Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Unsentimenal Famicom Collector

Today's post is brought to you by our new sponsor: my Jaleco cart collection. Remember their motto:

Jaleco Famicom carts: Buy 'em cuz they got "Jaleco" written on them. And stuff.

Anyway, enough of this shameless commercialization. I have other things to discuss.

I've been trying to wax philosophic recently about my Famicom collection. As you can probably infer from the fact that I keep a blog about it, I am rather fond of my collection.

But I'm not sure how to define that "fondness" I have for it. Do I like the Famicom for nostalgic purposes? Because I like the retro-80s look? Because the games are fun? What?
What has spurred this introspection has, of all things, been my recent browsing habits on Ebay. I've noticed that the types of things which I look longingly at are almost entirely toys that I used to have as a kid in the 80s. Gobots, the little G.I. Joe action figures, vintage Star Wars stuff, Light Brights, Garbage Pail Kids, Dukes of Hazzard lunch boxes.....this is the sort of thing that I devote time to just looking at pictures of.

I never buy any of that stuff though. I really WANT that stuff, but I never follow through and buy it.

Partially this is because I'm a starving student who can't afford to be spending big bucks on shipping vintage toys across the Pacific. Mainly though its because of the realization that what I want out of these toys is something they can't give me.

When I see a picture of a toy I had as a kid, it usually brings a specific memory to mind. I remember having the thing in my hand. I remember being 8 or 9 years old. I remember being surrounded by friends and family - most of them faces I haven't seen in decades. I remember cold mornings in the playground before school started, with a prized possession in my backpack. I remember sitting on the floor at a friend's house, riding a bike, walking through the woods - all the things that kids do.

Oh god, this post is getting way too sentimental. I better move on before you start looking up silly kitten videos on Youtube or something.

My point is that what I want out of those toys is associated with these types of memories. I don't want the thing itself, I want to be in the same situation I was in when I originally owned them.

That of course is impossible. I've noticed that on the odd occasion when I actually do acquire a toy that I owned as a kid, its always a massively disappointing and empty experience for that reason. Its like some part of my brain which is fundamentally incapable of cognitive reasoning (my stupid, sentimental side) actually expected the acquisition of this toy to transport me back to Christmas morning in 1984 or something. Actually getting the thing and realizing that it doesn't have this magical power is always a let-down. In the end, I'm just a 34 year old with a hunk of plastic in his hand.

Er...I should note that I am an extremely happy 34 year old, all I'm saying is that like everyone the sentimental part of me sometimes longs for the simplicity of youth and the desire to "go back".

So my preference - dictated by the cold, rational part of my brain - is to just leave those toys as nothing but images on Ebay to me. I actually get quite the kick out of that. Looking at them feeds the sentimental, stupid part of my brain. It thinks:

"Hey, look. G.I. Joe. Remember the playground near our old house where we used to play with these? I want to go back there. If we buy this, it will take us back there. Buy this."

Then the cold, rational part of my brain, which has a sort of maternal protective instinct for the stupid sentimental part, tells it:

"Yes, that is a nice memory. Its too bad we can't buy that though. Maybe someday though. Then we'll go back to the playground."

This satisfies the stupid, sentimental part of my brain. It keeps him quite happy with anticipation. It encourages him to recall these sentimental memories and be satisfied with them. It also protects him from the disappointment of realizing that the old adage "there is no going back" is brutally true.
Anyway. The Famicom is kind of an odd fit for me from this perspective. It is a toy that existed at the time I was a child. But it is something that I never actually had or was even aware of when I was a kid.

So its kind of the perfect thing for me to collect. I have no emotional expectations from it like I do with toys I actually had (or wanted) as a kid. The stupid, sentimental part of my brain is only vaguely interested in it. It kind of excites a very general type of sentimentality for "the 80s", but it doesn't call to mind any specific childhood memories. So the risk of my stupid, sentimental half of the brain having its illusions shattered isn't a concern.

At the same time, it is a rather fun thing to collect. I realize as I do so that, freed from the emotional baggage, I am free to create new memories with my Famicom. If I were to run off and buy a bunch of G.I. Joe action figures, the memories I have of them would always be rooted in my childhood and not the present.
With Famicom games, the memories I am creating are all pleasant ones rooted in "the now."
Thanks, Garth. Love you, man. Anyway, I'll always associate my Famicom stuff with me in my 30s, living here in Fukuoka and generally having a fun time with them.

