Meet the man build­ing the world’s largest game li­brary

EDGE - - HOARD MODE - BY PA­TRICK STAFFORD Pho­tog­ra­phy Jeff Crow

Ev­ery gen­er­a­tion longs for the com­forts of the past, but the busi­ness of nos­tal­gia has never been so lu­cra­tive. Se­ries more than 20 years old are back on tele­vi­sion or be­ing adapted for the sil­ver screen; re­makes and re­boots are rife – cir­cum­stan­tially, even the decades-ob­so­lete Sony Walk­man tape player has made cameos in big-bud­get movies and videogames. And games them­selves are just as sub­ject to the trend. In the hands of a solid de­signer, old­fash­ioned no­tions can be­come the im­pe­tus for some­thing new, but for ev­ery XCOM or Fez, there’s a game with lit­tle to rec­om­mend it be­yond call­ing back to a by­gone era.

Joel Hop­kins may feel the tug of nos­tal­gia more than most, but he’s not just sen­ti­men­tal about the past: he pre­serves and show­cases it. The owner of what he claims is the world’s largest col­lec­tion of videogames, Hop­kins has over 18,000 ti­tles stored in his pur­pose-built home, nes­tled in the green sub­ur­ban hills of Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia. Dis­played care­fully, proudly, in a room freshly painted with bright colours – fin­ished mere days be­fore we visit – each ti­tle is care­fully cat­a­logued, or­dered and set out al­most like it’s in a game store. Along a long wall, ev­ery ma­jor con­sole from the past 43 years is con­nected to a TV that’s been specif­i­cally cho­sen to show­case its games at their best. There’s another room – an an­nex, in fact – en­tirely ded­i­cated to hous­ing coin-op­er­ated ar­cade ma­chines.

Although Hop­kins has been col­lect­ing for more than 20 years, this year he’s ramp­ing up the stakes. He is in talks with Guin­ness for claim­ing the World Record ti­tle, and he’s also in­creas­ing the num­ber of videos he’s pub­lish­ing on his YouTube chan­nel, Last Gamer. He has some 13,000 sub­scribers cur­rently, which is in­signif­i­cant next to the big­gest YouTube gam­ing chan­nels, but Hop­kins says he’s just get­ting started, and hav­ing such a large col­lec­tion pro­vides him with a gal­axy of op­tions for con­tent.

What’s the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind col­lect­ing such a li­brary? Ac­cord­ing to Hop­kins, there isn’t any fi­nan­cial gain to be made – he cringes at the men­tion of selling up – and he’s not ready to do­nate any of the rarer ti­tles to a mu­seum ei­ther. (“It would kill me,” he says.) He bris­tles at the very thought of putting ads on his videos. No. The im­pe­tus here, it turns out, is sim­ple pride.

“No one would ex­pect an Aus­tralian guy to have the world’s big­gest col­lec­tion,” he says. “You wouldn’t think it’s pos­si­ble. Games are more ex­pen­sive here, too. You go to flea mar­kets in the States and they’re selling games for a dol­lar or two. Here, they’re harder to find.”

Yet the room we’re in feels like a tra­di­tional bricks-and-mor­tar store from the 1990s that’s fallen through time, shelf af­ter shelf of games invit­ing you to skim the spines of Com­modore 64 cu­rios and 360 hits alike, as well as ev­ery­thing in be­tween. A Vir­tual Boy sits proudly on its tri­pod atop one glass dis­play case, while a lim­ited-edi­tion Me­tal

Gear Solid V PS4 is perched with equal promi­nence on the ad­ja­cent cab­i­net, which hap­pens to be full of 3DSes in var­i­ous trims.

Hop­kins’ ded­i­ca­tion to build­ing this gi­ant space with his own hands sets him apart from other col­lec­tors. Where they might fill a few shelves while boxes over­flow in garages and

“No one would ex­pect an Aus­tralian guy to have the world’s big­gest videogame col­lec­tion”

lofts, Hop­kins is deal­ing with builders and con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als. He’s also get­ting his hands dirty, and lov­ing it. “I’ve built this space,” he says, “and with YouTube I showed peo­ple along the way how I was build­ing it.”

