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Art of the Genre: The Weight of Print

Monday, February 18th, 2013 | Posted by Scott Taylor

DSC_1027When I was a kid, I loved where I lived. Honestly, I had a great childhood, raised along a tranquil riverbank in a peaceful little town in northwest Indiana. I had no siblings to distract me from my internal reverie, was cared for by a loving mother who chose me over all else, and had friends fostered from Kindergarten all the way to High School Graduation.

I would sit and wonder about all the kids in my class that would rage and swear at our small town, and ‘how they were going to get out as soon as they could’. To me, I could think of no place I’d rather be.

However, upon graduation I moved to southern Indiana to go to university, and by my sophomore year had met my wife. She, unlike me, had a turbulent childhood with dozens of moves and no lifelong friends or a place that she identified as ‘home’. As is the case with most single children who become involved with people who have many siblings and large families, I was pressed to follow her family and so began a journey that has taken me all over the U.S. in the intervening years.

Yes, the kid who never wanted to leave his town has lived in half a dozen states and moved more times than I’d like to remember, which is to say pretty much every three years for two decades.

Why do I bring this up, you might be asking yourself? Well, I bring it up because of my books, most specifically my RPG books. If you have ever had to move, you know the burden each piece of your life [bed, couch, clothes, kitchen supplies, etc.] places on you as you try to pack it, protect it, and hump it into trucks, cars, up steps, down steps, and across countless miles.

DSC_1028In this, I have two things that are notorious strikes against me.  One, I’m a collector, and Two, I’m a Game Master.

As a collector, it is my instinct to horde stuff, and I inexplicably feel compelled to ‘finish’ every collection I start, owning everything of any particular object of my desire. For over a decade of moves I lugged around fifteen long boxes of comics that I never read or intended to read, until I finally purged them in 2009 before a move from Maryland to California. The weight of all that print was horrific, but I finally let it go, and my life has been better ever since.

I did the same thing in 2006 with my huge collection of paperback books, seven large boxes of them, devastating to both my back and workspace. They garnered me $24.56 at a used book seller, but I let them all go, and my life was better for it.

Still, the one thing I can’t seem to get rid of is my RPG collection, and as I sit writing this today, looking at an entire wall of games, I have to ask are these books here for a reason?

Like most gamers who are also Game Masters, it has been my responsibility to invest heavily in game content for the games that I run. Where a player can get away with a single core book, GMs must have nearly everything else that the company releases as source material to run an effective campaign. However, the real burden hits when the campaign ends.

DSC_1029Once you and your players tire of a game, all that was acquired for it gets moved to a shelf to sit, more often than not, never to be used again. So it has gone for me with Star Frontiers, Planescape, Spelljammer, Shadowrun, Battletech, Earthdawn, Middle-Earth Role-Playing, Legend of the Five Rings, Robotech, Rifts, Conan, Marvel Super Heroes RPG, Boot Hill, Gangbusters, Gamma World, Call of Cthulhu, Deadlands, and Dark Sun.

Then you take into account the small campaigns and one shots like Runequest, Indiana Jones, Al-Qadim, Game of Thrones, Warhammer Fantasy RPG, 7th Sea, Exalted, Starship Troopers, Space: 1889, Alternity, Aliens, Dangerous JourneysD20 Modern, Top Secret, and Baptism by Fire.

And even with all that, you haven’t touched on the juggernauts of Dungeons & Dragons and its various editions, including the powerful spinoff of Pathfinder. And inside AD&D there are a plethora of worlds with supplements as small as a boxed set to as extensive as a twenty-book hardcover collection like the Hollow World Gazetteers, Undermountain, Maztica, Kara-Tur, Ravenloft, The Horde, Dragon Mountain, Menzoberranzan, Dragonlance, and all that is the massive Forgotten Realms(Note: Yes, I’ve played at least an adventure, and more likely at least one campaign in everything I’ve listed above.)