This is probably something that attracts the non-Japanese Famicom collectors like me out there, even if they never explicitly state it like this. We have no childhood memories of the Famicom. Sure, we have memories of some of the games - but not the physical items themselves, which are quite distinct from what we had as kids (big, gray NES carts). At the same time, they do appeal to us because they look in a very general way like the sort of thing we had as kids. Just similar enough to make us like them and enjoy them, but not similar enough to actually make us associate them with specific childhood memories. The Famicom keeps our illusions intact. We don't have to go back, all we have to do is enjoy what we have.

13 comments:

  1. Very nice post, as always.

    As to the point of your post: I think I'm in a similar, although not exactly the same, spot. I don't necessarily have any nostalgic feelings for the Famicom, as I obviously didn't own one as a kid (just an NES), but I've always had an interest in Japanese games in general -- esp. those that never made it to the States. (Like the Famicom versions of Final Fantasy II and II.) As such, I think part of my interest in the Famicom system and its games stems from my desire to own things that I *wish* I had owned as a kid. (I think this is even more true of my interest in the PC Engine, as although I had a slight interest in owning a Famicom as a kid, I was *obsessed* with the tiny PCE at that age.) That said, another part of my interest in the Famicom is that, as much as I enjoy current consoles and games, I think many older games were not only simpler (better for my rapidly worsening attention span) but more creative, too. Finally, another part simply prefers the aesthetics of Famicom carts and boxes to their American counterparts.

    Anyway, I've rambled. As always, thanks for the post -- and thanks for making me think about this subject more than I would have otherwise.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, and good points. It is interesting that you had such an interest in Japanese games at an early age. When I was a kid I don't think I could even point to Japan on a map, let alone know anything about video games there. You were ahead of your time back then!

    And I of course totally agree about the qualities of the Famicom that make it so awesome - the carts, box art and simplicity of the games. For me the sentimental detachment is just one of many factors that contribute to my fascination with it.

    And, in all honesty, I should admit that if I ever become rich, I'll probably go on an Ebay spending spree and buy up every toy I feel sentimental about. :)

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  3. A very entertaining post once again, nice one! :) I'm exactly the same as you regarding the toys thing. I always look back at things I owned and want them again and on the rare occasion I buy them, it's always a let down. You'd think I'd learn!

    Unlike you though, my interest in retro gaming is, at least in part, due to my childhood experiences. I do after all have most affection for the Master System and Spectrum, my first console and computer respectively, and I still have almost no experience of using an NES or Commodore 64, the rivals of those machines.

    Like Bryan though, I do also like to play games I always wanted to buy when I was younger too, including what was at the time a Holy Grail - the PC Engine!

    I never was a collector really though, but more of a hoarder. A vast majority of my game collection was ones I bought when that system was new, I just never got rid of them when the next machine game out.

    I have realised recently though, that when I play retro games, it's nearly always via emulation so I can get screenshots for possible reviews/website features, so there's not a lot of point in actually keeping the originals - they're just sitting in a drew getting older - so I started selling off my collection around a year ago. I love having them and am very sad to see them go, but it makes sense...

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  4. Sean: I started reading magazines like EGM, GamePro and Nintendo Power as soon as they were unleashed onto the market. All of them covered Japanese systems and games at some point, esp. during the transition from the 8-bit to the 16-bit era. That's when I became interested (obsessed) with Japanese gaming.

    Simon: I think it's interesting that you tend to play retro games via emulation these days. I kind of hate to admit it, but I do too! Part of it, for me, has to do with the annoyance of lugging old systems and games out of their resting spots, and some of it has to do with preferring to play the games as cleanly (in terms of graphics, especially) as possible. Unfortunately, playing Famicom and PC Engine games natively (i.e., via RCA cables) on my 40-inch (or whatever size it is) flatscreen TV can be an ugly experience, whereas using my homebrewed Wii to play the same games on the same TV is a much prettier experience.

    That said, I like to play the games as they're supposed to be played every now and then, esp. since it means using the systems' original controllers.

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  5. Simon - I totally see your point. Actually I also get a lot of fun from games I had/wanted as a child too. I think I'll make a post about my Commodore Vic-20 sometime.

