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Would you rather collect in-game goods than real stuff?

4:00 PM on 02.02.2011 // Jonathan Holmes

[Every so often, you may see some of these mini-features appear on the front page. They are just short editorial thoughts meant to start an interesting conversation in the comments and c-blogs. Enjoy! Now get to discussing!]

As you might have heard, there is a massive ice/sleet/snowstorm dominating the Northeast right now. Over the past 24 hours, it's caused schools to close, tractor trailers to flip over, and a general sense of frustration and powerlessness to spread throughout the land. On a personal note, I've been sick as a dog since Sunday. For those reasons and more, it's been hard to do anything for the last couple of days.

Still, that didn't stop me from making the two hour round tip walk through inches (and sometimes feet) of snow to my local Gamestop so that I may download a shiny Suicine. The whole thing was quite an adventure, too detailed and bizarre to fully recant here, but I will tell you that along the way I met a man with a mohawk ponytail, a seven year old kid who's already obsessed with quoting the upcoming shooter Bulletstorm, and a beautiful 6-foot-tall woman dressed from head to toe in denim, who only collects shiny Pokemon -- because "regular Pokemon are for plebeians."

It struck me how odd it is that I have this shiny Pokemon, a technically worthless virtual treasure, to thank for my adventure. It also struck me that if Gamestop had been giving away a physical collectible, be it a little Pokemon toy or something along those lines, I definitely wouldn't have bothered to make the walk. I value these non-existent, virtual creatures more than I do a lot of my real life stuff.

I've also had a lot of them for longer than my physical belongings. Looking back on my collection of Pokemon in Pokemon Pearl I see hundreds that I've had since the Gameboy/Gamecube days, I've had them for longer than I've had my two cats, and I still use them in battles on a regular basis (the Pokemon, not my cats).

I know I'm not alone on this. Why is it that so many people place so much value their virtual goods, be it their Pokemon collection, their Xbox 360 Gamerscore, their Facebook farms, and the millions of other forms of in-game acquisitions? Why is it that some games, like Pokemon, manage to instill that long-term sense of value and attachment in people, while so many other similar games fail to find that kind of psychological real estate in the collective psyche of gamer culture?

Tell me about it. What in-game collectibles do you value the most, and why?

Jonathan Holmes, Bad Joke Uncle
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