Ever heard of a “shelfie”? It’s a picture gamers take to show off their collection of games. Well, to be fair, it could anything on any shelf, but as far as this site is concerned, it’s games. Any type of game works. Boardgame, tabletop role-playing game, video game, and you get the idea. For my part, I just like games. Board games, video games, tabletop role-playing games…it doesn’t matter. I like them all, and that affection has led to me accumulating a decent stable of games, although I’ve never taken a shelfie. I’m not the only one though, and proof can be found all over the Internet, as people post pictures of their own gaming collections. Considering people can only play one game at a time, what motivates a people to accumulate a gaming collection, enough to be able to take a shelfie?
These images are everywhere, but when I was considering how to approach this post I referred to content created by the Tabletop Bellhop, specifically a podcast episode called Hashtag Shelfie. I’ve seen Moe T. post images of games he’s played that I’m frankly a bit envious of. The guy has a wealth of gaming options, and over time has offered advice on how to manage a collection. There are, in fact, many people who have weighed in on this topic. Yet, when I think about caring for a collection of games, I have to ask, “Is this collecting a sort of phenomenon?” To answer that, I came up with several ideas to address this conundrum.
It seems like an odd question, but when I see images people share of their ttrpg As far as I can tell, gamers potentially fall into categories, completionists, collectors, consumers, and the I’m-fine-with-what-I-have group. I’m probably skewing the fandoms a bit, but these completely invented demographics comprise a lot of the gaming community. (I have no official statistics, but I have all the conjecture anyone could ever need.)
Completionists do not make up the entirety of the gaming community, not at all. All of these categories could overlap, but just about everyone I’ve ever known has at least one system that they really like, above and beyond anything else they’ve ever played. It could be something really well known like Dungeons & Dragons (any and/or all editions), or it could be something more obscure, such as Adventures in the East Mark. It doesn’t really matter, but that one game stands above the rest. The people that like them sometimes make it a point to obtain the entire product line for those beloved games. These people are the completionists because of the drive to simply acquire every product they can find that was published for their beloved game.
If you’re a fan, you’re a fan, and some people just want to own the whole run of their favourite game(s). This is completely understandable. Great art, a unique creative vision for a game that just resonates with the gamer, quality sessions that have come out of running that particular game (how long can we keep it going?!), are all examples of reasons why people might want to go out and buy up every single product release for a game. Shelf space is dedicated to a particular game, and once the publisher moves on to a new system, the completionist will be set to keep the gaming sessions going for as long as their interest holds up, or they just have stuff they think is really cool.
After the completionists, there are the collectors. Yes, there is almost certainly overlap between these two groups. What separates collectors from completionists is that collectors are looking for specific things to add to a collection, whereas completionists are trying to pick up everything for a particular game. Collectors could be motivated by value, an affinity for a particular iteration of a game, or whatever. There are lots of reasons. For example, I’ve really enjoyed the Final Fantasy video games over the years, but I have a special affection for the 6th entry into the series. So, I wouldn’t make it a point to buy every game in the series to have them, but that one game means a lot to me. Obviously, this is a personal example, and to be completely honest, my interest in that game is driven largely by nostalgia, as opposed to perceived monetary value. See, there are multiple reasons someone might seek out something to collect.
Regardless, there is a reason why a collector would be after something, and the collection will reflect that. It could be a complete set of something. Obtaining completed sets without holes has a certain appeal, and that’s something that can increase resale value. (Again, there are parallels to completionists.) Monetary value is also important for collectors, but not necessarily completionists. An obscure game that had a limited print run, but has maintained its popularity can be extremely valuable. To go back to the video game analogue, consider resale values for hard-to-find retro games. The prices will probably make your eyes water. Collecting has its place, and it’s always nice to be able to appraise something as having some kind of exchange value. It’s just another strand of games and an example of why a person might have built up a collection of games.
While the first two groups are completely rational, the third group, the consumers are, in my opinion, sort of the result of the gaming industry’s growth. Since it’s inception 40 years ago for ttrpgs, and ever earlier for board games, gaming has slowly but slowly grown as an industry. Even to call it an “industry” feels odd, but it’s hard to see it in any other light. Over the last several decades, the expansion of gaming has been nothing short of incredible. Along with that growth has been an increasing number of people backing projects and games, but never playing them. Gaming has become another avenue for conspicuous consumption. While understandable, it’s also a bit sad.
It almost feels as if people in this category are driven by good intentions, but don’t adapt their spending habits to real-world circumstances. Once upon a time, we all had the opportunity to organize sessions with friends fairly easily. As everyone ages, it becomes more and more difficult. However, spending on the hobby doesn’t necessarily diminish in a way that correlates to an increasingly small amount of free time. This essentially leads to full shelf space with untouched and unplayed games. It’s a completely understandable situation, but a lamentable one.
Then again, there are other people that are good with what they’ve got. Not everyone looks to acquire more stuff, nor do they purchase items expecting them to appreciate in value. “Collection? What’s a collection?,” they might be heard saying. Some people just buy what they need, and run with it. How else do you explain a D&D campaign that has been running for something like four decades? Maybe they bought books, but what would really make something like this work is participation. Sometimes, less is more, and there’s a strong chance that if a group like this were to take a shelfie, it would be of boxes filled with handwritten gaming notes.
It would be interesting to look at something like this in-depth. To that end, there is serious research done on the psychological motivations of collecting, as well as more casual articles discussing the topic. As an avid gamer, the idea that people collect their preferred form of entertainment is legitimately interesting, at least to me.
As a topic of discussion, this feels like it would be just a passing rumination, a reason to justify why I have so many games. “See, other people do it also! It’s completely normal behaviour to have 100 different games!” I could very easily have this conversation with family members that might wonder what the point of purchasing new gaming resources is, but I love them and have no plans to stop. Fortunately, I’m not alone and a great many people collect things. On some level, it is fully rational behaviour, even if the motivations behind it aren’t always clear.
We can talk all we like about different aspects of building a gaming collection, or how someone might even be able to arrive at the point where a shelfie is possible. As a side-effect of collecting, the existence of shelfies is an odd phenomenon, and it’s one that many gamers could participate in. What’s more, the ability to accumulate games and gaming supplements doesn’t automatically mean that people will even build up a collection. I’ve certainly left out other perspectives that could have been represented here, but ultimately, a collection will have a variety of reasons motivating its existence.
What about you, dear reader? Do you have a collection? Should we create a Game Collectors Anonymous for people that are intent on burdening their bookshelves with gaming goodness? It’s a complicated topic, but one that is very interesting and worth re-visiting .