It doesn’t just stop at games: Hop­kins also has a THX-cer­ti­fied home cin­ema, which he de­signed and built him­self. (It helps that he used to build sim­i­lar rooms for a liv­ing.) A lot of plan­ning, dis­ci­pline and co­or­di­na­tion goes into build­ing a pro­ject of this size.

There’s some­thing quaint about this col­lec­tion of phys­i­cal games, but show­ing off this type of li­brary is al­ways go­ing to at­tract

“I’m fussy, but if some­thing gets a bit scratched, it doesn’t bother me” at­ten­tion, so what bet­ter place to show­case it than YouTube? The sheer willpower in­volved draws some no­tice, as ev­i­denced by the thou­sands of views for sim­i­lar en­deav­ours. There is also a greater in­ter­est in col­lect­ing within the in­dus­try now; three years ago, a col­lec­tion of sev­eral thou­sand games was listed for a mil­lion Eu­ros on eBay.

In­deed, Hop­kins says that part of the rea­son for ramp­ing up the pro­duc­tion of videos for his chan­nel is com­pe­ti­tion with other col­lec­tors. At 41, he feels he has a breadth of knowl­edge that younger broad­cast­ers sim­ply don’t pos­sess.

“I don’t know any­body else like me,” he says, although at the same time he dis­misses the idea his chan­nel is meant as a show­case for his per­son­al­ity. “I don’t want to show off. I’m just some guy. But I see col­lec­tions on YouTube and I think, ‘Those col­lec­tions are not that big.’ But also, I see peo­ple re­view­ing games, and they’re just mak­ing stuff up. They’ll talk about a level in the game and it’s not cor­rect. That pisses me off a lit­tle bit.”

He points to his ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of coin-op cab­i­nets, not­ing that col­lec­tors on YouTube usu­ally fo­cus on ei­ther con­soles or ar­cade hard­ware. “I’m the only one who does both,” he says. “I’ve got a whole col­lec­tion of games. I could re­view any game I want, and I can re­view it on ev­ery sin­gle sys­tem. So that’s what I want to do.”

Hop­kins is in self-pro­fessed “rampage” mode at the mo­ment. The day af­ter our in­ter­view, he’s due to pick up a ship­ment of sev­eral hun­dred PS3 and 360 games. As with all ob­ses­sions, his quest to col­lect so many ti­tles be­comes more un­der­stand­able when put in con­text. As a child, he fell in love with videogames, start­ing with an Atari VCS in the late 1970s. Mov­ing into his teens, he dab­bled with piracy, down­load­ing games from bul­letin boards us­ing the In­ter­net con­nec­tion at his work­place. (In a strange co­in­ci­dence, he was ac­quainted with Ju­lian As­sange at the time, the two of them at­tend­ing com­puter swap meets to­gether.) “I’m against piracy now,” he says. “It was just a time of in­no­cence back then. It was just good times.”

Hop­kins then opened his own videogame store in the early ’ 90s, im­port­ing games – of­ten from Ja­pan – and selling them months be­fore they were freely avail­able at Aus­tralian chains. “I had 300 copies of Street Fighter II in my first ship­ment,” he re­calls. “Within two weeks, they were all gone.”

Even­tu­ally, the store shut down, fol­low­ing Sony and Nintendo tak­ing ac­tion against him for par­al­lel im­ports. “I didn’t want to have to deal with them, be­cause I wasn’t go­ing to make any money,” Hop­kins says. “But I had peo­ple com­ing from ev­ery­where in the state to buy from my lit­tle shop. It was the best time to be around.”