Then atop all this, we can’t forget the dozens of modules (for the layman RPG pre-generated adventures) and magazines like Dragon that find their way into a gaming library.

DSC_1030So, in total, you are facing the movement of hundreds of large hardcovers, softcovers, and boxed sets which is both daunting and frustrating in the extreme. That, then, forces the owner to take a long hard look at what they have accumulated and once again ask why? (Note: I dare John O’Neill to attempt to move his ‘Cave of Wonders’ and see what his wife says about it, much less his collection of softcover novels!)

Why do we maintain such collections? Do we really believe we will need them at some point? Is there somehow a place in our busy lives to crack out and relearn a game we played when wewere fourteen on a single Sunday during the summer back in the 1970s or 80s?

Do you buy into the fallacy that because you’ve collected this stuff, it will somehow fund your retirement? I mean, there certainly is a market on eBay for gaming material, but I’d wager it is dwindling just as the gamers themselves are. I’m a relatively young gamer at 41 and am still ‘old’ to be playing these games, and I have to consider that Gygax and Arneson have passed away, as have so many of those who founded the genre.

RPG books, as something of monetary worth, will die with their players because in an age of tablets and PDFs, the weight of print will continue to collapse on itself. What young gamer, assuming they even choose to do a table-top RPG, wouldn’t prefer to have their entire library on their iPad or Kindle? Who wouldn’t want to highlight and search a word for all reference to it in their media library in seconds? We have begun a touchscreen generation, and everything I look at on these shelves is now reduced to my psychosis, not a true dollar sign.

DSC_1031I must then face that fact that I keep them because they remind me of something. Most likely my youth, and whatever small memory remains of the laughter and comradery that went along with a particular group of characters and their players on a certain lost date in the past.

However, as of late, I’ve decided that I will make it a priority to go back and find one last day in the sun for many of my most beloved and abandoned games. Last year, I took down Spelljammer and had a marvelous campaign using it, and the same was done with Gamma World a few months later. This year, I’m going to make an attempt to play Battletech and, if I’m lucky, perhaps Shadowrun in the late summer or fall.

DSC_1032If I’ve carried it with me, and if I’ve looked my wife in the eye each time I’ve boxed them up and taken that unspoken ‘why are you doing this’ abuse, then by God I should at least get something back because in the end memories are all I will get from these printed loadstones.

So what conclusion do I draw from all the above? I suppose that entertainment is no longer going to be owned, but borrowed. In a sense, that is a beautiful thing because it unburdens life as all your movies, games, books, and images are there for you on a cloud, waiting to be viewed by you in Indiana or Bora Bora.

However, one will never get the nostalgia of seeing a life’s worth of collected memory sitting against a wall. In the end, with my arms tired and my back bent, the cloud is sounding more and more pleasurable, no matter how good all this looks once I’ve settled into my latest office.

13 Comments »

  1. Scott,

    That’s an impressive collection!

    If you had all that on top of 15 long boxes and seven boxes of paperbacks, I can well imagine how painful your various moves were.

    And yes, this is a question that troubles me as well. Why do I collect all this stuff?

    It’s a mental defect, I have no doubt of that. One thing I have in common with a lot of collectors is price plays a factor in our collecting not because we have any intention of selling, but when the price of a certain item skyrockets (as it has with, say, pulps and original edition D&D material), it becomes a collecting priority simply as a budget matter. When the price of something you want starts to rise, you horde it first and leave the rest for later.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 18, 2013 3:40 pm

  2. I’ve recently switched over to digital for the majority of my reading, and I’m moving toward digital for RPG books, as well. I’m starting a Pathfinder game and it’s substantially cheaper to buy the more massive supplements digitally through their website than tracking down print copies.

    Comment by Andrew Zimmerman Jones - February 18, 2013 4:41 pm

  3. John: Knowing that you can’t even bring yourself to open shrinkwrap makes me shudder to think about all the unused material you have…

    Comment by Scott Taylor - February 18, 2013 5:40 pm

  4. Andrew: I’m liking this idea more and more, and at some point this all has to go, although I feel sick to my stomach just writing those words.

