On Collections and Identity

I do not own the game I have come to regard as my favourite. However, it is not a costly, out-of-print game legendary for its rarity – like, say, Roads and Boats. Nor is it a new sensation currently in short supply, like Eclipse.

Instead, it’s 6 nimmt! – a card game which is both cheap (under £10), and widely available.

So, why not buy it? It exemplifies the kind of accessible, yet subtly strategic game-play which I particularly tend to love in board and card games. It is just about as fun to play with new players as it is with veterans, all players are involved at all times, and few games are as consistently capable of provoking gasps of delight or horror as is 6 nimmt! In short, it is a fine example of what I want modern board and card games to be.

But, let’s flip the question. Why buy it?

For all that I appreciate the game, 6 nimmt! is best played with at least five. Enough of the people I play with have a copy that there’s usually one around when we get together in larger numbers. Not always – but I get to play often enough to feel satisfied.

Therefore, I’d be buying my own copy of the game not so much for the sake of playing it, as for the sake of showing how much I enjoy playing it. I’d be using my ownership of a copy largely as a shorthand means to convey an attribute of my  identity as a player of board and card games.

6 nimmt!

6 nimmt! (Photo by Luis García)

To a certain extent, I went through something comparable as a teenager, investing – emotionally and financially – a great deal into a CD collection. What I listened to, I felt, said something significant about me, and the CDs were the documentary evidence of this.

I’m sure I’m not alone in having experienced this way of thinking. But, each evolution of my tastes became more expensive to reflect materially than the previous. Illustrating a new strand of my tastes, in proportion to my emotional investment in it, was simple when I had ten CDs, but rather more taxing by the time I had 100.

So, the first major adjustment in my record collection was pretty simple. When, in my mid-teens, I started to balance listening to softer, more melodious music with the louder, angstier material I had previously been pre-dominantly interested in, it took only a few records for the two primary aspects of my taste to be evenly reflected in my collection. By my late teens, however, when a wider variety of styles began to interest me, I couldn’t afford to provide record of this in the same way.

I confess this troubled me more than it should have. When I was eighteen or so, I remember having a girl whom I was keen on come to visit. After going for a walk, we went to my room. Before sitting down, she cast her eye over my CDs for the first time: a moment which felt to me  like watching impotently as an examination script I’d submitted was marked. After a few seconds, she commented, ‘I didn’t expect your taste to be so narrow.’

For her, what my CDs implied was more valid than all I myself had said previously. As she saw it, the CDs were my taste.

It didn’t go anywhere with her. Though now I understand my CD collection probably wasn’t the main reason for that.


Thankfully, I don’t have an albatross of this size around my neck (Photo by Fritz Mulnar, of his collection)

I am very glad the internet has rendered collecting music a thing of the past for me. I listen, at a given moment, to a piece of music, and then it passes. I might, to aid my memory, add a song to a Spotify playlist, but the triviality of doing so means there’s little emotion invested. I can enjoy songs and albums without worrying about their relation to my self-concept, and the expression of it.

The physical quality of board games makes this way of thinking harder to employ. Though I do not view myself as a board game collector, the fact is that I have accumulated a number of board games. In one sense or another, I have a collection. If I buy a game, or even if I trade for it, I have a commodity to try and get value from, and, as with music, that value is in emotional experience. But, in sum, I’ve realized how healthy it is to disassociate the games I own from my identity as much as possible.

Playing, and enjoying, a game a friend owns, the thought can still flash through my mind that I should have my own copy because the game suits me. I try to hush that voice. I understand better than I once did that using ownership as a means to confirm emotional value is ill-advised. I can like something without needing to possess it. And, thankfully, I doubt there are many women in the world who would inspect the games I own, looking to see a true reflection of me.

5 thoughts on “On Collections and Identity

  1. This reminds me of that time I discovered my best friend owned Munchkin. Needless to say I never spoke to him again… 😉

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  4. Good one! I had similar experiences with the accumulation of much music for a while.

    But besides the concrete manifestation of one’s identity, I’d say there is actually another reason (perhaps more valid) to buy an object: compensating the creator for the pleasure their creation gives you, and encouraging further creation and publication/distribution of that kind of object.

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