In the past four months, I've completely destroyed more than fifty of my own books for the purpose of digitizing and sharing them with the rest of the world.
This, I must admit, was something that past Areala had never imagined future Areala would do. After all, I spent years collecting these books, paging through them, enjoying the memories and worlds they unlocked. As a gamer, they were a part of my identity. I fell in love with them because they were books about a hobby I greatly enjoyed. They were glimpses into my own past, a repository of memories, and (sometimes) a way of avoiding GameFAQs or other online walkthroughs. They were, in a sense, a physical representation of my own history as a gamer.
I didn't set out to collect these materials for the purpose of chopping them up. So what changed?
Well, first, I knew I had duplicated some books over the course of my collecting. And sure, I could try and sell the extra copies, but they weren't terribly sought-after and wouldn't be worth my time considering the small amount I might squeeze out of them. When 22 other people have copies for sale starting at $0.74, there ain't much of a market for that book.
Then I remembered, hey, you're an administrator at a website that scans and archives game materials and strategy guides; why not just chop up the duplicates and scan them yourself? So I took a few of them to the local copy shop to be de-bound, and I did just that. At first, I felt guilty; I've been a book person all my life, and every book is special, by and large, in its own way. Destroying these books when someone else could (potentially) get enjoyment out of them felt wrong somehow.
Then I uploaded my first file, and as I watched the download numbers trickle upward, I realized something: yes, that single copy of the book I just de-bound and (ultimately) recycled could, maybe, have brought enjoyment to one other person. But by scanning it, by preserving it, by offering it up here, that one book could bring enjoyment to dozens, even hundreds, of others.
After that, I started looking more closely at my collection, and I realized that, by and large, I was collecting these books simply to collect them. I wanted them not because I was constantly referring to them, or even had serious ties to them, but rather because I just...wanted them. But what good were they doing, truly doing, taking up space on my bookshelves? Could I do more than just part with the duplicates?
To find out, I took a book of which I did not have a duplicate, Tricks of the Doom Programming Gurus, to the copy shop.
I chose that book for two reasons. First, physical copies of it are not that expensive or difficult to find. Seriously, $5 plus shipping could put a new one in my hand within a week or two if I regretted the decision. Second, it's a bloody mammoth book, well over 900 pages, each of which would have to be placed, by hand, on my flatbed. Did I have the time, the patience, the ability, to undertake such a task?
It took a few days, a lot of experimentation with scanner settings and file manipulation, but sure enough, it turned out I did have what it took to convert that tome into a digital edition, uploaded to the Retromags server, for others to enjoy. What's more, others were enjoying it! Comments on the file indicated others had memories of this time in their lives as well: experimenting with the Doom level editor, remembering the days of dial-up access to WAD files and swapping maps, editing the Reject Table, and doing all the other things I messed around with as well.
That settled it. Not only could I do this, but, in a sense, I had to do this.
It's giving meaning to objects which, otherwise, were not providing much meaning on their own to me. It's re-igniting my desires, reminding me of why I got into collecting these books in the first place. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but it's also clearing out some much-needed space in my office.
This way, I get the best of both worlds. Should I get the desire to flip through a Tomb Raider strategy guide, or one of Jeff Rovin's How to Win at Nintendo books, they're right there on an external hard drive backup, ready to be transported wherever I need them. Should someone else be curious about a book they've never seen, doing research for their own projects, they can sample it directly from the Retromags library. What's more, these are fragile, physical objects made from paper. A little bit of water, an unexpected fire, and their physical incarnations will dramatically decrease in utility and usability. The ravages of time will, eventually, crumble them to dust.
Better we remember them, respect them, preserve them for others to do the same. Most of these books had limited print runs, coinciding with general interest in the subject, which for most people ran out years or even decades ago. The publishers of said guides are mostly long-defunct, and the ability to produce new print copies (to say nothing of the feasibility of doing so in a profit-driven manner) is essentially gone. Even Prima, that long-standing bastion of guide production, has moved to an entirely digital means of distribution for their new books. The physical print strategy guide, whether focused on one game or multiple titles, is a dying breed, well past its halcyon younger years and heading out to pasture. Whether it deserves that or not is an argument for a different blog post, but you can probably guess where I fall on that spectrum.
My goal isn't to scan every single book in my collection. Rather, my goal with this project is to preserve the weird, the uncommon, the bizarre, the I-can't-believe-they-wrote-a-book-about-that-game pieces in my library. The older and stranger, the more interested I was in collecting it, so it only seems fitting that these are my focus.
In destroying my collection, I have come to love and respect it far more than I had for years. These are physical artifacts, sometimes literally from my childhood, which deserve to be remembered, re-read, enjoyed, and used by others to chronicle the history of our hobby. De-binding them no longer hurts; instead, it feels good. Yes, the paper is getting recycled, the book itself is ceasing to exist. But the words, the pictures, the history, has moved far beyond the physical book's limitations. I'm destroying a shell to free the spirit within to travel farther and wider into digital immortality.
What greater gift, what higher respect, could I show my beloved game book collection than that?