Hop­kins’ sto­ries are drenched with nos­tal­gia. With no al­le­giance to one fran­chise or con­sole, he says it wasn’t any par­tic­u­lar tech­nol­ogy that cap­tured his at­ten­tion. He just liked get­ting wrapped up in another world. It’s partly why he doesn’t care about his col­lec­tion be­ing in mint con­di­tion, and why many copies of games are his own from more than 30 years ago. He points at a The

Leg­end Of Zelda III: A Link To The Past cart. “That’s my orig­i­nal copy. That’s im­por­tant to me,” he says. Since a few scratches don’t bother him, he’s happy for his young son to play with any game that catches his at­ten­tion.

“They’re my games. I have mem­o­ries of the copy of The Last Ninja my mother bought me, and that copy is price­less. It’s got the price sticker on it and ev­ery­thing, but I don’t want a pris­tine copy just to say it’s pris­tine. I don’t throw things around – I’m fussy – but if some­thing gets a bit scratched, if there are some faint lines on it or what­ever, it doesn’t bother me.”

But a love for games does not a col­lec­tor make, and the mo­ti­va­tion for buy­ing so many of any given cat­e­gory of pos­ses­sions al­ways treads a fine line. Is there a point at which Hop­kins’ quest be­comes a cause for con­cern, rather than an achieve­ment?

It’s a mat­ter of per­son­al­ity, Hop­kins says. While he’s al­ways been pas­sion­ate about videogames and tech­nol­ogy in gen­eral, it re­quires a type of ob­ses­sive per­son­al­ity to track down so many. And it’s a trait that has spilled over into dif­fer­ent as­pects of his life. “When I get into some­thing, I re­ally get into it,” he says. “I don’t do it half-assed.”

Hop­kins is hardly a reclu­sive hoarder – he of­ten has friends and fam­ily over to en­joy his col­lec­tion, found fi­nan­cial suc­cess through the stock mar­ket, and has a suc­cess­ful busi­ness re­pair­ing pin­ball ma­chines. But his ob­ses­sion seeps into other as­pects of his life. When he sees some­thing he wants, he says, noth­ing can change his mind.

In other rooms of his large home, Hop­kins shows off his col­lec­tion of RC cars. His home of­fice is lined with boxed Star Wars fig­urines from var­i­ous eras. They’re care­fully dis­played on hooks, just as they would be in a store. Many of the model cars re­main in their boxes. Hop­kins’ de­sire to col­lect doesn’t stop at the minia­ture ver­sions, ei­ther.

“If I get money, I want a Fer­rari. Now I want two. Then I want a Lam­borgh­ini. It’s that type of men­tal­ity of never stop­ping, and it gets me into trou­ble,” he says. “Once I started with games, I never stopped.”

While Hop­kins has no debt and spends all of his free cash on cars and games – he owns both of his homes out­right – his time in the stock mar­ket took some­thing of a toll. He de­scribes sleep­less nights chart­ing stocks and closely watch­ing when prices would reach their most opportune points.

“It was very dif­fi­cult,” he says, “You be­come so fo­cused on the end re­sult, it’s just go, go, go – there’s a break­ing point. I don’t stop. That’s my prob­lem.”

The pace of Hop­kins’ quest has be­gun to tem­per, though. Dur­ing the ’ 90s, gath­er­ing games be­came a fi­nan­cial strug­gle for him. “I was re­ally go­ing be­yond my means – that was hard. I’ve got enough funds now to know when to wait for a good deal. I used to see a game worth $200 and think that I’d have to have it, but now I can just let it go and wait six months for when it’s half the price.”

And yet with the in­creased wis­dom of age ap­par­ently comes the long­ing of youth. Hop­kins elab­o­rates on why so many of the old games were the best – the typ­i­cal an­swers of sim­pler graph­ics, a fo­cus on game­play, and so on – but other as­pects of his per­son­al­ity han­ker for the past too. His home is filled with shrines to the ’ 80s and ’ 90s, film posters of Star Wars, Star Trek and other pop-cul­ture mem­o­ra­bilia dis­played in full view.

