Epic Yard Sale Tale

Websites like eBay, Craigslist, and even MySpace and other networking sites seem like the obvious places to look for long-lost videogame treasures, old-school games for a long-dead consoles or the odd peripheral that has since gone the way of the dodo. But when sifting for the cultural remains of the ghost of gaming’s past, one shouldn’t overlook the traditional, and perhaps outdated, repository of discarded memorabilia: the yard sale.

Epic Yard Sale
In an effort to combine my hardcore gaming hobby, my journalism degree and a mild curiosity in yard sales, I decided to see what kind of videogame-related items were to be had amidst the assorted knick-knacks being cleared from the garages around Central Pennsylvania. I searched the lands for gems of the videogame world with only a pen, a notepad, a wallet full of small bills, the newspaper classifieds section and my Monty Python-esque haggling skills, and discovered a bit about gaming’s history and perhaps my own in the process.

Gem number one
I dragged myself out of bed to begin my quest. Upon consuming my hero’s breakfast (a bowl of sugary cereal), I was out the door and on my way to my first on-the-job yard sale experience. My first destination was the town of Woolrich, PA. This was no ordinary yard sale outing: On sale were the combined offerings of an entire 40-person community.

At one sale, I caught a glimpse of a small child holding one of the holy relics of the Nintendo Gamecube community: an unopened Legend of Zelda Collector’s Edition that included The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: Link’s Adventure for the Nintendo Entertainment System, along with Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask for the Nintendo 64, all on one disc. Previously only available as a reward for Nintendo Power magazine subscribers, this Collector’s Edition frequently sells on e-Bay for as much as $80.

“So many classic games on one tiny disc,” I thought to myself. “How could anyone sell this?”

Watching the cinematic opening scene in Ocarina of Time, visiting the majestic Gorons, winning Epona, discovering Dampe, the comical gravedigger, and his quirky and downright disturbing idiosyncrasies – those gaming memories alone were priceless. I wondered how much it would cost me to buy it off the kid.

I got closer to the boy and saw the $5 price sticker. I decided to try and see if I could bid him up. I opened my mouth, and before I could speak, he bolted, taking the game and my chances of acquiring a handy dwarfish sidekick with him.

Gem number two
I’d missed out on Zelda, but continued the quest. The blistering sun bombarded my skin and the near triple-digit humidity made me feel as if I was walking through a sauna.

In a black, dirt-covered plastic garbage can, I found my next quarry: one of the more spectacularly unsuccessful peripherals of the videogame world – a Nintendo Virtual Boy. I hoped I wasn’t having heat stroke-induced hallucinations.

It wasn’t the heat – or the humidity. Not only had I set my eyes on the mythical Virtual Boy, but all the accessories were there as well; including the manual, the controller, visor, stand and a game, along with a gumball machine, a neon wristwatch, a broken alarm clock and a set of non-related electronic cords, all for $0.50.

“I don’t even remember buying that. I’m not sure if it works or not,” said the man behind the table of the Virtual Boy.

I was more than happy to pay $0.50 for a Nintendo relic that could at worst be used as a decorative paperweight. The Virtual Boy was the only Nintendo system I never owned, because when I learned about it, the Nintendo 64 had already become the “new hotness,” rendering its VR-enabled cousin culturally obsolete.

My brain was playing its own celebratory fanfare music. I didn’t care that the Virtual Boy was a failed system with only 33 games; I didn’t care that it was the butt of many jokes on online message boards; and I sure didn’t care about the supposed retina-burning images – I only cared about it becoming mine.

It’s hard to forget the magical feeling of owning a new console, discovering what exactly it can do and getting to physically touch it after drooling over pictures of it online and in magazines. Sure, the Virtual Boy wouldn’t have that wonderful new plastic smell when I took it home, but the experience could still be wonderful. I quickly bought it and disappeared, fleeing into the crowd like the boy with the Zelda disc. I had gotten in touch with my inner-treasure-seeking-child.

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Gem number three
Weeks later in another small town named Howard, I found myself lost in a sea of women’s clothing, with no electronics in sight. Or so it seemed. Under a table, I spied a seemingly out-of-place giant green tub. With a glimmer of hope, I approached it and pulled the top off. The result: Nirvana. The tub was filled with over 100 Sega Genesis games.

“I’ll give you all of it for $20,” said the lady behind the table. “I don’t even know how they got here.”

Part of me was appalled – someone had probably spent years amassing these games. Playing them and loving them. A piece of this mystery person’s life was being sold for a pittance alongside piles of slips, skirts and blouses. I was, in effect, rooting through the discarded corpse of some unknown person’s memories, picking at the bones. On the other hand, there were a ton of games in that tub, and I had to restrain myself from acting like a giddy school girl as I searched the pile for a few of my long-sought favorites.

A giant stockpile of games for $20 is definitely a deal, but most of the games in the tub were also back at my house in my own collection, so I moved on, leaving the find to someone whose collection wasn’t as complete, and perhaps salving my own feelings of remorse at committing a sin I’d never wish on any gamer, least of all myself.

Though I left the Howard yard sale empty handed, I did purchase a number of games throughout my travels. Some I had been interested in, but for which I had never wanted to pay full price, while others were games I’d needed to replace because I’d stupidly sold them as a child to buy something cooler.

I also purchased games if they seemed interesting enough and were close to rental price, because even if they were terrible, they still make wonderful stocking-stuffers for my unsuspecting friends. And even though I didn’t stumble upon any earth-shaking finds, after fighting through hoards of EA sports titles and other videogames that didn’t catch my interest, I did return home with a bag full of videogame-related goodies.

At the end of my adventure, I wiped my prizes with an antibacterial soap (you never know where yard sale objects have been), spread them out on the table and tried to calculate how much I’d saved over “suggested retail.” Altogether, I’d brought home almost $500 worth of videogame-related objects for $10.

You can save lots of money if you’re willing to wake up early and go on a yard sale adventure. And sure, there’s a thrill in getting a bargain and bringing home an old game for nostalgia’s sake, but a lot of what makes getting out and rooting through suburbia’s “junk” is just being out there with other people. I ran into a kid who, in 10 years, might be more of a hardcore gamer than I am or might even design the next Mario or Halo. That encounter alone was worth more than the $10 I spent, and would never have happened on eBay.

Matthew McKeague is a freelance writer and journalism graduate student at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at yankovicfarley [at] hotmail [dot] com.

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