Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s question comes courtesy of reader William T. Thrasher:
In Christmas 2011 my fiancée and I acquired a copy of the board game Carcassonne. We found the elegant design and quick gameplay addictive, and it became one of our favorite after-work activities and the top game we brought out when friends came over. We also quickly accumulated several expansions, and within six months the elegantly simple and fast-playing game we loved became a needlessly complicated slog. Games went from 30 minutes to 2 hours in length, and any attempt to play was preceded by a lengthy debate concerning which expansion rules we’d use and if we should remove a handful of tiles from the bag to cut the playing time down to a manageable level. We went from playing at least three times a week in 2012 to a grand total of three times throughout all of 2013.
Are there any games, hobbies, or fandoms that you cherished in the beginning that eventually became burdensome to the point where you stopped enjoying it?
This past year alone, I’ve dropped all manner of programs from my DVR, purely because I decided it would behoove me to have more time and less graphic murder in my life. While I used to watch all the primetime crime dramas, I’ve dropped most of them, and I haven’t looked back once. I’m particularly happy about dropping Criminal Minds, which went from being a fun, campy show I watched on hungover Sunday mornings to this masochistic exercise in witnessing how cruel fictional (and real, I suppose) characters can be. After spending yet another morning on the couch cringing over the FBI’s pursuit of some criminal who makes skin suits out of his victims or cuts their eyes out after brutally raping them, I cracked, canceled the season pass, and have been much, much happier since.
In 1999, the toy company Playmates launched its World Of Springfield line of Simpsons toys. I had never been a toy collector—I just picked up the occasional fun item, and never kept it mint or in the packaging. I was never a completist. (Records were a different story.) Anyway, these particular toys—4-inch figures and accompanying “environments” that allowed them to speak a few lines—made me briefly reconsider my collecting habits, and I began purchasing every single figure as it came out. I actually ordered cases of them, because in the beginning they were tough to find. It was worth it, at least at first, because these are the best Simpsons toys that I’ve ever seen—made by geeks for everyone. Naturally, there were a lot of figures of the main family, but WOS quickly branched out into fan favorites. Eventually, almost every speaking role on The Simpsons, including guests, was available as a figure: Disco Stu, Troy McClure, Hans Moleman, Wendell. You name it, and if it’s not Rabbi Krustofski (Jackie Mason supposedly wouldn’t allow it) or Cecil Terwilliger, you could buy it in figure form. But every new set of six also came with at least one variation on a main family member, so for every Superintendent Chalmers or Brandine, there was yet another Homer or Bart variation. After about five years and 200 or so figures, it got tiring. Thankfully, they stopped manufacturing them—at least partially due to “collector fatigue,” according to Wikipedia. And guess what? I barely have any of them anymore. I gave a ton away over the years, and I have a bag that we use as prizes for caption contests (which may start again…). I have Kang, Kodos, Hans Moleman, and Bumble Bee Man on my desk, and I have Mr. Plow and Hank Scorpio on a shelf at home. Everything else is out in the wild. Here’s a crazy-long article about the series with lots of pictures.
Collecting anything, but in particular, Hard Rock Cafe guitar pins. I love the kitschy, tourist appeal of Hard Rock Cafe—I can’t help it, I am a broken person from Florida who also enjoys trips to Las Vegas. Shiny things with a nostalgia element are my Kryptonite. No matter where you are, Hard Rock promises mediocre American casual dining, an endless string of music videos, and memorabilia from musicians who died of drug overdoses—and piles of nonsense in the store, of course. At a young age I eschewed the “overdone” Hard Rock T-shirt thing for a weirder hobby: the pins. Problem is, they’re 20 bucks a pop, and, of course, there’s the trouble of getting to another Hard Rock, which are usually either placed inconveniently in foreign cities or unattractively in a tourist haven. Then you have to sit there and look at Michael Jackson’s second sequined glove and consider your life choices, while a hundred tourists around you cheerfully participate in “YMCA.” After about five years of intermittent collecting, I punked out and never looked back. My grand total of pins came out to about seven—which comes out to maybe worth $10 on eBay. I’ll let you know if anyone buys.
Over the past decade, I’ve lugged 30-some VHS tapes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 across campuses, cities, and multiple state lines. In that time, I’ve watched two of them—and both were destroyed in a vicious betrayal by what I thought was a working VCR. So you’ll understand if I’m a little gun shy about playing the remaining tapes—though there’s less to understand about why I hang on to the things. They grow increasingly obsolete as more of the series makes its way to DVD, and those that won’t—due to the vagaries of copyright law and movie licensing—were long ago uploaded to YouTube. Yet, I hang on to the tapes, mostly as a reminder of the first pop culture obsession I could truly call my own, because if I went through all the trouble to record Prince Of Space in “standard play” mode (You gotta keep the best episodes in SP, man.), I ought to preserve the memory and the physical evidence.
