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Alphabetically or Chronologically?


By all accounts, I was a messy kid. Every step from the doorway of my bedroom to the bed itself elicited a crunch as I trampled some toy, magazine, or odd article of clothing – but that changed when I started amassing games as a teenager. I still let papers, magazines, and dishes pile high with some regularity, but I can’t think of a time since childhood in which my game collection has been disorganized or tucked away, save for an in-progress move.

“I first of all have tremendous respect for games. The boxes and discs house memories and experiences that have made me who I am today.”

Nowadays, everything sits on orderly shelves, sorted by platform and alphabetically by title, with exceptions made only for chronology (franchises stay together). Moreover, the games are near-perfectly aligned on the shelves, and even a slight nudge forward or back by a pet or visiting child tends to trigger an immediate adjustment from me. It’s an obsession.

That trait may not run in all gamers, but many – whether irregular buyers or die-hard collectors – tend to follow similar routines, devoting ample attention and space to their prized possessions, with self-made sorting systems devised to keep things in order. So I spoke with a smattering of organized gamers, both average fans and those with careers tied to the industry, to discover what drives their habits and try to pinpoint where they originated.

Erin Fan works behind the scenes on several console and mobile games as a PR account executive, and describes the games she owns for current platforms as a “compact, well-sorted collection of games of diverse genres and consoles tucked neatly in a drawer under my TV and game platforms.” While a relatively small at-hand collection – her older games are stored in boxes – she stresses the personal import of keeping them alphabetically organized by system.

“I first of all have tremendous respect for games. The boxes and discs house memories and experiences that have made me who I am today,” explains the 23-year-old San Franciscan. But her system has a practical purpose, as well. “Of course, like everybody else, I love to be able to find a game quickly and easily and I hate losing things.” Fan traces some of her organizational direction to her upbringing in a family that kept things well sorted and labeled at home, and her tendency to label and color-code belongings as a young student.

Freelance game critic and aspiring author Britton Peele similarly keeps his latest console releases sorted in drawers beneath the TV, along with handheld games stored on separate shelves. His collection is notably larger, spanning more than 1000 physical releases, and says his habits date back to his youth, as well. “I’ve always been this way about most things. I likely get it from my mother, who is also very organized,” he notes. “Legend has it that even as a toddler, I would make sure my diapers were stacked up neatly.”

The 23-year-old Dallas-based writer has a couple of oddball rarities – like Mattel’s ill-fated HyperScan system and a binder full of Game Boy Advance e-Reader game cards, but his modern titles all follow the same system. “In the rare instances of a direct sequel not being located next to its predecessor on the shelf, for example, I might group all the Phoenix Wright games under ‘A’ for ‘Ace Attorney’ so they can also be next to Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney,” he explains. “The other exception is order of release. The Professor Layton games are organized together by the order in which they came out, not alphabetical order.”

Many collectors sort by platform and then title, though it’s always interesting to hear of people’s personal tweaks. Joe Drilling, a 29-year-old wireless tech support agent, collects both import and domestic titles, and separates them on his shelves within each larger platform set, then alphabetizes each separately. He cites retail experience as a partial reason for the habit, but he’s also continuing a tradition from his mother. “When I was little, my NES games weren’t organized at all, but my mom is a stickler for cleanliness,” he notes. “She would put them back, but it took me a long time before I cottoned on. Now I’m much worse than she ever was.”

“My life of gaming is what inspired me to become a game developer, so there is a lot of history for me in those pieces of hardware.”

In the case of Justin LaGrande, a 31-year-old receptionist and blogger from New Orleans, his decision to sort games by platform and then publisher traces back to his youth. “It is very important to keep things arranged the way I have it mainly because it is the way I always identified the quality a game would contain – especially when it comes to NES games,” he remarks.

LaGrande owns about 450 games organized as such, but mid-franchise business deals can throw a wrench into his plans. “The NES Double Dragon games were published by Tradewest and Acclaim, so I have the games published by Tradewest ahead of the games published by Acclaim,” he explains. “The final Tradewest game is the first Double Dragon, followed by Double Dragon II, which leads off the games published by Acclaim/LJN.” He later adds, “My strict organization is part wanting to pay my own bit of respect to something I love, but can’t necessarily make on my own,” noting that his system is so locked-in now that it’s easier for him to locate games.

And the organizational habits extend past the games themselves, as evidenced by Julian Spillane, a project director at developer Silicon Knights who collects consoles more fervently than the games they play. Spillane owns more than 40 platforms, along with a mass of accessories, and says he keeps them “displayed in (relatively) chronological order, all of them unboxed and with one controller either on top or adjacent.” He also tracks them all via database website vgcollect.com, and uses a spreadsheet (formerly to track the systems) to research upcoming acquisitions.

Spillane says he’s “not that organized a person, really” and that he organizes his hardware “out of necessity, lest they get lost in the clutter of my daily life.” But it goes much deeper for this game maker. “It’s a combination of keeping my collection presentable and aesthetically pleasing, and also awe and respect to the consoles themselves,” he asserts. “My life of gaming is what inspired me to become a game developer, so there is a lot of history for me in those pieces of hardware. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the games and systems I grew up with, so there’s definitely some form of reverence that goes along with my collection.”

As collections grow, the challenge of maintaining order and visual quality can be a herculean task. With the persistent urge to keep things in order, I’m finding myself stacking games atop each other simply to avoid adding extra furniture to the mix.

