Schrodinger’s Box Grading: How the Advent of “Grading” is Ruining the Gaming Industry

This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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Gaming is an interesting industry. The fun you have in the industry is built around the use value that you have of an item in your collection (or if you have good friends, their collection). One of the reasons gaming has become such a great industry is even the most sought-after production games are reasonably priced (for a rare cartridge game you are looking to top out at $400, for a rare disk game, $425). However, now that secondhand shops and auction houses are trying to make more money by introducing “grading” into the mix, this nostalgia is starting to be stripped from the industry.

Where Grading Works Well

Grading has its place, just not in the gaming industry. Gaming works best for things that are not meant to be used, things that are meant to just be observed. Two of the best examples of this are the coin industry and the stamp industry.

In the coin industry, the coins that are worth most are ones that are out of print, or coins that are a misprint. Either of these can take the value through the roof. The key factor in grading these is that once they are out of use – or in the case of a misprint – that they would be destroyed, viewing is the only other use for them other than boiling them down. They are no longer “coins” of the realm, but are now pieces of history with no more use value.

Likewise, the most collectable stamps are those that are low value because of their age. It is true that you could use them to ship packages, but it is inefficient and takes away from the hobby rather than adding to it. This is a the reason that grading them and putting them under glass makes sense.

By grading these items, collectors know what value they have within the industry. This is not a series of secondhand shops or auction houses looking to make a quick buck, but a historical tradition that is vested and has a valid system. This is a problem in the gaming industry and, by extension, the comic book industry.

Why Games and Comics Should Not Be Graded

Grading of a product is a death sentence to the use value of that product. No one reads a first edition comic that is valuable and no one opens a sealed video game or board game box of an older game. Therefore, what is the point of owning it?

The genesis of this article was a discussion on X-Bit Gaming’s Facebook site (a great site if you get a chance to swing by). The discussion was whether grading was helping or hurting the industry. By and large, people understood that the purpose of a game was to enjoy it. They understood that by playing the game and allowing others to play the game, you were introducing new people to the hobby.

However, about midway through the thread, hoarders started to chime in about how the conversation was “devaluing” their investment.” These are the people who are killing the hobby by squirreling away games where they will never be played, only to lord them over their friends. Personally, I have a great collection of rare games, both board and video, and when my friends want to play them, I let them play them. That is what games are for.

Schrodinger’s Box Grading

One of the key reasons why grading is such a farce in gaming, specifically video gaming, is because people do not know what is in the box. A box, especially a plastic wrapped box, is one of the easiest items to forge in the world. I think those of us in the gaming community all remember when a certain YouTuber received a very valuable Magic The Gathering card to authenticate it (why you would send it to a YouTuber I will never understand) and on his live stream, he ripped the card in half to show the layers were wrong. Only when he did it, they layers were not wrong; it was a real card. This ended his channel and cost him thousands.

With games, it is the same problem. Game components go bad, even in a sealed environment. Many older games had the save chip on the game itself, which was supported by a capacitor or a battery. When not in use, capacitors bleed and so do batteries, thus the tester has a dilemma. On one hand, if they open the game and the game is ruined, no harm, no foul. If they open the game and the game is in good condition, then they have destroyed the “value” of it being sealed in box. On the other hand, if they grade the game without opening the box, then they do not know if the game is good or bad and the grading is a farce. Literally, all that they are grading is the box, not the game.

As a collector and a reviewer, I have talked to several “graders” who run pawnshops, second-hand stores and even a few auction-runners. Most of them base their “grading” off of Pawns Stars (which, ironically, was done by a guy running a secondhand store). An unopened game is worthless to a gamer; if you cannot play it, then it is nothing. If you have a “new in box” game from the 80’s, it just means that some kid’s dreams were crushed when they didn’t get to play the game; its not a piece of nostalgia its simply a tear-soaked box wrapped in plastic.

Open the games and by all means take care of them. People who keep them in the box are not like coin collectors and stamp collectors preserving history. The are people who are monetizing people’s lost dreams and memories: “You can have that memory from childhood, but it comes with a greatly inflated price.” For most, the price is so great that they will never open that box, never play that game, and never get a change to relive that childhood memory. So pop open those boxes, play the games and welcome a new generation of gamers into the fold.

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Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer

Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer

Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer is a writer for NRN and an adjunct professor at both Penn State University and the University of South Florida. He is the author of several books, most recently “A Criminal History of the Democrat Party” which is available on Amazon and via the publisher, Elite Exclusivity. Follow on Twitter at @Acriminalhisto1

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