Roll For Insight: Gotta Collect ‘Em All!

April 12, 2019 by dracs

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I have a confession to make. I am a collector!

I have always had that drive to collect things and in the end it is what got me into tabletop gaming. As a kid, I would collect sticks when we were on a walk, with the result that my bedroom resembled a birds nest. After that, it was Hornby trains, starting with donations from my train-obsessed grandfather.

I grew up in the 90s, a time characterised by collectibles. Pokémon exploded across the world, filling the playground with trading cards, while beanie babies filled every shelf in every under-ten-year-old's bedroom.

This guy's worth a fortune! Why?! Why did my mum donate it!?!?!

Collecting is something that has followed me into adult life. I don't know just how many books I own, with a specific focus on folklore texts, works by Terry Pratchett (take a shot), and classic Warhammer Fantasy army books.  Magic: The Gathering has also often lived up to its nickname of "cardboard crack".

It was while playing a game of Magic that I started to wonder; why am I so addicted to these little pieces of card? And why do I collect so many things?

The Joys Of Collecting

If you're a tabletop gamer, chances are you are some form of collector. Whether this is board games or a complete army of unpainted miniatures you swear you'll finish one day, we nearly all have something we like to spend our hard-earned cash on, often for little more reason than the joy owning that something brings.

There have been many theories proposed why collecting can bring such enjoyment and satisfaction. Some, of course, collect as an investment, in the hope that what they are collecting will increase in value and then be sold on later. This was the thinking that led to the Comic Speculator Boom of the 80s and 90s, resulting in a slew of "Special Edition" cover prints and an eventual crash that nearly ruined the industry.

Of course, as anyone who has ever tried to sell on their miniatures collection will know, collecting for profit is definitely not the main reason most do it.

Some suggest that collecting may be a source of emotional security. In discussing her grandmother's habit of collecting everyday nick-nacks, Judith Katz-Schwartz had this to say:

Some people "save things" because it helps them to fill a gaping hole, calm fears, erase insecurity. For them, collecting provides order in their lives and a bulwark against the chaos and terror of an uncertain world. It serves as a protectant against the destruction of everything they've ever loved. Grandma's things made her feel safe.

There is a real sense of emotional satisfaction from having a collection, and I have found that going over my various books or Magic cards can be relaxing, even when I am not playing a game. However, I wouldn't say I collect for a feeling of safety.

For others, a lot of satisfaction in collecting comes from the search for some elusive item. Petrulis, a collector of athlete autographs, told Sports Illustrated that the joy he found in collecting to be from three aspects of it:

"The thrill of the chase, seeing who will sign that day. Second, the collecting aspect, trying to put together one of the best autograph collections around. And, finally, feeling more connected to the game because I actually meet the guys playing it instead of just seeing them on television."

This search is something I am very familiar with. Whenever I visit a city, I scour the local second-hand book shops in search of The Codex Seraphinianus. Sure, I could just order it off Amazon, but where's the fun in that? I'm sure I'll find it sooner or later. One day, Codex... One day...

In the end, there are many reasons why people might choose to collect things. For some, it's for nostalgia, a connection to their childhood. For others, it's due to historical interest and a fascination with a certain time period, to which they are connected by the various artifacts left over from it.

And there are definite benefits to collecting as a hobby. In their article on collecting during childhood, Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein note that "collecting, like all forms of playing, exercises critical imaginative and cognitive skills", while in his piece on The Psychology of Collecting McKinley notes that, far from the solitary experience we might imagine collecting to be, many do it to "expand their social lives, attending swap meets and exchanging information with like-minded souls."

This is something we, as gamers, would definitely be familiar with, as our own collections focus so much on their social aspect and on the various skills needed to fully engage with them.

Of course, we could go with Freud's theory that we collect due to the trauma loss of bowl control inflicted upon us as babies.

Image from Existential Comics, Freudian Therapy

There is often considered to be a dark side to collecting, where it moves from an enjoyable hobby to one which begins to have a negative impact upon the collector's life.

The Dark Side Of Collecting

The most obvious way of this is with the cost. Any collector of Warhammer or Magic: The Gathering is well aware of the costs involved in their hobby. You might think picking up the occasional booster pack isn't too much of an expense, but the old cardboard crack can quickly spiral out of control.

Magic, and other blind buy game, are particularly bad for this. That elusive Mythic Rare could be waiting for you in just the next pack...

This is something that Petrulis notes about his own autograph collecting.

"It gets addictive, just like gambling, drugs or sex. It's like putting a coin in a slot machine. It might not pay off this time, so you put another quarter in and keep doing it until you are tapped out or finally hit the jackpot."

Then there is the extreme case when it starts to become hoarding.

Many of us joke that we are hoarders, that our collections have overtaken rooms of the house, or that we are "hoarding" piles of unpainted plastic. However, it's rare that this is to the extent where we are truly suffering from Hoarding Disorder.

Hoarding Disorder is a large topic, and one which I will not be able to fully dive into here. It is defined by The Cambridge Handbook of Anxiety and Related Disorders as "difficulty discarding possessions, regardless of their value, that is due to a perceived need to save items and is associated with congestion and clutter in active living areas."

This goes way beyond simply being untidy or having a large collection. Those with Hoarding Disorder can find themselves in distress at the thought of discarding an object, even something that might not be usually considered part of a collection. They accumulate items until they begin to take over their livable space, having a negative impact on their lives.

However, being a collector is not the same as being a compulsive hoarder. Where a collector usually gathers a very focused set of items, a compulsive hoarder might gather things that are seemingly worthless. Importantly, a collector will take joy in their collection, whereas a compulsive hoarder can be aware that their behaviour is irrational.

Psychiatry.org features the patient story of Lainie, a forty-seven year old woman diagnosed with hoarding disorder which paints a very different image to that of the gentle hobby of collecting.

Ashamed by the state of her apartment, she had told no one about her behavior and invited no one into her apartment for at least 15 years. She also avoided social functions and dating, because—despite being friendly and very lonely—she knew she could not invite anyone to her home. She did not want the mental health care provider to visit her home but showed some photographs from her phone’s camera. The pictures showed furniture, papers, boxes and clothes piles from floor to ceiling.

Gotta Catch 'Em All!

Even with its dark sides, collecting is a hobby that many people around the world, and throughout history, enjoy. Whether it is the philatelist taking quiet satisfaction in their stamps, or the 40k player beginning work on their third army, collecting is a hobby that presents many benefits.

The dangers creep in, as with many things, when it is taken to the extreme. Once we find ourselves hooked in that "just one more booster" fruit machine mentality, what started as a fun hobby can quickly spiral. But, as long as we are aware of this potential, it is one we can still enjoy.

Now, do any of you have a copy of Codex Seraphinianus? Seriously, I've been looking for this thing for six years now.

What sort of things do you like to collect?

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