Wednesday, October 31, 2018

How I Got Into Collecting Video Games

In the past I have gone into detail about my origins with video games, so this article isn't about that. Instead, this article is about how I got into collecting video games and what the climate was like at the time I started. Maybe it'll be mildly interesting to look back on it. Let's find out!

In the Beginning...

As a kid, I never imagined I'd own as many games as I do today. I started with the Atari 2600, but that system isn't the one that shaped my childhood. The Nintendo Entertainment System is the one that really got me into video games. In fact, the Atari was pretty much put away for good once I got my hands on the NES. It just didn't compare at all, and there was no going back to it.

For Christmas, birthdays, or the always rare occasion of "no reason," I received 23 NES games over time back in the day. I feel it's important to begin this article showing you what I had and grew up playing when the console was new.

Of course I rented games here and there and played miscellaneous other games over at a friends' houses, but those above were the ones I owned.

In the beginning of 1994 the final NES game was released, but I had moved on to the Super Nintendo before that occurred. In this time period between the fall of the NES and the release of the Nintendo 64 in 1996, I started getting NES games for a few bucks each at a tiny grocery store near my grandparents' house.

Buying from Horn's Market

I used to spend every weekend with my grandparents in a little town called Creal Springs. Creal is a very small town with, according to the linked Wikipedia article, less than 600 residents. Once upon a time there was a little family owned grocery store on the main drag called Horn's Market. Horn's has since closed and a year or two ago was literally reduced to a pile of rubble. Horn's Market was a very important part of not only my childhood, but also with getting me into buying old games.

Horn's used to rent movies and video games, and if you wanted, you could also buy the games. In the beginning, they had various NES games wrapped in Saran wrap for about $5 each, if memory serves. The games were of varying quality, but nothing I bought was unplayable. Probably the best games I bought from this lot were Super Dodge Ball and Wizards & Warriors III: Kuros - Visions of Power. Over time I picked up everything they were offering at this price point, and eventually began buying some of the NES games they had for rent. The price tag on those was a big higher, with the NES games being $10 each and the Super Nintendo and Genesis games being $25. I typically stuck to buying NES, though. Almost every weekend I would go into Horn's Market and I would buy two NES games. In retrospect, this was really the start of it., 1997
Buying (Briefly) Online

Frequently my friend Brett would join me on my weekend stays with my grandparents. He too got into buying NES games from Horn's Market. One night when we were at my grandparents' house visiting, Brett discovered a website that sold used video games called, appropriately, Their prices were significantly lower than the prices we were paying at Horn's, so we both ended up buying two or three lots of games from them each, sight unseen. Looking at the site now it looks super sketchy, but it was legit. Some of the things we ordered from them didn't arrive in very good condition, but the fact that anything arrived at all is a million wonders. Before I knew it, between that and Horn's, I had a pretty good NES collection going.

Emulation and Video Game Related Websites

Simultaneously, in 1997, I became aware of emulation. I assume anyone reading this article would know what emulation is, but if anyone doesn't, I'll refer you to this Wikipedia article which will tell you more about it than I ever could. My friends and I downloaded an NES emulator called NESticle and started trying out as many games as we could. We even had NESticle loaded onto our desktops in computer lab in High School. Emulation helped me learn which games were good that I otherwise had never heard of. I was able to experiment with a bunch of different games and determine which ones to look for that I hadn't yet played.

I spent more and more time online looking into NES games and trying to learn as much as I could about them. There were many sites devoted to the hobby popping up all the time, and one site that I used to absolutely love was called |tsr's NES Archive, and what do you know, it still exists. This site was far and away my favorite NES site to visit, and I would spend hours there combing over the same articles over and over again. The presentation looks dated now, but at the time I thought it was the coolest. There was also NES World that I would frequent, which also still exists.

My NES collection from 1999, around 230 games
Pawn Shop Boom

During this time, I also learned about pawn shops. I suppose I had heard of pawn shops before, but I didn't know what they really were. I was told by a friend of mine one day that a local pawn shop called Midwest Cash had a ton of NES games for super cheap. A few friends and myself raced over there and we found racks and racks of NES games for less than $5 each, which at that point was even cheaper than what we were paying online at These were the glory days of NES collecting, and this time period is when a lot of my NES games were acquired. Mike Etler's NES Rarity List was like my bible, and I studied it and sought after the "rare" games it listed. I got into buying pretty heavy at this point, and this is the point that I could definitively say that I became a video game collector.

