Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Garage Sale Hauls

Garage sale season doesn't really begin until May -- there are always a few stragglers before the wave hits, but typically their iconoclastic hosts will have similarly outlying taste in regards to the materials they're hoping to sell you. And yet and yet... we are having another baby in June. (The first is already a big fan of Pac-Man and Mario, so soon the gamers in the house will hold a majority power bloc!) And so... we will not be making it out to many sales this summer. But we have managed to hit a few thus far, to some good effect.

There are some immutable laws of the historical echo effect with second-hand goods: what you find second-hand of course changes over time -- I remember how back in the day NES carts were plentiful at Value Village, but eventually all the kids went to college, all the attics were emptied and all the plastic cartridges found their way channelled through the thrift shops and into all the collectors' basements, and now they are once again rare and costly. When I came into my own as a regular thrift store patron was during that particular moment in time when mostly you would find Xbox original and PlayStation 2 games up for grabs, with occasional murmurs of the fading echoes of the PS1 and Dreamcast eras, but all earlier gaming history had been recognized in its due course as actually historical, and had emerged from the trough of no value alchemically transmutated from "dated" to "vintage". Basically, if you adhere to my standards of not collecting games for systems you don't own, you always need to be current to within a generation or two to pick up the good deals, or else you're not helping people by picking up their trash but instead competing with collectors for collections. Eww.

Consequently, now that I've inherited a Wii and an Xbox 360 (and just whose PS3 will end up taking residence on my shelf, anyhow?) I'm starting to purchase games for those machines second-hand, just when they're beginning to dominate the field of what I find on offer at sales. (It's an extreme novelty to me to be in ownership of systems for which I could, hypothetically, go to the store and buy new, first-run games. I was very briefly in this situation with our bought-new PlayStation 2, picked up at fire sale prices well after the PS3 had landed (though the PS2 continued to outsell it for quite a while), buying a handful of games new -- so few I can name them: Dance Dance Revolution Supernova 2 (as it was intended as a cheap alternative to Wii Fit), Beyond Good and Evil, Secret Agent Clank, and Shadow of the Colossus. Then the PS2 shelves were redecorated as PS4 shelves and my machine's future prospects became purely second-hand, and the Nintendo DS waved its freak flag high as the only machine in my burgeoning coterie for which new games could be bought in-store. Handheld hardware seems to age at a different pace from home consoles, a phenomenon perhaps worthy of study. Actually it ages both faster and slower than home consoles; most of them are obsolete overnight, unless they're made by Nintendo, the Dorian Gray of the handheld gaming industry. But I digress.)

Clockwise, we have: for the XBOX 360: Super Street Fighter IV, Viva Pinata, and Two Worlds; for the Nintendo Wii: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, No More Heroes, and Mario Party 8; for the Nintendo DS: Super Monkey Ball Touch & Roll; and some weird stuff: the official Tetris card game (Uno, reskinned, though I think the winner need announce "Tetroono" when one point away from winning), and issue #1 of DC's bizarre brand cash-in comic book, Atari Force. As the home consoles have gotten more powerful and development budgets to throw your hat in their ring inflated, I think a lot of the small fish were removed from the game development ecosystem and consequently buying random games for this generation of hardware is likely to be less of a complete crapshoot -- while I have no direct experience with any of these games, they are all flagship representatives of beloved brands (Street Fighter, Metroid, Monkey Ball) or at least they're not-unknown and well-reviewed titles. Sadly, I'm not going to find anything truly out of left field (my favourite niche) for these machines, but I can be contended with the assumption of at least a baseline standard of quality and polish. (How bad can a Street Fighter game on 21st-century hardware going to be to a fellow who downloaded and played Stick Fighter 2 under MS-DOS?) Perhaps my favorite part of the photo spread is looking at the original price on the SF4 box and comparing it to the yard sale price next to it on Viva Pinata. Games: probably a worse investment than cars, at least in the medium term.

And as the tide rolls in, bringing new games into my nets, so it also washes out, taking away surplus from my tangled collection:

(Insert supercomputer-smuggling joke here.) The retro gaming lucre flows in and as it does, redundancies begin accumulating very quickly -- second copies of games already owned (I had to start a mobile-device master list of games owned because I could no longer keep track from memory (things grow hazy after the first few hundred) and found I had accidentally duplicated a fifth of my collection), second MACHINES already owned (or streamlined out with back-compatibility -- with the PS2 in effect, there is no compelling argument for keeping a PS1 on life support. Arguably that could apply to any system that can be easily emulated on a PC, but let's not get carried away here) and extra bibs and bobs -- spare joysticks and multitaps, power and A/V cords, etc. etc. You can consider it like a sports car -- for value, you buy two, and keep one around for spare parts -- but really once you have a working system, especially one that may only get used twice a year at retro gaming parties, you can only justify keeping all the extra bits around if you live on a rural ranch with bona fide outbuildings and a back 40. (Related: my working C64 came into my hands after spending 25 years forgotten in a barn. The broken one... was sourced from the flea market. There is a special circle of hell for those who sell broken hardware packed in its original box.)

Here, I have turned my problem -- what am I going to do with all this stuff (Not pictured: a surplus Wii and an original Xbox) with a growing family and a finite homestead -- into a boon for my friend. He took them last Saturday (also helping me test-drive the Tetris card game -- verdict, probably not as much fun as a set of wooden Russian polyominoes -- and introducing me to the saga of The Atariian vs. Ninja-Endo, which I will be filling you in about soon) and already this coming weekend he has plans to have people over to play games on them. That's infinitely better use than I was putting them to (infinite because of a divide by zero error), so I consider it a win/win.