It was the trap­pings of the era, not the cul­ture it­self, that re­ally won Hop­kins over. “No one knew what to do with com­put­ers at the time,” he says. “You talked to other peo­ple and they didn’t know what was go­ing on. In the 1980s, there was so much pos­si­bil­ity. Big things hap­pened. Now things are not re­ally buzzing any more. Things are bet­ter here, bet­ter there, but not as ex­cit­ing, I think.”

This men­tal­ity has seem­ingly seeped into videogames in the past few years. Space flight sim­u­la­tions are re­turn­ing to promi­nence af­ter a pe­riod of rel­a­tive quiet, with Elite:

Dan­ger­ous, No Man’s Sky and Star Citizen all at­tempt­ing to re­alise the prom­ise of in­fi­nite hori­zons made by com­put­ing in the ’ 70s. Mean­while, up­dates of older ti­tles, such as

XCOM: En­emy Un­known and King’s Quest, have seen great suc­cess by tap­ping into the sense of long­ing that Hop­kins de­scribes.

Part of this is easy to ex­plain: older cre­ators have re­turned to their favourite stomp­ing grounds via crowd­fund­ing, and the chil­dren of the ’ 80s and ’ 90s are now old enough to own stu­dios. But the psy­chol­ogy of nos­tal­gia is com­plex. For in­stance, stud­ies have shown that sad­ness is of­ten a trig­ger for nos­tal­gic long­ings. In 2013, Jamie Madi­gan wrote in these very pages that re­search has found peo­ple who get easily nos­tal­gic have higher self-es­teem and find it easy to trust oth­ers. Stim­uli even as ba­sic as a song can trig­ger this type of re­sponse, and re­search has shown that most peo­ple re­call so­cial con­texts when dis­cussing the past – and it also shows that peo­ple who lack a so­cial con­nec­tion ex­pe­ri­ence nos­tal­gia the most acutely.

Hop­kins de­scribes invit­ing his friends to play net­worked Gears Of War – his favourite se­ries from the past decade – just weeks be­fore. “I nearly had tears in my eyes,” he says. “We al­ways used to play Gears Of War. We’d start af­ter din­ner and play un­til four in the morn­ing. Now there are days when I walk in, and I put on a game just to hear the mu­sic.”

It would be easy to dis­miss Hop­kins’ goal as be­ing noth­ing more than the ven­ture of a man ded­i­cated to re­claim­ing his lost youth. But he isn’t dis­mis­sive of the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion – “I’ll try any­thing,” he says – even though he laments the evo­lu­tion of games from phys­i­cal to dig­i­tal media. Af­ter all, a big col­lec­tion of dig­i­tal games doesn’t look par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing on a shelf.

There are still many thou­sands of games to col­lect, and the goal is to own ev­ery ti­tle for ev­ery ma­jor con­sole. A fi­nite num­ber of games sug­gests an end point, a marker where Hop­kins could say that he’s fin­ished. But it’s un­likely just hav­ing it all would be enough. “I could just stick an SD drive in a Mega Drive car­tridge and have ev­ery game for that con­sole,” says. “Done. But there’s noth­ing like a full li­brary where you can see it,” he says.

“I can’t get out of it now. I’m in deep.”

“You be­come so fo­cused on the end re­sult, it’s just go, go, go – there’s a break­ing point. I don’t stop. That’s my prob­lem”

Among Joel Hop­kins’ col­lec­tion is a full set of Ja­panese Mega Drive carts. It con­tains his sin­gle most ex­pen­sive pur­chase, an ex­tremely rare copy of Tetris, for which he paid $27,000

Hop­kins has spent $1.8–1.9m on his col­lec­tion to date, and in­de­pen­dent val­u­a­tions put its worth at $2.5–3m. There were 18,240 ti­tles here at last count, but the pile con­tin­ues to grow

Hop­kins’ car col­lec­tion is big on Porsches. Nat­u­rally, all of his ve­hi­cles have a home in a garage that he built him­self

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