knowledge freely and accurately.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[ My collection ]
[ http://www.MythCore.com ]

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Matt Barton
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Preservation

Great response, Bill (as usual). Don't get me wrong. I'm mostly playing devil's advocate here. I have only one unopened piece of software here (Tomb Raider collection), and that's just because I haven't gotten around to playing it yet. The same with comics. Some comics come shipped in sealed plastic bags, such as Ren & Stimpy #1. When I opened the bag, the part that had been obscured by the bag read, "You idiot! Now this comic is worthless!" I thought this was brilliantly funny, and I didn't take it seriously at all. It'd be worthless to me if I DID keep it in the bag; it was only after opening the bag and reading the comic that it was worth something to me.

I also thought about the "how many is enough" question. If I have, say, an Apple II still in its original packaging, never opened, and then acquire another one in the same excellent condition, then can't I just keep the first one and actually open and play with the second one? I mean, I can justify it the same way folks do who buy two of the same comic--one to "collect," the other to "enjoy." I've seen people do the same thing with everything from stamps to Barbie dolls to those silly Beanie Baby things.

The point is this. Right now, most of this stuff is common and can be found and had for a fair price. If you want a Commodore 64 in its original box and in mint condition, and if you want software still in the box and so on, you can have it for a price. There will be a time, though, when either (a) you can only have these things for an ungodly price or (b) you can't have them at all, period, because there are none left. I'm sure that a videogame historian in the year 2500 would be perfectly willing to give his front teeth for an Apple II in its original packaging or possibly even just a single unopened Atari 2600 game. Such finds would tell the historian a lot more than any badly used and damaged units would.

At any rate, at some point we have to ask ourselves, "Do I collect videogames just for fun, or am I serious about preserving these things for history?" To my knowledge, only museums are good at #2. Everyone else is either doing it for money, nostalgia, "cool factor," or to actually play them. Is there anything wrong with any of these motives? I don't personally think so. If you want to collect Apple II games in pristine condition because you think they'll be worth a lot of money one day, why not? As long as you aren't wantonly destroying things that might have historical value one day, I don't see any reason to get upset.

Did you see this story about a tycoon who accidentally put his elbow through a priceless Picasso painting? I can't read a story like that and not cringe. It's painful to me to think that such a work was damaged so irrevocably. On the other hand, it is an original, unique work, and, as you say, most games and hardware was mass produced.

Still, I must disagree about re-writing the software to the disk. While the practical effect might be the same, I'd still argue that there are technical differences there that can't be overlooked. It's just not the same.

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Bill Loguidice
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The Slippery Slope of Preservation in our Industry & in General

Good points, but what I'm trying to say is, preservation involves more than keeping a physical item in a pristine and protected state when it comes to computers and videogames. Let's say there's a sealed copy of "Ultima IV" for the Apple. I can read the back of the box to get an idea of what the game is about and what's described as being inside the box. I can relate that information to others. Other people can look at the box and appreciate it and get an idea of what's inside too. However, if we actually OPENED the box and played it and laid out the cloth map and felt the metal ankh and heard the clicks of the disk drive and the beeps of the Apple II's internal speaker, etc., then we'd REALLY be experiencing and understanding the game. It's one thing to look at a picture of a painting - you don't touch those and you'll get the same basic effect - or even a historical object like an Egyptian bracelet from the time of Ramses - physically handling it would only enrich your understanding and experience slightly. With computers and videogames, these things need to be used to ramp up your "experience" to the fullest. You gain little by admiring them from afar. Collecting in our industry to me is an active past-time, not a passive one. It's what makes our industry unique.

Bottom line, I agree that museums serve a valuable function for preservation and there's generally less that can go wrong there versus a private collection. But at the same time I think they should be limited to one display copy and one stored and protected copy. The rest should be fair game to those interested in owning them, particularly those, such as myself, who believe they can play an important societal role.

