“Did I just miss you? Just saw a guy with a NES shaped black book bag walk by,” I texted.
He told me he would be wearing a newsboy cap and a black book bag. I’m crunched in a corner at the Villa-Maria Metro by the ticket booth, scanning the train’s mass exodus for someone matching this description. I can’t help but feel a bit nefarious, having lurked here for the past 15 minutes.
“lol nope. running a bit late. be there shortly.”
I check my phone incessantly, until finally a man dressed in black emerges carrying a plastic grocery bag. He asks if I want to take a look at the stuff. I take a brief glance and deem everything looks in order before handing over my crumpled 50 bucks. Transaction was complete, and my guy thanks me. It’s not everyday that you meet someone with the same affliction, so I was compelled to ask a couple questions.
“Hey man, just wondering why you decided to sell these things off?” I asked.
“It was becoming an obsession. It was sort of getting unhealthy. It was all I was thinking about.”
“Wow, Jesus… I totally understand that.” I laughed uncomfortably as he turned to leave.
“Well, my loss is your gain.”
I thought about what he said about obsession on the metro ride home. However, the endorphin rush of scoring an unopened Shulk pushed the existential crisis that was manifesting within me aside for now.
In my childhood, my drug of choice were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. It was a time in the early 90s, when the popularity of a product meant that its merchandise was exploited to staggering heights. Whenever a Christmas or Birthday rolled around, it was some sort of absurd turtle I didn’t have yet. Some of them spit water, others were dressed in beach volleyball garb, or in baseball uniforms for some reason. It didn’t matter that the action figure didn’t make much sense to me as a child, or that they never did this stuff on TV; I happily ate it all up anyway. So I kept all my Ninja Turtles in their original packaging, and now find myself monitoring the market trying to determine the maximum return on my investment.
That never happened.
I ripped those things open the moment the wrapping paper came off. They were toys. You play with toys, not let them sit in their carbonite prison for an eternity on a shelf. You smash those things together, you throw them down staircases, and dunk them in bathwater. Toys were meant to be objects of play, maybe in extreme circumstances sentenced to lose a limb or two.
I remember standing in line at the launch for Super Smash Bros: Wii U, and I saw the big wall of the original launch amiibo. I remember thinking that it was such an ill-advised idea for Nintendo to attempt to cash-in on the Skylanders model. Cheap hunks of plastic that didn’t exactly do very much in the game world. Then I glanced towards Peach, one of my mains in Smash. I decided to pick her up with my GameCube adapter and a copy of the game. So it remained for two years or so, one lonely Peach sat on the corner of my television stand.
I was killing time in Walmart last February, and came across a large wall of Lucas amiibo. At the time, I felt it was such a cool thing to see a plastic figure of a character in a game I loved. Coupled with the fact that Mother 3 had never been released in North America, it was a bit of a bizarre novelty to see him in plastic form. I picked him up, and brought him home, and sat him next to my lonely Peach. It was nice to see Lucas and it brought me a small joy, but I began to scheme on how to get him a friend. It only made sense to have Lucas next to Ness. There was a small problem though: a bit of preliminary research showed that Ness was considered a rare amiibo. Scouring forums, it became apparent that you can order him from Japan, with the only difference being the packaging. In the collector community, there is a huge difference in the value of a Japenese or European amiibo compared to a North American one, but I didn’t really care. Two of my favourite Nintendo characters looked great on my shelf next to my Mother 3 artwork that my girlfriend made for me.
My slant was towards retro gaming, and I gravitated towards some of the more retro characters available. Megaman, Pacman, Sonic, were all high priority on my list. I started to develop a weird by-product of collecting where I would get that endorphin rush going into retailers to see which amiibo were on the shelf. The potential of finding a rare or a ‘unicorn’ (ultra-rare according to online amiibo charts) was a huge rush, so I found myself going to big box stores in some strange places in the city chasing the high. I picked up a Mewtwo and Greninja by hunting, and started to supplement some of the harder sought ones by ordering from Japan or the EU. Meta Knight, Ike, Marth all came my way from Japan; Pummeluf (aka Jigglypuff) made the rip over from Germany. There were the Retro Games swap meets where I found King Dedede, and Lucario.
I started to get burned out both financially and emotionally. The Craigslist guy was right; it was becoming an unhealthy obsession.
The worst part was that I kept these things sealed up. They weren’t toys, they were just boxes I didn’t even have space to display. And then, slowly, I began opening them, justifying to myself that it was perfectly fine. I thought that opening up an Olimar wouldn’t be so bad, because he isn’t considered that rare. I would incessantly research forums on how other amiibo collectors handled the dilemma. My Ninja Turtle memories came flooding back, and I started to open these things en masse. At least I can derive joy from having these things where I can see them, instead of hidden away in my spare room. It wasn’t like I would be trying to make a profit 50 years from now, and make 30 bucks or so on my investment. These were… toys.
It felt problematic both financially and spiritually to have the desire to complete the collection. It was taking too much time and effort, my partner teased me by reminding me of ‘collectible Beanie Babies’, something that echoed in my subconscious. I genuinely enjoy the figures I do have, and I never bought any of these things expecting them to be worth money. It brings me a bit of happiness to see Ness and Lucas while I’m working. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel compelled to walk into big box stores and immediately head to the electronics department. I stopped scouring online, and I feel at peace with the incomplete collection I have now. Would I pick up a Wii Fit Trainer if I saw it on a shelf? Yeah, of course. For now, I’m happy at a distance as a recovering amiibo collector, and have to agree with my Craigslist’s guy… this all can become a bit unhealthy.