    My point here is really just that for me, the Famicom is kind of interesting because it isn't something I knew about as a kid, but is like the stuff I knew about as a kid. So it generates a vaguely sentimental feeling in me, but nothing specific.

    I can see the attraction of emulation from that perspective too, though I never do it (hence the lack of screen shots on this blog).

    Bryan - ah, the magazines! That makes sense. I spent most of the late 80s in Europe and never saw any of the video game mags.

    I tend to agree about the "pain in the ass" aspect of retro gaming on original consoles too. It is one of my big headaches - too many wires! I have a Famicom, PC Engine, Mega Drive, Super Famicom, N64 and PS2 all hooked up to a single TV in my living room. I've hidden most of the cables behind the TV stand and taken to removing the controllers and placing them in a separate box when I'm not using the console, but it is still a massive mess.

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  6. I had all my consoles set up like you do until recently, Sean, but they're all in the wardrobe now. :( I love to play the original games on the original consoles but I just don't get the time. I spend so much time playing games via emulation for the blog, there's not really any time left for playing them 'properly', especially as the missus HATES videogames. I have trouble getting away with spending the amount of time on them that I already do!

    I think retro gaming for me is partly the sentimental/nostalgia thing, especially with regards to using the originals, but I do genuinely enjoy playing them too, and discovering great older games that I've never played before. There's still so many to find too, it's great! :)

    By the way, I love the photos on your blog! I presume it's your own collection and you take them yourself?

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  7. Yeah, I can appreciate the trouble the old consoles can be!! :)

    And thanks for the comment about the photos. All Famicom photos on this blog are taken by me:)

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  8. I found out a while ago now that the memory trigger brought on by seeing a picture of something long since forgotten isn't made any stronger by actually having that thing. Getting an old toy from Ebay just isn't the same because it isn't the actual old toy I had back then. So I just look and save those pictures off to the HD for those times when I fancy a nostalgic wallow.

    Seeing your great pics and reading your blog I could so see myself easily getting infatuated with Famicom carts. The Super Famicom is my thing (had it from the Japanese launch in 1990) and I still play it regularly. Although I love the boxes, the grey carts are a little dull and the multi-coloured Famicom carts are things of beauty. Have you got any recommendations of where to start with FC game collecting? Especially for those of us who can't just pop down to the store and see what they've got in the 100yen bargain bins.

    Great blog :)

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  9. Too true, Wil, too true!

    I like my Super Famicom too, but yes, as you say, the multi-color carts of the Famicom are way more attractive. I don't know why they started making all carts gray after the Famicom, its such a shame.

    Not too sure about advice as to where to start with Famicom collecting as I've solely acquired mine from local shops. Ebay has a lot and Famicomworld posters usually have stuff for sale/trade. It definitely pays to shop around though - if you can find a lot of games they usually go for cheaper than when sold individually!

    And thanks for the comment!

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  10. I'm sentimental when it comes to my NES collection. So I light be a little sentimental for the original Famicom releases of my favorite games. I would love to get a Famicom, and start a Famicom collection as well. I just need to get the console before I start buying games I can't play. Sean, I think I wanted to start a Famicom collection, after I started reading your blog, as well as Famicom Freak's over at Retro Gaming Life. I'll let you know how my quest is going.

    I should have done this long ago, but I'll be adding you to my blogroll this evening. Keep up the awesome work!

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  11. HI Jason, thanks for the comment!

    I hope you will get that Famicom, and keep us updated with pics of it on your blog when you do get one!!

    I'm only a bit sentimental towards my NES. I think its because I was 13 years old when I got it, so it arrived in my life just a bit too late to figure into my "childhood" memories and instead was relegated to the "awkward early teens" years.

    The Commodore Vic-20 and (to a lesser extent) Apple IIC score much higher on my sentimentality meter because I had them when I was a kid. We also had a Magnavox Odyssey, but only for a couple of years!

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  12. Way cool. Thanks for sharing! Interesting tidbit: window shopping releases the same kinds and amounts of endorphins as ACTUALLY buying something. You're tapping in to that kind of thing here, and it's very good for you. I always feel better after I look at my Amazon wish list, even when I don't buy something.

    Great post, sir!

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  13. Very interesting point about the endorphins, Justin, thanks for that! It just further reinforces my desire to idly browse Ebay -- come on endorphins! Do your work!

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