Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Confessions of a Gaming Junkie

At one time in the not too distant I past, I wasn't really a gamer. Oh, I thought about gaming a lot. I bought and read the magazines. I read the web pages and the forums. I knew a bunch of the gamers in town. I absorbed a great deal of knowledge about the hobby. But I never really participated. I was an observer. A professional appreciator. (OK, not professional; I wasn't getting paid.)

That's not entirely true. I participated in the hobby as a consumer. I bought miniatures, boardgames, and rule sets like Imelda Marcos bought shoes. A favorite activity of mine after a bad day at work was to go to the local game store and buy something. Anything.

Gradually I acquired huge amounts of stuff. I had comic boxes full of rule sets. Plastic bins full of figures. Shelves full of boardgames. And, like I said, I never did much with it. The only joy of the hobby for me, if you can call it joy, was in the momentary thrill of the purchase.

There were a couple of problems with what I was doing that prevented greater enjoyment of the hobby. The first problem was that I had no focus. I bought just about everything that caught my eye. I acquired rules and figures for periods I had no real interest in just because I had read an interesting article in Wargames Illustrated or saw some pretty miniatures on The Miniatures Page. I had tons of stuff, but not enough of any one period to actually do anything with any of it. (I guess I could have relived my childhood days of an unlikely alliance of Atlantic Greeks and USMC battling Airfix Afrika Korps and 8th Army!)

The second problem was that the sheer amount of stuff I owned was very intimidating. Staring at all that unpainted lead made it difficult for me to jump in and start painting. That's not to say that I never painted anything. I did, but it was all very scattered. I painted in fits and starts, and ended up with what could generously be described as an “eclectic” collection of painted figures.

About a year ago I decided that I was losing interest in the hobby, which isn't that surprising given what I've described above. You eventually get to the point where you've read all the magazines and you've bought all the rules. If you aren't participating, there isn't much left to do.

I decided I had three options. The first option was to quit the hobby and sell off my stuff. The second was to take a break. The third was get off my butt and actually participate. To paint and play and contribute to the hobby. I chose the third option. The idea of gaming still appealed to me too much to give it up. Taking a break was really just postponing the decision.

If I was going to change my habits, the first thing I needed to do was stop buying every new product that caught my eye. I was helped in this endeavor by taking a leave of absence from my job to care for my mother when she was sick. Having a reduced income made it easy to scale back on purchases. In fact, I didn't miss the stuff I was no longer buying. What I did miss was having an outlet for those “I just need to go buy something” moments.

I sat down and took a rough inventory of everything I had. I made a list of every period I had rules or figures or board games for. And then I started cutting. Rules, games, and figures that I had not used and had no intention of using in the near future would be sold. I didn't do this all at once. In fact I'm still in the process of doing it now. I just periodically go through my things until I find something I know I have no use for and then I sell it.

At first I was apprehensive about selling my gaming stuff. I'm genetically predisposed to hoard things. (You should have seen the stuff my parents managed to accumulate and save in their lifetimes!) Plus you always hear sad stories from gamers who sold off a collection and then regretted it when they decided to get back into the period. Nevertheless I pressed on.

The first figures I sold off were my unpainted 28mm Renegade ECW figures. I knew I wasn't a fan of the figures (too big). I knew I wasn't a fan of the period (too many pikes). And, most importantly, I knew that if I was ever going to do anything with those figures I'd have to buy a bunch more stuff to go with them. Ultimately I wasn't unloading figures, I was unloading an outstanding bill for hundreds of dollars worth of additional figures to make the period playable! Surprisingly, when I sold the figures I didn't feel any pangs of regret. I felt good; like a little load had been lifted from my shoulders. I no longer had to feel guilty about not painting those figures. They had become someone else's problem. I've sold off a bunch more stuff after the Renegade figures and to date I haven't regretted a single sale. Each sale has cleared some space on my shelves and helped me focus on the stuff I've decided to keep.

The temptation for me when selling off my gaming stuff was to turn around and use the money to buy more gaming stuff. I'd be lying if I said I never did this, but mostly I've stuck to my guns and held on to the cash. Why? Well, in part because of the global economic meltdown. But mostly because I want to have a reserve of cash to spend on the periods and collections that I'm making real progress with.

To use a military analogy, the Red Army had a philosophy that you should never reinforce failure. If an attack isn't working, pouring your reserves into that attack isn't likely to produce better results. Reserves should be committed to attacks that are making progress. Likewise, buying more figures for a period when you already have unpainted lead sitting around doesn't make sense. It'll just add to the problem. In my case I'm trying to use these funds to buy more things for projects where I'm making actual progress.

It's always difficult when you try to change habits. It's easy to get discouraged and revert to your old ways. In my experience, the important thing is not to be too hard on yourself and to keep moving forward. Yes, I've slipped and bought some new lead that is currently sitting unpainted, but I'm doing it a lot less frequently than I used to. Every time I slip, I try to use it as a reminder the next time I'm tempted by an impulse purchase. I think back to a pack of figures that I may never get around to painting (or rules that I may never get around to playing) and it makes it a little easier to walk away from whatever is tempting me.


Brigadista said...

I especially liked your Red Army analogy. I suggest, to reinforce your success, that you should start BUILDING Red Army units in 15mm for Command Decision.

Chris said...

I can certainly identify with the situation outlined in your post. I spent several years mired in the various collectible card and miniature games. I only played the actual games a few times but engaged in retail therapy nearly every day, buying packs of figures and scouring eBay for the hard-to-find stuff. The fun only lasted long enough to check off the box on my checklist and then I started looking for the next hit.

A few years ago I decided to kick the collectible games and focus on the miniature wargaming hobby. It went pretty well for about two years; I painted up a full army for Warhammer and a few other odds and ends. I even got a couple of games in. But lately I've fallen back into the trap of accumulating without really getting any projects going. I've got several complete armies sitting in boxes waiting to be assembled and painted, but instead of working on them I just go out and get more stuff. I've been having some of the same feelings you described and I think I'm about to the crossroads where I have to make the choice to either stuff it or get to work on a project. I'm hoping I can pull off the latter.

Snickering Corpses said...

I can relate to that as well. My pile probably isn't nearly as big as yours given my initial funds to be buying were pretty small compared to most gamers I know :> But I still managed to acrue a lot of stuff. I started cutting myself back a couple of years ago to finance the particular periods I most liked, and I still have some more to sell off if I can find a buyer. The collections of what I *do* want to play have grown quite nicely.

Now painting, that's another matter...