It’s Saturday morning. I’ve just finished issue 164 of the British gaming magazine, Retro Gamer. There’s a great article by Kieren Hawken about the development of Todd’s Adventures in Slime World on the Atari Lynx. It’s an informative piece about a game I love on an underrated system I also love. After finishing the piece, I had the strongest desire to make a YouTube video talking about Slime World. But it’s 2017 and even if I had the same clout I did in 2010, it’d still be a niche topic. In short: No one cares.
I decide not to make the video.
As anyone who has watched my floundering YouTube efforts over the last few years knows, this slow slink into irrelevancy has been hard on me. It’s easy to believe, as some critics do, that my grievances are about massaging my bruised ego. Maybe I’ve not been very good at communicating just how much my mental health, rightly or wrongly, hinged on sharing things I loved with people. I genuinely enjoy telling others how great something is (which is why almost all of my videos are about things I like, and not rants and raves about things I don’t).
Passion with no place to go is difficult to accept.
My game room, gutted and dark upon moving out
In 2012, after I split with my longtime partner and lost my job and townhouse, I looked at this mountain of games I still had and felt disgust. To be clear, YouTube, video games and collecting played no part in my loss of any of those things. But when every important aspect of your life is in upheaval, it’s hard not to look at something like a massive video game collection and think that, perhaps, you wasted your time.
On a related note: Have you ever moved house with hundreds of pounds of video games? It’s terrible, backbreaking work and I never felt more terrifically stupid for owning all those games.
Part of the DS collection, packed and ready to move
Not long after moving, I considered selling my collection. All of it. It was a stone tied around my neck, weighing me down. My collection connected me to a life I no longer lived. This was mostly the unchecked depression talking. When it’s burrowed so deep in your brain, it can easily convince you that you hate the things you love. I’ve thankfully learned that acting too impulsively is a recipe for misery later and I didn’t sell my collection then. I sold my a good chunk of it later though.
With some distance and time from my series of significant losses, I approached the idea with a clearer head. I was no longer a 20something with endless income and I no longer had the same draw on YouTube. This was a different era of my life. I individually assessed the 2,400 games and 75 systems in my collection and put together a few questions to determine whether I should keep the item in question:
Do I truly plan on playing this game within the next year?
Does this game hold sentimental value?
Is this a handheld or Nintendo game?
Over a period of about a year, I parted with hundreds games that didn’t meet this criteria and I had to make some hard decisions. Take a game like Panzer Dragoon Saga for the Sega Saturn. An expensive, uncommon game coveted by collectors. I had a copy! I sold my copy. I enjoyed Panzer Dragoon Saga, but I was never going to play it again and I had no emotional attachment to it. It was a trophy rotting and collecting dust in storage. I sold it to my sister at well under market value. If I couldn’t adhere as closely as possible to the criteria I laid out for myself, I’d make all kinds of exceptions and I’d never get anywhere.
I felt triumphant when I first brought Panzer Dragoon Saga home
I’m often asked if I regret selling all those games. Strangely, I’m never asked if I ever regret spending $6,000 a year on video games. It’s the loss that people assume is the painful part, not the acquisition. If anything, selling half my collection was the healthiest aspect of all this! But to answer the question, I don’t actually know if I’ll regret this purge in the future. I might.
What I regret more is the series of events that lead me to make the decision to sell half my collection. Maybe regret isn’t the right word. It’s a lot like a relationship that had a lot of good times, but along the way, something went wrong and now the relationship isn’t healthy. So you split up with your partner. And splitting up was absolutely the right thing to do, but you kind of wish it wasn’t. I miss spending evenings in my game room playing obscure shit no one has ever heard of with a cold Newcastle at my side. I remember spending a sweltering summer, before I installed an air conditioner in my game room, playing Atari 2600 games for hours on end. I didn’t have one growing up and I was amazed by how addictive such a simple console was.
And I loved sharing what I experienced on YouTube.
You should totally play Blood Will Tell if you haven’t already
These are great memories, but I no longer live in that era of my life and desperately clinging to it is foolish. As difficult as it was, it was far healthier for me to forge forward instead of trying to find solace in a past already lived.
And it’s not as if I don’t still collect! Number 3 in my criteria left an opening. As someone who loves both handheld games and Nintendo games, I created a path for future collecting based on the tastes I developed over the years of collecting anything and everything. So instead of buying 30 games a month, I have a big month if I buy as many as five. This feels a lot better. And hey, I own every Nokia NGage game ever released now, so there’s that.
What really sets this era in my life apart is that collecting is no longer the entirety of who I am. It’s still a hobby I find pleasure in, but I’ve made time for other things. I read a lot more. I paint and make art (sometimes I’m even good at it). I’ve taken a shine to hiking because it’s good outdoor exercise that doesn’t require much coordination. I’ve had to rebuild meaning in my life.
Still up for debate whether mediocre paintings are a better use of my time
Spreading myself out a little more is probably also a kind of defense mechanism. I’m future-proofing myself against further assaults on my mental health. It probably makes me a little more interesting to talk to as well. Sometimes, though, I miss the bright fiery passion of having a singular obsession, but then I remember the devastating loss of self when there was nothing left of me to burn.
Over the past few years, I’ve become more open about my mental health. Although stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions still persist, the climate for discussing these things has become a little friendlier. It’s still difficult for me, not because of shame or guilt, but because I am not prepared to perform in the spotlight it places on me. Speaking about one’s mental health is still novel enough that even off-the-cuff discussions can be enough to capture a rapt audience. I don’t know what I can actually add to the conversation.
To wit, many viewers and readers privately told me that they appreciate the open dialog about my mental illness. Some have even taken the time to tell me their own stories. I’m surprised, and in some ways, heartened, by the response. It’s made me wonder if there is something inherently attractive to nerd culture for those with mental illness, but that’s a different subject and probably difficult to qualify (not to mention well above my pay grade).
I’m embarrassed to admit that there is no real point sharing my history of mental illness. I am telling self-indulgent stories in search of my own catharsis. If you incidentally find comfort or wisdom in this, then that is fantastic and I wish you the best of luck. But beyond that, I have no panacea and for that I am sorry.