Backgammon is hugely popular in the Middle East, where street-side games are a common sight.
But for Americans, a game is more likely to be played in the home.
Over the many words that I’ve been writing about collectible tabletop and video games here at WorthPoint, I’ve tried to share some of my expertise about these subjects in a very collector-minded way. It’s always struck me, being a lifelong collector and player of all kinds of games, that games tend to be largely undervalued in the larger collectibles and antiques market.
I’ve seen $200 games sitting in antique shops tagged at 10 bucks, and I’ve seen game items both grossly under- and over-valued, or even completely passed over on the popular antiques and collector shows. I look at a couple of metrics to value games, most of which are variations on techniques that any picker or appraiser rely on. But I’d like to think working in games at a retail level and almost always looking for a buyer for some game or another gives me some finer insight as to what value games actually have.
But what does that matter?
It’s the holidays (take your pick) and most folks are gathering to celebrate the bonds of friendship and family. Money is being spent by just about everyone at an alarming rate. And in the materialist spirit of the season, I’m reflecting on this whole concept of valuation and what things are really valuable. It’s funny, because it strikes me that in my zeal to prove that there’s monetary value and collectability in the games market, I’ve never really explained in this space what games are really worth.
But let’s back up a couple of thousand years. Games are an ancient device, one of the original forms of social media. People around the world and in every culture have traditionally gathered around a game of some type—whether it’s a primitive Mancala-derived game played by African farmers or an incredibly complex massively multiplayer online roleplaying game—and talking to each other. Players have interacted. They’ve play-acted fantasies. They’ve demonstrated skills or knowledge. They’ve wagered, won and lost money both real and “Monopoly.” They’ve laughed. They’ve felt the pangs of defeat and elation of victory. Life experiences have been abstracted into mechanics and movement, impossibilities have been made real in the mind’s eye and, above it all, people have grown closer.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a game played in the dirt, with sticks and rocks—as in the case of this traditional Mancala game—or a more refined game of checkers in a Georgian parlor. Games are games, and games bring people together.
The shocking truth is that the intrinsic financial value of games is zero. We assign a monetary figure based on principles of supply and demand or what some crazy person on eBay bid for it last week. We do some research and sort out how much a person should or shouldn’t pay based on condition. But really, these assignations are still applied to cardboard, plastic and paper. Or, in the case of digitally downloadable games, a big ephemeral nothing.
The real, higher value of games is that they connect us with others and give us a medium, a set of rules and a specific way to engage our friends and family. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a $2,000, immaculately kept copy of the War of the Ring Collector’s Edition or a ragged-out and moldy 20-cent copy of the Genus edition of Trivial Pursuit dug out of a thrift store. If you’re playing a game and enjoying time spent with others—you’re doing it right. And you’re getting at what games are really worth, maximizing your investment. No speculation required.
In a holiday season tarred by one of the most unspeakable tragedies in recent memory—one that has taken away so much time and togetherness from so many families—I find the idea of making the most of the time we have with our friends and family to be very much of the minute. There’s lot of valuable ways to do this, some more meaningful than others. But here’s another area where we can assign value to games. Maybe it’s a family tradition to play Boggle every year after Christmas dinner. Maybe every year the parents get the kids a new, very nice board game or two. Or maybe you go out the day after Christmas every year since you were 15 and blow your Christmas money on Warhammer miniatures and paints. No matter how you do it, when games are a part of your life or at least your entertainment options, there’s always places where meaning, value, and wealth can be found.
Bangladeshi children enjoying a Carrom game, not unlike the one played by this 1950s American family.
When I sat down to write this column, I thought it was going to be an overview of a couple of holiday themed games. They’re definitely out there, although they’re hardly worth anything in the marketplace and most are either incredibly lame or painfully obscure. But with that amazing Phil Spector Christmas record playing in the background and my kid wrapping presents for his grandparents with my wife, I realized that I wasn’t really giving anything important to our readers with that. So this is my holiday message for everyone reading this piece: Treasure the time you have with your friends and family, and remember that games are a wonderful and unique way to connect with each other.
Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming Websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.
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