I started collecting about seven years ago, by myself. Slowly wandering around my neighborhood yard sales, thrift stores, pawnshops, and flea markets digging through grimy, dirty bins and stacks of CDs and DVDs, hoping to unearth some part of my childhood from years ago. Growing up, “new to me games” were often found at thrift stores and garage sales, they were cheaper, and honestly, my family didn’t have much money. It didn’t matter though because I liked playing games. I would play anything, marveling at the moving pictures on the screen that I could control, and spent many years growing up playing an Atari that my aunt had given me. I loved it and loved every single game I played on it. I was mesmerized by the art on the boxes and cartridges, and as a kid with a vivid imagination, I was hooked. It wasn’t just a ball bouncing off a paddle, it was an astronaut fighting for his life in the sub-zero coldness of space by clearing space debris so he could get home. And I was the astronaut. Much like that astronaut from Super Breakout, I was often alone in my gaming journey.
Video gaming and retro game collecting kind of tend to be a solitary hobby. After all, you only need a few things to play a video game, a TV, a game to play, and yourself. Playing a game of Pac-man isn’t dependent on whether or not someone can get off of work early or has to find a babysitter. Game collecting isn’t dependent on anything except being able to move your body, money, and time. Those factors are often things I can control, but it still felt like I was missing something. Recently, I’ve been wanting to connect with other collectors. We find these pieces of our past, often excavated from the mounds of dust accumulated in basements and memories of childhoods that once were. Collecting the games isn’t enough, at least not for me. Part of the memory is the connection we make with others. I remember the first time I played Street Fighter II in a cold strip mall in Syracuse, and how the snow was still bright even though it sat under an overcast sky. But, I also remember the times where my friends and I would play in the schoolyard tripping over the roots of trees and covering ourselves in grass stains, as we emulated Ryu and Ken shooting our imaginary Hadokens at each other. It wasn’t just the game that brought us joy, it was more than that. The need to connect led me to start joining some of the local gaming collecting groups. One of them being run by a friend of mine, James.
James started hosting a retro gaming trade night outside of Charlotte. Many of the attendees were members of the group he set up. I, of course, wanted to attend to get some new games, meet new people, and possibly move some of the stuff I have picked up over the years that I haven’t used. So, my buddy and I jumped in the car and began our two and half hour car ride to Charlotte. Mostly, the ride was uneventful, like most journeys to Charlotte are, and no matter how fast you travel it never seems like you get there fast enough.
We arrived a little after 6pm and the event was in full swing. It was being hosted a local brewery with a great selection of beer, and fantastic BBQ outside. Unfortunately, we got to the event a bit late, so we missed out on a lot of the BBQ options. That aside, the event was amazing. There were door prizes, a contest to see who could get the highest score on a Donkey Kong competition cartridge, and a lot of trading. There was even a Secret Santa event. Most importantly, the event did wonders for building the feeling of togetherness with the attendees. Instant friendships were started over the simple idea of everyone getting to know each other and our love of video games. I’m sure I wasn’t the only attendee who was reminded of those few times when we would play games with our friends, experience the excitement of making new connections, with a part of us wishing the fun would never end . Because in the end, part of the nostalgia we chase is the connections we made when younger. The early Saturday mornings where the Sun would slowly seep throughout the house like oil seeping through a drop rag as we waited in anticipation to play with our friends, wondering what games we could play. The games traded and borrowed from friends during recess because each one of those experiences were our own eye-opening event that compelled us to share and connect with others. In a small way allowing us to be a part of a connection bigger than ourselves and the moment we shared.
Donald Paris is a contributing editor for The NES Page. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte. His articles have also appeared on East Coast Games. His poetry has appeared in Calamus Journal, Cease, Cows, Eunoia Review, Public Pool, Rat’s Ass Review, Sonic Boom, The Camel Saloon, Other Journal, The Rising Phoenix Review, Uppagus, and Verse-Virtual. He is also one half of the podcast show The Rick and Don Show at rickanddon.com. He is currently a Watering Hole fellow.