Tom Enright is 28 years old and has worked in games retail for nearly a decade, and as with many of his colleagues a significant portion of his wages goes right back into the store. His tiny bedroom – a converted garage at his parents’ house that only recently got a door – is lined wall to wall, floor to ceiling with video games from multiple generations. He has limited-edition consoles, games signed by their developers, and a sealed full-scale replica Portal gun. But closest to his heart is his collection of every Dreamcast game ever released in the PAL region that includes the UK.
Tom is also a friend of mine, and one of the reasons I got back into console gaming after I practically skipped the PS2/Xbox/GameCube generation. I didn’t yet know him when he started his collection of Dreamcast games and accessories, but I knew him when, three or four years ago, he finished it.
“It was sort of mostly complete for ages”, he tells me, “There were just one or two certain ones that were a massive pain in the arse to get hold of.”
Those included: Samba de Amigo (with Maracas), whose undamaged box is so difficult to find that people sell the empty packaging on eBay; Sega Bass Fishing with Sega Fishing Controller, a bundle that he had to order from Australia (also part of the PAL region); and a couple of more expensive titles like the “bloody terrible” MoHo and French-only Taxi 2, which is “probably even worse”.
Sega Bass Fishing isn’t his only import. While his complete collection is PAL-specific, he’s also added a few games that only came out in North America and Japan. Since he doesn’t speak Japanese, he’s not even sure what some of those are about, but predicts that there are probably some “weird ones”. Any dating sims, for example, would fall under the category of games he didn’t know he owned and wouldn’t even know how to play, whereas Tokyo Bus Guide, a precursor of the likes of Euro Truck Simulator, was an intentional purchase.
If you stick to PAL, however, a complete collection is relatively simple, certainly compared to for more successful consoles.
“There are only a few expensive ones,” Tom admits, “Although they’ve probably gone up now since I collected for them, because it has been quite a few years since this has been finished.”
Beyond a vague guess based on recent sales of incomplete collections on eBay – “well over £1,000, I would think” – Tom has little idea of how much his complete set is worth. Unlike the resellers who regularly stop by his place of work, he’s not in this for the money. People collect old games for different reasons. My brother’s retrophilia manifests in hours spent watching and practising speed runs of games that came out before he was born, for instance. But for the Dreamcast, Tom was there at the time, saving up Christmas and birthday promises from his parents to buy the console on the day it came out. He remembers the then-novelty of seeing videos of games before they came out, like a video of Sonic Adventure that blew his mind: “‘Oh my God, it looks like real life!’”
“I think that was the last time I was probably a fanboy”, he says, though his Day One Xbox One – the only current-gen console he’s bought so far – suggests otherwise. “I was desperate for the Dreamcast to do well.”
When it became obvious that the Dreamcast wasn’t doing well Tom apparently even wrote into Official Dreamcast Magazine to give them some ideas on how to save the console that Sega stopped producing little over a year after launch. Unfortunately, a quick browse through his (also complete) collection of back issues doesn’t turn up his letter, but it does offer a wonderful window into a not-so-distant past that neatly illustrates what has and hasn’t changed: from sexy cover girls and “cyberbabes” to familiar issues with publisher support.
“EA was the big one that didn’t make any games for it”, Tom explains. “I think they were doing almost like the same thing they’re doing on Wii U, kind of, you know, sitting back to see how things go.”
That’s not the only parallel Tom sees between the Dreamcast and the Wii U. Both consoles feel like outsiders in their own generations, less powerful than their contemporaries and with more of a focus on games (although the Dreamcast, like the Wii U, was actually MORE powerful than anything else when it came out).
“At the time, people wanted multimedia machines”, he says, referring to the affordable DVD player that helped the PlayStation 2 sell so many units. “Which is weird, because now people apparently don’t want that.”
Console wars were different back then. When Tom and his classmates argued SNES versus Mega Drive they weren’t talking frame rates and resolutions. It was about what Tom can only describe as “a certain feeling”:
You play a Sega game and you know it’s a Sega game because it just feels a certain way. Stuff like the music, because the music has been done by the same team for, like, twenty-something years. They all sound very similar, and that gives it a sort of feeling.
For Tom, that Sega feeling is encapsulated in the Sonic games, which have had a “special place in [his] heart” since he received the first two for his seventh Christmas. So when he finished his Dreamcast collection and “felt a bit lost”, it seemed natural to move onto gathering games featuring Sonic and/or his friends. Though this project is less straightforward, he’s technically following a rule of ‘PAL and uniques’. The latter includes such oddities as Game Boy Advance Video: Sonic X, the former dozens and dozens of games that have come out in the last 23 years. Most were cheap, but a couple of his Game Gear games cost him £150 each, and Sonic Blast – his most [expensive] single-game purchase – cost £300.
“I’m pretty confident that for Sonic Blast I probably have the best condition copy in the world”, he says, showing me a sealed cardboard box wrapped in a plastic bag snug in a protective case, “Because it is immaculate. I don’t think there are many copies of that.”
A couple of his favourite games – Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Adventure – are signed by Takashi Iizuka (head of Sonic Team) and Johnny Gioeli (lead singer of soundtrack contributors Crush 40), which happened when the two of us went to a convention called Summer of Sonic in 2012. I know almost nothing about Sonic and was able to view the event as an outsider, which I said at the time was something I was “very glad I had the chance to experience”. Tom, who is obviously much closer to the fandom, had a different reaction: “That was fucking terrifying.”
Despite the amount of money he has put into this new collection, despite his Sonic figurines and Sonic T-shirts and Sonic phone cover, Tom seems to draw a line between himself and the fans that when he’s feeling charitable he calls “super passionate” and when he’s not get described in more problematic – if still affectionately spoken – terms.
“Sonic fans are insane”, he says, not for the first time, “Obviously not me, though,” as he searches his shelves for what must be the hundredth Sonic game he has picked out. “I’m completely normal”, he says, as we prepare to take a mass photo that will involve standing on a chair to fit everything in. “Clearly.”
This sense that Tom is conflicted about his hobby resurfaces a few times. While he tells me he wouldn’t pack it in for the sake of a disapproving romantic partner, he also asks if I’m embarrassed to know someone with more than 150 Sonic games, which seems a silly question given the purpose of my visit. He says it’s “fucking terrifying” how much stuff he owns, but while one minute he’s decided to stop buying big collector’s editions because he just doesn’t have the room, in the next breath he’s listing exceptions – Sonic, Halo – and boasting about the time he convinced a customer to let him have their BioShock: Infinite Ultimate Songbird Edition (which he now keeps under his bed) when the shop’s delivery was one short.
“I think my mum thinks it’s almost like a Mr Trebus type thing”, he says, “building stuff up and eventually it’s just going to fall down on top of me and kill me. She thinks I’m a hoarder, which I can kind of see, but it’s not like I’m just hoarding random newspapers and plastic bags and stuff. I’m collecting stuff I want.”
As we sit breathing in the dust displaced by my curiosity, Tom browses eBay on his phone and happily reports back any time he finds out one of his games has appreciated in value, but he’s not looking to sell. The games he’s left sealed are just those he hasn’t got around to playing yet. He even plans to open (and thus instantly lower the value of) that Portal gun, when he has space to put it on display. He briefly considers the notion of turning it all into a retirement fund one day, but then he remembers that that would leave him with nothing to play. And for this man who owns more than 150 Sonic games, who has worked in games retail for nearly a decade, and who convinced me to come back to consoles when I thought I was done with them, that’s what games are for.