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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

One Hundred Percent Completion!

Like many geeks, I like to collect things. Particularly cool or unique things.

I started small, collecting bottle caps that I found in the street while traversing my neighborhood via bicycle. I put them between the spokes of my wheels because I liked how they spun, and I cared not a whit for the additional drag they contributed.

Like others in my generation, I collected action figures and video games. My He-Man collection was unparalleled, and I had over sixty games for my Atari 2600—including E.T, which I not only played but beat.

Later, when I started to have money of my own, I set into collecting comic books. I have a collection of good-to-mint Sgt. Rock comic books that I’m quite proud of, the crown jewel of which is the first episode ever of Sgt. Rock, after they renamed Our Army At War after the most popular character. I bought it at a comic book convention for $0.50 from a vendor who was too busy with his X-men issues and fifty reboots of The Punisher to check the Overstreet guide, which would have told him to move the decimal to the right by two places.

I also have the complete set of Toxic Avenger comics in mint condition. The series lasted exactly one story arc, and didn’t finish out a full year, maxing out at eleven issues. Issue 10 was a bear to find, let me tell you, but I have them all.

Still later, out on my own with disposable income, I continued to collect video games and other things. Notable among them is a complete set of imported Japanese Evangelion action figures. They’re apparently part of an Anime series, but I bought them because they were cool—each figure boasting over 17 points of articulation, with interchangeable heads and hands to accommodate the different weapon loadouts that come with each figure. They’re the first action figures I’ve ever owned that could be placed into a proper Weaver stance, or configured to fire a sniper rifle while prone.

Most recently I’ve gotten over an obsession with a Hasbro property (now owned by Wizards of the Coast) known as Heroscape. For those not in the know, Heroscape is a light miniatures wargame played out on a fully 3-D map broken up into hexagonal tiles. Like any good miniatures based wargame, the core set can be expanded upon with new units and new tile sets.

For nearly two years I was obsessed with this game. My wife and I would play regular weekly games, and I bought nearly every expansion set I could lay my hands on. At last count, I have four core master sets (2 Rise of the Valkyrie, and one each of the Swarm of the Marro and Marvel Heroes sets) and one copy of each of the supplemental tile sets, including the ice, lava, forest and castle kits.

I also have figures. Boy, howdy, do I have figures. Not only do I have dozens of the basic unit expansion packs, but I also have several Hero unit sets, and I’m pretty sure I have every extra large unit they made for the game before WOTC bought the rights to it.

Recently, WOTC released a special Dungeons and Dragons themed master set. I am having a very difficult time resisting it.

This is typical of the Collector Geek, which I daresay is most geeks. Every geek collects something, be it books, movies, toys, or even just trivia knowledge. I’m sure those who are outside this particular Venn diagram would suggest some Freudian motive pertaining to the lack of lovin’ that geeks are assumed to get. The problem with this straw man is the fact that I continued to be a collector after meeting my wife, and was in fact enabled by her on the Heroscape obsession.

She understands the drive, because she’s something of the collector too. Her latest obsession is Pokemon cards. On Christmas eve we had one Pokemon card. It came in a happy meal. Today we have seven or eight decks of them. We’ve split them up according to which powers we like, and I’m pretty sure she’s going to consistently kick my butt because I opted for electric and fire Pokemon, while she went for plant and water Pokemon. (At the time we were divvying up the cards, neither of us was aware of the dominating nature of trees in the Pokemon universe. She just thought Turtwig was cute.)

The funny thing is that we haven’t played Pokemon but one time since getting the new cards. The only game we have played was with the training deck that I bought my wife for Christmas. Likewise, we haven’t played Heroscape since my daughter was born, but we have continued to accumulate units and terrain for it.

I think with these sorts of games, the game itself is almost secondary. The real appeal is the meta-game. Finding that level 2 pokemon so you have a bridge between a level 1 and a level 3 that are already in your deck but useless. Finding that discontinued expansion set of Heroscape dudes featuring colonial minutemen and werewolves. These are things that drive the collector. It’s not the having, or the using, it’s the acquisition. Marketers know this, and that’s why the collectible card game is so insidious as a product. The comparison with crack has been made and worn out, but it is apt.

I’m not sure why this is, exactly. I could say that it represented a flaw in our psyches that resulted in trying to fill a void in our souls with tiny plastic dudes carrying swords, also known as the “Why Didn’t You Love Me, Daddy?” explanation. Or I could say it was a manifestation of our own fear of growing up into mature adults, so we hide from father time under a mountain of Star Trek action figures. I could even say that we’re victims of a crass and materialistic society, but since we’re geeks and not women we buy fun stuff instead of shoes. (Oooh, I’d be getting some email about that one if I had any readers!)

But I prefer; and remember, I’m speaking for all geeks here; to think of it as a kind of self-improvement regimen. Whatever a person is, they usually want to be better at it. Jocks want to be better jocks, so they work out. Homemakers want to be better homemakers, so they watch Julia Child and Martha Stewart. Pretty people want to be prettier, so they buy makeup and trendy clothing and pay doctors gobs of money to prevent gravity for pulling on their floppy bits.

Well, geeks just want to be better geeks, so we strive to become bigger and better geeks. And what better way to accomplish that than by amassing the biggest collection of fill-in-the-blank ever? Remember, being a geek is all about being passionate about something. The more Star Trek toys, or Pokemon cards, or bootleg episodes of Reboot on DVD you have, the more evidence of your passion you have, and the bigger geek you are.

Even more than the amount of paraphernalia you amass, it’s important to have stories surrounding getting it. This is why midnight releases are so popular with a certain kind of geek. Sure, they could have downloaded it from Steam over night and had it ready to play when they woke up in the morning. But where’s the drama in that? Where’s the narrative? The camaraderie? Anyone can go order the special edition of Bioshock 2 from Amazon and wait for the backorder to be filled. But a true fan will camp out overnight at Best Buy (because pre-orders are fo suckas) and fight some dork in a Big Daddy costume to get the last copy with the useless vinyl LP of the soundtrack and the rolled up posters that they try to pass off as art by calling them lithographs. (Side note: Lithography is a technical term describing a method of applying ink to paper commonly used in the poster industry. Like Giclee—which is a French word that means “inkjet printer”-- Lithograph is a word used by good marketers to convince people that they’re buying something fancier than they are. So the next time someone brags over his special edition lithographs, feel free to marvel over the original artist’s ability to press Control and P simultaneously.)

Because the quality or usefulness of the pack-ins that come with a special edition of a game are immaterial. The point is that you’re a big enough geek to pay twice the cost of the game you want to play just to prove your love of the game to the world.

Granted, this is just one example, and not every geek is into Special Edition games. Though I have yet to meet a geek who didn’t like special editions of DVDs. I, myself, have no fewer than three different versions of Army of Darkness on DVD, and I’ve watched all of them (the theatrical release remains my favorite). And I’ve been coveting the special edition of Serenity since it came out, though I can’t justify buying it now that I have a mortgage and two kids.

Well, I could say more about the topic, but I’ve gone pretty far off the rails and I’m already over 1500 words, and nobody wants to read my blog as it is. Next week, something else.