Also, let's say that your copy of that Ren & Stimpy comic is the last one in the world. Should we go kick your ass for already opening it and *gasp* reading something meant to be read? I wouldn't. It's still there and can still be appreciated even if it's not in pristine condition. I have to give the same consideration to computer and videogame stuff. Even if that computer I'm using breaks from usage, it can still sit in that museum and look just as pretty even if it were never used again. In other words, from a museum's standpoint, it's the same effect, since a museum is likely not interested in demonstrating the functionality, only the shell and some related historical information.

Finally, if a game, system, etc., are already digitally preserved with ROM images, photographs, scans and written historical data, do videogame historians in the year 2500 really need a sealed, original copy? I think not, again, which argues for usage NOW. While this stuff DOES still work and is still viable, let's all use it, spread our knowledge about it and not be so hung up on it "breaking". Physical things deteriorate over time anyway. Even if we keep that computer or software sealed, will it still work in 50 years? If someone opens it now and enjoys it for the next 20 years and is able to talk about it with others and contribute to the community, doesn't that serve a better purpose?

=================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[ My collection ]
[ http://www.MythCore.com ]

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rodge2001 (not verified)
IMO

I don't have a ridiculous collection but I at least play the games I have. I could care less if it's complete and in original box etc. All I want is the cartridge (and I'll buy a dust cover). My vintage collection contains only NES, SNES, N64 games that I can't purchase on the Wii Virtual Console. I've shelled out $65 for Powerblade 2 (NES) and I'm currently watching Metal Warriors (SNES). I would pay as much as $75 or $80 dollars if it is a really good but rare game. I don't understand people who pay hundreds of dollars for shitty but albeit rare games. I buy games to play them. Not to build my own museum. I'm a very rational and practical collector. I have around 30 NES games, 20 SNES games, and 10 N64 games. And again, these are games that are not offered via Virtual Console. If I own a game that becomes available on the Virtual Console, I will gladly, without one second of hesitation, sell it for whatever I can get. I do not hoard games. My opinion is that games are meant to be played and not just displayed. And as for the people who have multiple copies of the same game...SELL SOME SO OTHERS CAN GET IT. That's why some prices are just getting crazy.

Bill Loguidice
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Interesting to see a comment

Interesting to see a comment on this old blog most of mine from 2006. I mentioned The Warp Factor in there and I actually was able to acquire a reasonably priced (i.e., well under $100) copy of The Warp Factor for the Apple II, and even the PC disks (just the disks) as well. Funny how pricing fluctuates so much. Naturally, mine is not sealed.

By the way, rodge, I wouldn't call you a collector myself since you sell what you have eventually. Collecting is keeping it! With that said, it's actually beneficial that your interests are relatively narrow because it's MUCH easier to play things that way. It's certainly a valid tactic, with the only major downside being missing out on the wealth of other stuff out there.

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clok1966
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I'm a mild collector, I have

I'm a mild collector, I have pretty much all US based consoles, not all, but most and several carts /peices of software for them all. As a early computer user I kept my game and treated them like they where gold (that old media needed to almost be treated that way to keep working sometimes). I never kept boxes becuase of the collectability, i kpet them as they where easy way to store whatever i bought. I still have tons of early PC games, many in the orginal Baggies (ok i think i may have about 15 or so like that). And did love the wierd boxes.. or nick nacks. I have several old game siwth Lead figures (seems like for a time that was kinda the thing to do). Once I got to the AMIGA and new PC's i kinda lost interest. I had a closet full of boxes and games from about 89-94 I just gave away about 2002 ish.. and I kept some of the better stuff till about 3 years ago when it all went too. I "kinda" regret it.

My real passion was comic books and I have a SMall comic store sized collection. All in bags all kept dry and in prestine condition. BUT!!! I read every friggin one of them, carefull not to get my oily fingers all over them.. but I never went "uber carefull" im sure some have oil form my hands and will show it someday. I did swap all my backboards out in the mid 90's when it was decided the original comic boards where not long term and could cuase issues.. i think it took me about a month to do and about $200.. (plenty of time spent reading when I did it). I alos have alot of RARE comics I picked up at garage sales and such.. I have some amazing ones such as Fantastic Four #1... , Amazing Spiderman #1 and severl others that are quite valuble.. all picked up when you cold still hit a garage sale and buy 100 comics for $5. back in the mid 90's my FF #1 in great shape (VVG) was about $11,000... mine is not perfect but is very good.. I havent priced it recently bu I know when the comic slump was on it was down in the $6-7000 range.. I imagin with comic mopvies doing ok and comics making a come back, its went up again some..

