Software Engineer Jonathan Chapman loves gaming, and he has a physical collection of over 16,000 games to prove it. In addition to the games, Chapman collects different versions of consoles, books, game guides and comics.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where you are from, what do you do for a living?
I’m from the mountains of North Carolina and I’m a software engineer by trade. I’ve been a game collector since high school but really picked it up again after college, around 2005.
What is your gaming background? What were your first consoles and titles?
Growing up in the middle of nowhere, we didn’t even have a Walmart for years and years. Gaming consoles came from trips to Tennessee or through mail-order until they became more popular in local stores. I got a NES around 1987. Before that I got to play it and the 2600 at my cousin’s house. I was always almost one generation behind. My childhood favorites were Mega Man 2, Super Mario 3 and the Legend of Zelda.
Fortunately, I had friends that had the new tech and could go enjoy it with them, which is how I played Super Mario World and Super Mario 64. When I was in high school we used to meet up at a friend’s in town and play games we had rented from the local video game store. My friend Billy was on top of the latest technology – even importing consoles from Japan for us to enjoy.
When I was in college, Billy ran the electronics section of a local pawn shop and I was able to pick up some great older games for really cheap, like Mega Man X3 and Dracula X.
Just how big is your collection today? How much space does it take up?
As far as my records go, I have 16,515 physical games in my collection (yeah I know.. that’s a lot). It actually doesn’t take up as much space as one would imagine though. In my house I’ve spread it out until I get the funds to build a dedicated building for them in a workshop or garage, etc. Currently I have a wall of disc-games upstairs covering PS1, Sega CD, and Saturn imports along with a side half-room filled with bookshelves holding PC, NDS, Gameboy, GBA and PSP. On the main floor I have my PCE, Dreamcast, Saturn (U.S.), 3DS and Vita games. And down in the basement I have 360, PS3, Wii, GC, Xbox, Genesis, etc. Right now I keep NES/SNES/N64/PS2 games in boxes until I can shelve them.
What are some of the rarest pieces in your collection? What are your personal favorites?
I honestly have no idea about rarest – since I’m not a collector that cares about that really. I’ve actually sold games I owned previously that were rare like Shantae for GBC, and Saturn Bomberman – which I bought then sold several times – and Mega Man 8. I replaced those with import copies or, in the case of Shantae, a repro cart. I still keep some expensive original games like Popful Mail on Sega CD and Guardian Heroes on Saturn because I like them as physical items.
My personal favorites are games that aren’t really rare – like Phoenix on 2600 or Mega Man 2 on the NES. I really like the Rockman 1-6 games I have for Famicom because they’re different colors. I also love Working Designs games in general. I recently picked up the 8-Bit Xmas 2017 cart from retrousb that is really neat – it lights up and has a LCD screen.
I also collect at lot of gaming hardware aside from games. I have a pretty large collection of different color Nintendo handhelds, like GBC. So that’s something I really enjoy.
When did you decide to start collecting video games?
It wasn’t really “collecting” when I started. Back then it was like people that had VHS tapes, etc. – just people grabbing stuff they enjoyed using like Star Wars tapes or anime. At some point I just owned enough that I decided to keep going to fill out a library to enjoy. At that point I was hitting up flea markets looking for PS1 and Xbox games. I guess that’s when I decided to collect. So that was maybe 10 years ago. People need to remember that maybe half of my collection I got for less than a buck a game. It wasn’t until I got 80 percent through some of these collections that I had to go chase down the expensive games.
Where are some places you look for new additions?
Well these days I actually need very little that is available commonly out in stores unless someone turns in a whole collection. And we’re also at that point where finding rare games at flea markets is pretty difficult – what with everyone knowing they’re worth money. I remember back in 2005 we had flea market resellers marking up SNES games like ChronoTrigger to $50, much to our disgust. So imagine that now – 10 years later. It’s just a lot worse.
I have friends among resellers that know I’m into odd stuff and will call me if they get something they think I want, which is how I got my Atari XE. And I causally hit up the gaming shops when I can just in case. But most of my collecting these days comes from discovering something exists and then finding the cheapest price for it online. I also have a couple of friends in Japan that I ask to look. I’m also not against ebaying something when it’s the best option.
How do you fill in gaps in your collection? Do you have a wish list of titles and versions of consoles you need?
