For my last birthday - my fortieth - my brother and a mutual friend treated me to something they knew I'd uniquely enjoy: an escape-room experience. Despite being half the size of a full team, we still made the top three for their monthly completion-time leaderboard for the room we solved. (The completion ratio on the whole is under one-quarter.) Just yesterday, they posted a job opening, and I jumped at it. Their application asked some unique questions, which I enjoyed answering, but by far, the most fascinating block to fill in was labeled thusly:
Tell us a story, short or long, fact or fiction, about yourself. *
Help us get to know you.
The asterisk denoted that it was a required field.
So I wrote a thing:
I do not know for certain whether this lead-in is true or not, but I believe it is: I have the largest game collection in the state. Affectionately known as "The Vault", those who have seen it tend to be stunned... or at least, they were. Now, they're a little... trepidatious. Allow me to explain. I promise this story will mostly be about myself, although perhaps a bit abstracted.
I have been fascinated by games ever since I can remember. It probably started with playing cards. I collect decks, or at least I did when I had the funds to do so, and rarely leave the house without one. Sitting next to me as I type this is a pair of plastic containers and a pair of cardboard boxes, each completely filled with decks... and those are the open ones, those I use and show off. The brick boxes of sealed decks are slightly further away. Anyhow, as I grew up, and starting occasionally possessing money, I would frequent the board game aisle at Toys "R" Us (I swear it was a genuine sight to behold back then - how the mighty have fallen), familiarizing myself with the latest releases and buying one when I could. I was the kid whose family had the Intellivision instead of the Atari (although I eventually got that too); some of the sharpest memories I have from my childhood are moments when my NES library grew by one.
Somewhere along the way, I became known as the game guy. My SNES saw itself hooked up to the television in the basement of my college dorm many nights, running makeshift tournaments. The university gaming club's library was largely inspired by my own, putting in purchase orders for board games I'd brought in so that I could finally take my own copy back home before it wore out completely. People who had old gaming consoles they didn't want anymore gave them to me, knowing they'd be cared for and even used in my hands. I'd be the first invited by those setting up game nights, knowing something incredible they've never played before would essentially be invited along with me. The Vault grew and grew.
Then the flood happened.
Now don't get me wrong: it could have been far worse. It could have been a total loss, or I could have been forced to sell what was still intact. Neither of those happened. The Vault is still there... but it's not the same. I still have the Go stones, but the board was a total loss. I still have the NES carts and their manuals, but their boxes were stored separately and the vast majority of them were destroyed. My Magic: the Gathering cards were sorted by color at the time; my green and black cards were largely wrecked, but only those. (It'd be kind of funny if it weren't so heartbreaking.) Most board games survived, but their boxes became warped through all the humidity when the water evaporated (and some needed to be cleaned of mold - some didn't survive that process). The monetary value of what I lost that day is sizeable, but doesn't compare to the sense of lost history it gave me.
But the damage didn't end there. Spiders moved in. Lots of them. And they're still there. No matter how many I exterminate, more seem to take their place. I always seem to walk into a web at some point every time I visit. There are tables set up within that used to be regularly occupied with guests, playing whatever caught their eye; now few are willing to come over. And now it would appear that more water is threatening to enter The Vault from underneath - the very foundation of the building is starting to crack.
It's a Catch-22, really. Or perhaps more accurately, a pair of them. If I'd known in the first place that my game collection would ever be threatened, I'd have saved more money to properly defend it - but then it wouldn't have been the grand collection it is now, one that wouldn't have been as in need of saving, one that wouldn't have inspired donations to it. And now, with The Vault clearly in need of moving if it's ever to reclaim its glory, I find I need money to move it... with the only obvious source I have being to try to sell some of its contents, which is self-defeating. Not to mention that the environmental damage many of the games received deeply devalued them, so they won't sell for nearly as much as they were worth, even if they're still fully playable - their value as games hasn't dropped a bit, right? In this day and age of entertainment being primarily digital - even when it comes to traditional board games, it's now often "free app download with purchase" - the sense of value for something physical, manipulable, seems to have taken a nosedive. Sure, my Humble Bundle library isn't going to die to a flood, but there's nothing tangible about it. The Vault? You can walk in. You can FEEL it. You can grasp a sense of the scale involved, the amount of history within reach. Every game is a universe unto itself, with its own science to explore and story to create - and that doesn't even consider the meta-story of how the game got in The Vault in the first place. It affects you. Or at least, it would if you could look beyond the damage that has been dealt and can see what The Vault is supposed to be, what it was, and what it could be again.
And that is what I can see. Perhaps it is a superpower, perhaps it is a curse, perhaps it is both; I can see what each game was and what it is now, and it guts me. It guts me to know that something so cared for and desired looks so neglected. It guts me to know that something that should be priceless appears valueless, something with an intrinsic value far exceeding the very concept of currency reduced to apparent rubbish. These games would be worthless outside The Vault... but inside, they are invaluable. They are indispensable. They are inseparable. They are worth something far greater than money to The Vault itself... and to me.
Maybe if you walked in yourself, you'd see only the damage, the mess, the spiders, and the damp floor, and walk out. But maybe, just maybe, you'd see what I see. You'd see that a great injustice occurred, and that perhaps it's not too late to see it righted.
I don't know how this story ends. Maybe you do.
How much of this is fact or fiction, and for that matter how much is literal or metaphorical, is of course left as an exercise for the reader. - ZM