errr way off .. I never bought any to sell, as stated, i bought to collect. I DID NOT buy them to share, is that bad? I just cant trust pople to not damage them, even if its an accident. I DID BUY each and every one to read, but with that said when the COMIC boom cam in the late 80's i was fully aware of it and I bought (like a selling collector) several issues of certian stuff.. I have 5 #1 of TMNT, and many more from that area.. I kep tht practic up til the mid 90's when i releized I would never sell them iven when i had multipul copies.. so what was the point.. 30 years of collecting and I sold one set of comics ever.. When Valiant (90's version) started up they had a hero called Magnus, Robot Fighter (valiants Flagship title that alos introduced all its off shoot comics) I had 5 issues of 1-20 many wich included new heros that ogt there own comics. I sold one set for $240 (its value at the time was about $280)... ithe sets are not worth crap today.. but I'm almost sorry I sold it.. the only COMIC book i have ever sold.

I think a true collector loves the piece he collects, yet he also see's past its intended value. I know comics have value, I know I love to read them.. and when I look at them , pull them out of a bag and read them.. I think I relive a time in my life when things where simple/good and I feel a little bit of it again.. And selling them is almost a bit like selling a part of my past... I just dont want to do it.

there is something to be said when you show sombody else who loves the stuff too, it is fun to share then, and but that is the problem.. share means potential damage. I think Games should be shared in a "copied" state. That is where it gets tricky. Old games whre not sold like games today, so with so many copies destoryed, there just arent enouhg to go around so others can actually play them. If GOG can ever reach back to the OLD stuff.. as in really old.. maybe.. but for now.. I cant see shareing them..

davyK
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I believe collector's do have

I believe collector's do have a responsibility. The software , apart from very early stuff, is just a big binary integer stored on some medium. Looking after source code is another matter and is in the realm of the developers and publishers. However the medium and the physical bits and bobs that are required to recreate the complete experience are important. MAME on a PC compared to an arcade cabinet? Some people haven't lived.

The problem is the act of using the stuff is slowly destroying it. Media has a finite though yet to be determined life too. So reference pieces are required - hence the need for a museum. I think collectors should try and enjoy what they have and try and spread the joy - though its doubtful I would lend anyone what I have....

It would be great to see current examples of replacing old hardware with a modern equivalent - for example the Dreamcast drive - to prolong the life of hardware so that the original experience can be recreated for as long as possible. The experience is the key and whatever has to be done to try and keep it alive.

Matt Barton
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I pretty much stated my views

I pretty much stated my views above, so no need to rehash them here. I think that Americans (and from what I hear, the Japanese) seem to have a sort of obsession with keeping things behind glass, in plastic, etc., and not handling them or using them. I'm always surprised to watch British documentaries about history--they'll frequently show the host going into a museum and just being handed precious artifacts to hold and touch. When you go to an American museum, you can't touch anything. Apparently France and Egypt now have the bug, too, refusing to let tourists go to the cave paintings or tombs and instead offering fake recreations. I do think you lose a big part of the experience that way; it's too sanitized.

I think you either think there's something special about the objects themselves (the "aura", as Benjamin would put it), or you think a recreation or virtual experience is sufficient. If you have the former view, then it IS important for people to get to touch and use the stuff, regardless of the risk of long-term or even short-term destruction. In other words, the value of the thing is in doing that; just looking at a photo of it will never suffice. Indeed, the thing will eventually lose all value since no one will be permitted to share it and thus spread word of its effects.

Imagine going to an art gallery to see the Mona Lisa, but instead there is only one of those digital frames with a high resolution photo up there. Would you be satisfied with that? I hope not. Yet that's what I see so many things turning to...A copy/reproduction is "good enough," let's keep the "original" behind glass/sealed away and never touched. That's just wrong in my opinion.

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