I do have a wish-list on google docs that I keep updated when it’s not a game I feel I need to go out and buy immediately, i.e. when a YT announced a review for it. And when the budget allows, I’ll go hit up that list and try to knock some off of it. If a game is expensive, I’ll often get a reproduction of it. It’s all about the item being worth it for you.
What advice would you have for people who are just starting their collections today?
I’d say to collect for the right reasons. If you’re just buying special editions because they might be worth more money in the future, then you’re doing it all wrong. Speculation isn’t what this hobby is about. I’d say first to collect what you enjoy playing. Then, if you’re far enough along, fill out the rest.
What kind of modifications or workarounds do you have to use to use some of your consoles?
Well I’ve done my share of modding (mostly handhelds), but anything serious I ask someone in the community, a specialist, to do. For example, I own three or four Game Gears that I swapped out the CFL tubes in for LED backlights. But then I sent two out to get the McWill LCD mod done to. I’ve also modded my Atari 2600 and 7800 for composite out, but I sent in a Famicom and a Master System to have them modded for me. It’s all about balancing risk, time, and money.
I have the systems in my main room hooked up to a Framemeister with RGB so I can play them on my TV. I also bought an Analogue Nt mini to play systems with as well. So those are examples of wanting games to play on a modern TV. I use some of the composite systems in my basement with original CRT TVs. I haven’t really gotten into the PVM scene, but I do enjoy having many ways to play my games.
What were your favorite consoles of each generation?
It’s hard to pick favorites. For TV systems it would be NES, SNES, PS1, Dreamcast, PS3. For handhelds it would be Game Boy, Game Gear, GBA, NDS, PSP, Vita.
Which console has the best controller?
Best 2D pad is Sega Saturn. Best 3D pad is Xbox One, which I enjoy with PC gaming.
How many TVs do you own?
I have one upstairs (a medium thrift-store find), two in the main room downstairs, four in use down in the basement, and maybe another two or three in storage down there.
What are your thoughts on the preservation of video game history? As a collector, would you ever feel obligated to make donations to a video game museum?
I have mixed thoughts about it from the community perspective, as in how the community conducts itself. I believe the development of games (designs, graphic resources, marketing materials, source code) and the digital record of the game binaries should absolutely be preserved. I also see some people being over-zealous about personal property, and yes…these are things people own and many were sold in the millions.
I know 8-bit Guy (a YT’er) was scorned for replacing a label on common Atari 2600 Pitfall cart with a reproduction label – supposedly because it might confuse future game collectors. And there are those that get angry at people that collect reproduction cartridges – even though gaming companies like Retro-Bit are selling officially licensed NES cartridges. At some point common sense must be applied.
If the goal is to preserve games so the next generation can enjoy them I’m fine with that. If it’s to get on a soap box and dictate what people should do with their own property I’m not so much a fan.
I wouldn’t mind donating to a museum as I get older, but there’s really very little I own that’s of special value, if any at all. While games like Castlevania: Dracula X are worth money to collectors, they’re hardly in small-enough quantiles that a museum would want to house them. My friend Clint Basinger (LGR) has received some truly museum-quality items and I believe he is on top of making sure they’re preserved.
How do you feel about the trend of games moving towards digital downloads, and how will that affect your collection in the future?
I don’t feel bad about it. Even though we had the MP3 revolution in the late-90s, record collecting is in full force today. Even though we have digital comics, people still love to collect the physical ones. It really doesn’t impact collecting besides newer games not being available in a physical format. And even that is being handled by reprint companies as well as indie games getting physical editions. While I’m not really happy with the way some companies sell these items, such as Limited Run with their generated scarcity, in the end they’re providing a service to a niche collector community.
What else do you collect?
I collect gaming hardware, such as different variations and models of consoles and handhelds.
I also collect comics, I have about 10,000+ of those.
I collect books, game guides and graphic novels that I know I’ll read.
I collect art prints at conventions or when I can online and store those in portfolios.
I used to collect card games and I still collect cart sets when I’m interested in the subject matter.
I collect some DVDs and anime but it’s only a) things I watch every year and b) any comic-hero related DVD/Bluray that I found for cheap.
Who is Urza, and why are they enraged?
My twitter handle is from an old Magic: The Gathering card – so it’s a reference to my love of that game (well to what it used to be when I played it more).
Urza was sort of the Da Vinci in the Antiquities set and during his war against his Brother Mishra, he made advanced weaponry – which is what this card represents. It was a late-game trump card that was hard to win against so I picked it for my handle.
Where can people follow you on social media?