“People dedicated a portion of their lives to creating these games, and they deserve to be respected,”

Not so for 28-year-old Craig Lupienski from New England – his collection of more than 1500 physical games takes up nearly an entire bedroom in his home. “I’m frequently buying furniture just for my games,” he admits. “With space at a premium, it really begins with ‘wherever it will fit.’ In a more perfect world, it’d be much more presentable and pleasing to the eye.” Maintaining a collection of that size holds a personal thrill for him. “It’s the adventure in playing something I’ve never played or even heard about, and then sharing my enthusiasm with others through writing, videos, or podcasts,” he adds.

Software engineer Brian Langeland also has a room dedicated to his games in his Chicago-area home, but most of his 3500 games entered his life after he bought the house about five years back. “I had this extra bedroom that was totally empty, and I needed something ‘cool’ to put in it,” he notes. “What better place could there be to hook up the old NES and Genesis? The library just started growing.”

Langeland says that maintaining a system is “vital” for a collection of his size, though things like Nintendo 64 cartridges – on which the label doesn’t extend to any side – create minor headaches. “I am a somewhat disorganized person (and always have been), but when there are things I really care about, I work to keep them well organized,” he says.

Beyond making it easier to pick individual games out of his massive assemblage of releases, Langeland believes his well-organized collection pays tribute to game creators. “People dedicated a portion of their lives to creating these games, some of which were good; others not. But regardless, people worked on these, and they deserve to be respected,” he asserts. Admittedly, it also looks pretty cool. “I’m all about the spectacle of my game room. I want it to look impressive and showy, and give me a +10 to nerd cred.”

Matt Paprocki, a 31-year-old freelance game journalist, speaks of rescuing games destined to be cast aside and forgotten, offering a good home to what he estimates to be 6000-7000 total games spread across three rooms in his cool, dry basement. Keeping titles alphabetized and sorted by system is essential for such a mass of games. “Searching for that one game you want to play without having organization is a nightmare,” he admits. “My mom is a slight clean freak at times and I worked at a video store for years. The latter teaches you everything you need to know about keeping things straight, in line, and in order.” Beyond his game collection, he also claims to have “a few thousand gaming magazines” – well organized, of course.

Large gaming collections can become a significant part of one’s life, but when the unexpected happens, such things may be viewed from a different lens. Steve Lin, the VP of consumer operations at social gaming network GREE International, owns a remarkable collection comprised of thousands of boxed games, complete game collections for multiple systems, and more than 30 upright arcade cabinets (plus about 10 pinball machines), which he rotates in and out of his loft from storage.

Accumulating such a sizeable and pristine collection fulfilled childhood fantasies. “Part of it for me was replicating that feeling I has as a child looking through the store displays. The ‘World of Nintendo’ retail displays were always awe-inspiring and, like any other kid, I had the dream of winning the Toys ‘R’ Us toy run and just loading up on as many games as possible,” says Lin. “There are a few scenes in the movie Cloak and Dagger that take place in a game shop. It’s that type of experience that I try to replicate in my own little way. It’s basically a shop of every game I’ve ever wanted with a built-in museum of things that I never even knew about.”

“I’m content with my collection as it stands now, and am happiest when people spot something they love – and the memories come flooding back.”

Lin’s perspective shifted due to a couple of personal events, however. “The biggest change in the collection happened last year, pretty much right after I finished the NES [complete set]. I was moving into a new place and NES/SNES games alone took up an entire wall of bookcases,” he notes. “Perhaps it was a ‘there were no worlds left to conquer’ moment, but I really started to take a closer look at everything and began to do some editing in my head. There was a lot of staring at boxes and wondering if I would ever actually play any of it.”

“It was during that time in mid-2011 that I was diagnosed with cancer, and my perception of the collection changed pretty dramatically,” admits the 36-year-old Lin, who is now cancer-free. “During the downtime I was able to really take stock of what was there, and basically sold off or traded off everything that I didn’t want.” Most of his Atari set and hundreds of NES and Super Nintendo games were purged, along with many of his Saturn games. One item he parted with – a Nintendo World Championship Grey cartridge – was donated to the Child’s Play charity auction dinner, and raised $11,500 on its own.

Even after scaling down his collection a bit, Lin stresses the importance of easy navigation via skilled organization. “I guess everyone has a ‘system’ where they have a general awareness of where things might be, but I would rather that anyone can find a game, even if they’ve never seen my collection before,” he says. “I enjoy watching visitors look through the collection and point out titles they loved when they were younger. When they come across something unusual it’s also a great opportunity to tell a little story and provide some history about the item.”

“I’m content with my collection as it stands now, and am happiest when people spot something they love – and the memories come flooding back,” says Lin, who plans on someday donating his games to videogame and computer history museums.

Lin’s comments home in on an important consideration in all of this: the memories we associate with these experiences, the interactive nature of which helps create an extraordinarily strong bond with these games. If it was simply a matter of owning games for eventual use, more of us would keep them boxed up in storage or away from view – but many of us choose to honor them by not only keeping them organized, but also actively presenting them within our living spaces. Regardless of background or collection size or intent, it’s a common thread that runs through so much of the community.

Andrew Hayward is a freelance writer and editor who has written about games, apps, tech, and toys for more than 30 publications. Follow him on Twitter (@ahaywa).

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