I could leave the house and come home with a huge stack of NES games for less than the cost of a single new game. My original goal was to own every "black box" game. Then that turned into me wanting to own any NES game someone would ever want to play, giving me the ultimate collection. So, for example, if someone asked, "Do you have Ring King?" and I didn't, then I would have to go buy Ring King. Then eventually that turned into just wanting every NES game released in America. Currently I've abandoned trying to get all the unlicensed games, because that's a vague and gray area for me.

When and Where to Strike

Any time a new game console would release, that was the time to hit up the pawn shops. People would unload old games they didn't want anymore to fund the purchase of the new system. So around the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 launch eras, you could easily find so much new old stock of games just from hitting up the same few stores once or twice a week. It was constantly flowing in to the pawn shops, and I had several in the area to hit up.

Old games were worthless to a lot of people, so they'd sell them all to a pawn shop for I guess a few cents and the pawn shop would sell them to me for $3.49. Nothing was worth anything close to what it's worth today. And they didn't care what the game was, either. Every game was $3.49 no matter what it was. I picked up Final Fantasy for the same price as Sesame Street ABC. No one cared about this stuff at the time. I would even ask friends if they had any old games they wanted to get rid of and almost every time I asked they did. I could absorb their entire collection for very cheap or in some cases for nothing at all.

My NES collection from 2005
Another great place to check during new console cycles were rental stores. During this time, many rental places were selling off their old stock of games, and I found quite a bit in my area. Say for instance a store needed to clear room for the brand new GameCube that was coming out, they had to purge a previous generation of games to make room for it. That's how I got EarthBound for $10.

A Different Landscape

The Nintendo World Championship cart has appeared on Pawn Stars. Stadium Events was on an episode of Storage Wars. A lot of people watch these shows and to them it looks like every NES game is worth a fortune, so then suddenly you see these games that used to cost a few dollars at the most running well over $30 on the low end. That is, if you can find anything at all that isn't a sports game. Which good luck with that.

Additionally, you didn't have YouTube around with channel after channel of people talking about retro gaming. Now all it takes is a prominent YouTuber to talk about a game, call it a "hidden gem" or say it's hard to find, and the price will spike. And to clarify, I enjoy all those YouTube channels. I'm not trying to drag any of them. Anyway, what was once a contained little bubble has now exploded, and it seems like more people are collecting retro games than aren't. In other words, when I started collecting, there was no competition. Now it's nothing but.

All that's left at the pawn shop.

It has become increasingly difficult to find NES games I don't own, so I ended up resorting to buying seal of quality and screw variants in a desperate attempt to maintain the thrill of the hunt. Soon, even that dried up. Now I seldom even encounter NES games at all at in the wild. The only place I ever really see them now is at specialty shops or comic conventions. The prices are so crazy now that I sometimes think about how lucky I am that I started when I did. The stuff I found back then, if I tried to buy it all today in this retro game climate, would be impossible for me. I mean, I paid $10 for Little Samson and thought that was a lot of money. Because back then, it was. $10 for one game was crazy talk. Now, Little Samson fetches... checking... over a grand for a loose copy.

Advice for Potential New Collectors

For anyone wanting to get into collecting old games now, I only have one word to say: Don't. Just emulate it. That's probably an unexpected thing to hear from a guy with a big physical game collection, but it's true.

You'll have purists tell you it's just not the same to emulate, and in a lot of ways it's not. In my opinion, it's actually better. Save states, screen captures, audio dumps, hacked saves, the ability to play unreleased games, the ability to play fan translated games, the ability to play games that xXSSJRaditzFan420Xx is charging hundreds of dollars for online for free... it's hard to suggest not emulating. If you want to play it on your television, just run a cable from your computer to your TV and do it that way. Grab an adapter from Amazon and use a real NES controller to play with while you're at it. Your bank account will thank you.

Final Thoughts

It's quite fortunate that I got into retro gaming when I did. Like I said before, it would be impossible to have the collection I currently have if the prices then were anywhere close to what they are now. I see people paying premium prices for games I got for less than the cost of a DQ Blizzard and I just shake my head. I don't really know what would have to happen for the retro bubble to to burst, but I kind of wish it would. Then I could actually finish my collection.

I never got into collecting to sell later. I didn't start buying NES games as some kind of future investment. Having the bottom drop out of them and the value plummeting would actually please me more than upset me.

The days of maybe coming across Stadium Events at a pawn shop for $3.49 are long gone, friends. Then again, Mike Etler said it was a B rarity. According to him, Hollywood Squares is more rare, and I have that, so...

I'm being sarcastic.

My current NES collection, including variants and duplicates.

1 comment:

  1. Was so fun to find a random Final Fantasy cartridge for like $8.