Note: Before I begin, let me start by quickly saying that I’m fine. Due to an ongoing 10-month-long fight with Chronic Ebstein Barr Virus/Mononucleosis (yes, the kissing disease; it can lay some people out with fatigue/brain fog/heart palpitations on and off for over a year in some cases), I’ve been staying with family that live in the same town as me.
About two weeks ago, someone broke into my apartment. It happened in a historically safe part of town at approximately 10:00pm and, by all accounts, the burglar may have also tried to break into several apartments on my street that night, and successfully robbed a restaurant just around the corner from my place. He also may or may not have successfully broken into another apartment on my street just a few days later and, as of the time I’m writing this, has yet to be apprehended.
While the burglar didn’t seem to steal anything from my place outside of an unopened set of kitchen knives and a change of clothes (which unfortunately includes a print of the Letters to Cleo shirt that Adam Scott iconically wore on Parks and Recreation), I honestly found myself rather shocked/caught off guard by the experience. Perhaps unsurprisingly, being woken up by the police at 4 am on a weeknight to visit your (then trashed) apartment tends to strike a nerve.
But what I found the night, as I rummaged through my opened shelves and tossed-around belongs, was that I wasn’t simply overcome with feeling a lack of security towards my apartment; I also found that I felt a deep sense of personal insecurity towards what that burglar had seen.
While talking to the police about what the burglar may have been looking for that night, they shared the idea that he was likely a homeless person/drug addict in search of cash or jewelry/valuables that could easily be pawned off. Because of that, this means that he had like gotten a good look at the belongings of my apartment. And that got me thinking, what did he think of all my geeky/retro gaming stuff?
Despite the fact that many of my actual valuables (such as my Macbook Pro, PC, and camera equipment) are at my current residence due to being used for my day job, a decent chunk of my film and retro game collection were still at my apartment. And while this burglar definitely didn’t stop ransacking my home to look at my boxed NES games or Star Wars Trilogy VHS and DVD sets, I still feel weirdly violated and judged for having so much of it to begin with.
Isn’t that weird? In a situation where someone trespassed and illegally entered my home, I kinda feel shy that I didn’t have anything he deemed valuable. Don’t get me wrong, I actually feel very fortunate about the fact that I wasn’t there that night (fun fact: I was actually due to move back in that week before my EBV flared the week before and I decided to wait a while longer), but I also have this pseudo-instinctive feeling that I almost should leave an apology note there for the next would-be burglar who’ll find a camera-themed coffee mug where one might store fine china.
Anyway, this got me thinking about retro gaming and the weird stigma that’s attached to collecting old/new video games. Unfortunately, many consider video games/collecting them to be a bit of a childish hobby and is, on some level, looked down. This is patently false and wrong, of course, but it often feels like the general consensus towards the retro gaming scene is that many of the people within it lack basic social skills, are hoarders, and that they’re essentially every “nerd” trope that thrived in pop culture until the Big Bang Theory made being geeky “cool.”
I guess I’ve just haven’t thought about that stigma recently, as I actually only fully got back into gaming just a few months before the start of the pandemic. For the longest time, I felt like I had “outgrown” video games. In reality, I hadn’t so much stopped connecting to games so much as I had stopped finding games that connected with me. And, especially after the pandemic started, that started to change as I began to engage with retro gaming again and rekindled my love for games as a whole. And yet, something about someone being able to go through all of my personal belongs has been really discomforting for me. Part of what I love about retro gaming is the hit of nostalgia that I get out of it; there’s a sense of freedom and unentanglement that I get from the increasingly complex and volatile world we live from playing games made in (what many at least perceive to be) “a simpler time.” Essentially, being able to play Yoshi Story or Donkey Kong Country 64 often reminds me of what it was like to be a young child spending my summer days playing through them with my parents and it almost feels like that burglar’s pressence near my childhood N64 makes it a little harder for me to engage with that nostalgia. It’s almost as if he’s invaded that space and taken away some of what made it “a simpler time” for me.
On some level, I know that’s completely ridiculous that it feels like I almost did something wrong by not having more “traditionally valuable” or “adult” belongings in my apartment to have get stolen. And I also know that it might sound a little ridiculous for me to feel somewhat violated after someone had gone through my belongings and didn’t take anything of personal value to me. In the moment though, it made me worry that I had spent several years of my life suffering through a stage of arrested development; it made feel paranoid that I had stopped growing and maturing as a person at some point and had cognitively slipped into the mindset of a more comfortable age in my life.
I also felt the same way when the police were at my apartment and were watching me go through my stuff. While the officers that went to my apartment were very professional about the job they were doing and while they were nothing but polite and kind to me, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat infantilized by their pressence near me and my personal belongings. There was something disorienting about being the same age as a few of them and them standing over me with a firearm hanging off their hip while I was on my knees checking if my Nintendo 64 was still there. I also felt weird about having a framed picture of my best friend Mike and I photoshopped into Back to the Future III on the side of my living room (a duplicate of a moving present I gave him several years ago) or having a painting of a Gameboy on the wall. It just made me feel a little small or comparatively insignificant, I guess.
I don’t mean for this to sound like a sob story, by the way. The simple fact of the matter is that I was very fortunate to not have that much get taken from my apartment (rough estimates place the stolen clothes/knives at maybe $150-200 at the most). I was also very fortunate to have not been there when it happened, as the state of disarray that the place was left in (coupled with the reports my neighbor made of hearing a lot of doors and drawers being slammed loudly) paint the picture of a potentially violent altercation, had I been there that night. But I couldn’t help but turn inwardly after this all on some level to reflect on how non-gamers look at retro gaming/geek culture, as well as how I feel about it on a subconscious level.
And honestly, I don’t really have a takeaway from all this. I think that, more than anything, the experience was extremely discombobulating for me and that the curiosity it piqued will likely lead to some fun and interesting conversations/articles down the line, but that my feelings towards retro gaming are the same as they’ve always been.
I simply love old video games. I’ve loved them since I was in grade school and would play my friend Ryan’s hand-me-down SNES at his mom’s house; I’ve loved them since I was in high school and started buying retro games at Digital Press in Clifton, New Jersey. I simply love retro video games. Talking about and making videos about video games from when I was in middle school through college is how I learned a lot of the tricks about video editing/production that I know, and it’s still my go-to way to spend my free time.
While what happened seriously sucked, I don’t want it to change or inform how I look at gaming. It would be silly for me to let this random crime shake me to my core on such a fundamental level and I know for a fact that there’s nothing wrong with being into retro gaming/nerd culture; I’m also aware of the fact that I’m an adult with a 9-5 job that pays his bills on time and is free to spend what little disposable income I have on whatever I please, so it’s ridiculous for me to feel judged for not owning things that are “more worth” stealing.
I mean, that’s just cognitive dissonance at it’s finest, isn’t it? What’s next, inviting the burglar back for a candlelit dinner while he makes suggestions on what I should buy for him to steal next time he’s in town? I’ll pass, as tempting as it may be to get my Letters to Cleo shirt back.
Man, I’ll miss my Ben Wyatt shirt.