I’m currently in the middle of a seven-year-long project to read all of Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time, because I’m a crazy person. Every summer I tackle the next book in the series (I’m onto The Fugitive for this year, so I’m almost done). I will go to bat for Proust as one of the greatest writers of any language (I’ve never felt closer to inhabiting another person’s consciousness than when reading In Search), but hot damn is this series a slog. Once you get past the political intrigue, romance, and incredibly progressive depictions of homosexuality in the first four volumes, the story comes to a screeching halt as the narrator spends 400 pages fretting over his live-in companion. I loved reading Swann’s Way (volume 1) and Sodom And Gomorrah (volume 4), but The Captive (volume 5) made me reconsider continuing. I’ll still pick up The Fugitive this summer, and most likely once I’m done with the series I’ll start reading it all over again, but I’m no longer in it for the enjoyment. Now my reason to continue is simple: completism.
In my mid-20s, I got heavily into collectible card games. This wasn’t a new experience for me; I spent most of high school obsessing with my friends over Magic: The Gathering and various knock-offs. But back then, I never had enough spending money to do more than dabble, and most of my purchases depended heavily on the largesse of my follow gamers. Jump ahead about a decade, and I had a job, no friends, and no real social life, so when I reconnected with an old high school pal who was still into MTG (and also doing well for himself, dating-wise), I figured getting back in made sense. It did, at first. Within a few months, I had a peer group I saw regularly, and I was going out on weekends, usually to CCG tournaments, where I’d do just well enough to convince myself I had a knack for the game. I didn’t, though, and what was worse, playing ate up money and time, and while I liked hanging out with people, the games brought out the worst in my personality. I remember losing at least one match on an absolute shit of a day, and having to leave the room to avoid screaming and flipping over the table then and there. The more I lost, the more I felt awful, and the more I felt awful, the more obsessed I was with playing, and the more I’d lose. So eventually I quit. You can only care so much about cardboard.
I’ll echo Zack’s experience with CCGs, but in a different and more specific way. In college, I got heavily into one of the first CCGs, then called Jyhad, later Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, or VTES. It was produced from 1994 to 2010, and designed by Richard Garfield, who also designed Magic: The Gathering and a host of other card games. At the time, the CCG craze was in its infancy, and wasn’t yet being monetized to the fullest with endless expansions and ultra-rare cards: For the first few years, it was just a complicated, customizable game where players were all building strategies from the same basic pieces, and part of the fun was figuring out different ways to use those familiar building blocks, and counter the clever ways other people used them. All my friends were into the game, and playing it felt like working out a complicated puzzle with a competitive edge. But expansion after expansion followed. Soon, instead of trying to whittle down the starting 400 card options into a personal deck of 60 or so (Wikipedia has all the exact numbers, I’m not going to get that geeky while already writing something this geeky), playing the game meant wrestling with more than a thousand card options, and trying to keep them all in mind while designing decks and playing games: Imagine Scrabble if someone figured out how to expand the alphabet by another 150 letters every year, while giving all the game benefit to the people who bought all the newest tiles. Gradually, playing started to feel like a job rather than a hobby: There was too much to keep track of, and everybody seemed to be playing a different game than everyone else. I never had Zack’s desire to flip tables, and I never felt the game was hurting my social life, or eating more cash than any other form of entertainment. But I did feel like the releasing company had gotten greedy, and that the fun part of the game had been entirely buried by the attempts to mine endless money out of it, and I lost interest and walked away.
I’ve known Infinite Jest by reputation since it was published, and as I have an unhealthy taste for things that are overly complicated, I had long intended to pick it up. When a free copy fell into my lap, I figured it was fate telling me it was finally time to crack open one of the essential novels of the 1990s, and once I committed to reading the book, I plunged in wholeheartedly. I enjoyed puzzling out how Wallace’s disparate plot threads might be connected, relished delving into his numerous arcane footnotes scattered throughout the text, and eagerly anticipated the story’s larger philosophical implications, which supposedly came later in the book. I even had a cheering section, in the form of friends who had finished the book in years past, one of whom had even given me a reading guide he had written. Then a few hundred pages into what was supposed to be a grand, rewarding project, my enthusiasm started to flag. While I enjoyed some of the plot threads—in particular the smart, insecure teenagers living at a school for tennis prodigies—some just started to wear on me. A comical storyline about militant French Canadian separatists seemed liked forced shtick, a chapter Wallace tried to write in African American slang was unreadable and frankly offensive, and the book went on and on, bouncing between unrelated characters and storylines without ever connecting the dots. In desperation, I started casting around for anything else I could read as a distraction. So while I’ll probably never finish Wallace’s book, he did spur me to burn through Telegraph Avenue, The Tiger’s Wife, How Music Works, and The Stench Of Honolulu in the space of about three months, just to avoid a book that felt more and more like homework with each chapter.