    Comment by Scott Taylor - February 18, 2013 5:42 pm

  5. Boot Hill; Top Secret; Gangbusters — boy, don’t those take me back …

    Comment by Joe H. - February 18, 2013 8:51 pm

  6. I’m boxing my books, aspiring to average one box a week, for a possible move in the next year, and logging in LibraryThing each book I decide to keep. Strangely, that added step of logging the books has made it easier to cull my library. If I don’t care enough about the book to scan its barcode, I probably don’t care enough to schlepp it across a state line.

    After the long post-Hurricane Sandy power outage, I’m even more bullish about paper books than before. An unstable electrical grid, plus planned obsolescence for ereaders, plus media companies that would really like us to have to pay all over again for our entire personal libraries every time the devices improve, adds up to a sense that ebooks are too ephemeral for content I really care about. If I want a book still to be available to me in twenty years, paper’s the only form I trust.

    Of course, after I move, I may reassess my priorities. So far, I haven’t had to carry those boxes beyond my own attic.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - February 19, 2013 1:36 am

  7. That’s why last time I moved I paid burly men hundreds of dollars — as I described things on the phone when making arrangements, I had almost no furniture (I was replacing most of it) but had about 100 30-40 lb. boxes of books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, RPG supplements, etc. Not sure I want to even think about what the total would be today.

    Comment by Joe H. - February 19, 2013 8:52 pm

  8. I bow in awe and drool in envy, sir!

    Sadly, more people are moving to digital, since frankly it’s easier to carry a laptop/tablet around and people have less money/free time thanks to the — (decides not to type five pages of foaming rabid conspiracy stuff)

    But I consider the gamer’s “Man cave” to be at the height of the non millionaire level of cool!

    Comment by GreenGestalt - February 20, 2013 2:40 am

  9. I’ve got nothing. In prep for a probable upcoming move, two years ago we started purging our holdings. All of the RPG material (although I had kept them pruned over the years), most of the books, about a third of the DVDs and about a quarter of the CDs. The only RPG I’ve purchase in recent years has been C&C, and that on pdf. The only new books have been ebooks. Bits are so easy to pack.

    Well, not quite all my RPG material. I have several White Dwarfs in the #60-#88 range. I’d hate to recycle them, but I haven’t bothered to eBay them yet because they’re non-contiguous and magazines are expensive to ship. Sad remnants.

    (Interesting tidbit: Two years ago most books I put on eBay eventually sold. Going through another round in recent months, very few have.)

    When I moved to grad school, pretty much everything I owned packed into my Ford Escort. There are times I miss those days.

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - February 20, 2013 8:34 am

  10. I recently picked up a copy of the Slayers d20 RPG. a book that will never get used probably. Just had to have it to see how they translated the anime into rpg format.

    Comment by Glenn - February 20, 2013 10:42 pm

  11. Glenn: I take it you saw my copy of Slayers D20 in the final image? I too have never played that game, but as the series was cool, I thought, might as well in case someone wants to play it sometime :)

    Comment by Scott Taylor - February 21, 2013 1:08 am

  12. I consider myself fortunate, I move as often as you (on average) but since 1989 my primary gaming platforms were GURPS and Rolemaster, neither of which I ever bought adventures (I just gave away my last RM books in 2009). When we did our move to Calgary in 2000, we had 10,000 pounds of “stuff”, when we moved back to Saskatoon it went up by 4K. This was after the purge where I got rid of 2/3rds of my comic boxes and about 500 books. I kickstarted (for no apparent reason) the new Traveller and may run that this year, but those darned Garrett’s books (reviewed by John) make me want to run something like that now (except in GURPS).

    Comment by JLB - February 25, 2013 1:37 pm

  13. [...] Art of the Genre: The Weight of Print [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Top 50 Black Gate Blog Posts in February - April 3, 2013 12:56 pm


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