Why collecting toys is like a heroin addiction

Illustration for article titled Why collecting toys is like a heroin addiction

I moved a couple weeks ago, and as a toy collector, I had the unenviable task of packing up all my toys and statues and things (everything involving moving is unenviable, but whatever). This was actually not that difficult, because 90% of my toys were already in boxes. These boxes had only ever been opened up to put more toys in them, so all I had to do was tape them up and put them on the moving truck. Other than a few assorted items on my desk - no more than a dozen - I haven't displayed an action figure or a collectible in over two and a half years, and yet I regularly spend over a thousand dollars a year on action toys… toys that go directly into these boxes. My question is this: What the fuck am I doing?

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Photo by Loren Javier

I've often compared toy collecting to being a heroin addict a la Trainspotting, and not just because there was a certain time in my life when I would have crawled through a filthy Scottish toilet to get a Star Wars Ree-Yees figure. It's because toy collecting is a compulsion that ignores sanity, common sense and reality alike. The reasons I shouldn't be collecting toys are myriad:

1) It is so, so expensive. The primary toyline I collect is Mattel's Masters of the Universe Classics, designed specifically for collectors. What this means is that the toys aren't mass-produced like most toys that are sold at Target and Toys "R" Us and such, meaning they're incredibly expensive. Each MOTUC figure costs me over $30, $22 for the figure and $9 or so for shipping (which, somehow, still takes 10+ days to get to me). Part of this is because plastic is super-expensive nowadays, so all action figures are getting pricy; no matter why, though, Mattel puts out more than 16 figures per year, so that's $500 I'm spending right there. Again, to receive something I put directly in a box in my closet.

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2) It actually makes me unhappy. The craziest thing about these toys is that I don't even like them. Oh, I kind of like them, obviously, but not nearly enough. I collect Toynami's Futurama line, which Toynami seems to have given up; now I have a box of several dozen Futurama figures that will never be satisfying because it doesn't include Scruffy, Hedonism Bot, Llrr, and other characters (my three - three - different Final Fantasy VII toy collections have the same problem, as Square Enix simply refuses to make characters of Cid and Barrett). As for Masters of the Universe Classics, I actually kind of hate them. I hate that they're mostly just bigger versions of the ‘80s figures instead of the awesome 2002 redesigns; I hate that they reuse parts like the classic line (even though they cost me $30 each); and most of all I hate that Mattel constantly assembles the toys incorrectly, meaning figures have mixed-up arms, legs, shoulders and more. And I'm paying $500 a year for these things. I've bought every single figure since 2008. And I've already subscribed for 2013.

Illustration for article titled Why collecting toys is like a heroin addiction

3) It makes me a terrible person. This isn't true as much any more, now that I can order pretty much anything online. But back in the late ‘90s, when I was collecting Star Wars toys, I would wake up at 6:00 am on Saturday morning to go stand outside a Toys "R" Us in hopes someone had restocked the Star Wars figures the night before. I would wait three hours for them to open the doors - insane enough, I know - and then once they had, I'd race other human beings down the aisles and fight them for the new figures. This is not civilized behavior. The worst part? Toys "R" Us didn't restock the figures more than once a month, meaning only one out of four trips was worthwhile. And I knew my chances of finding something were terrible, and I went anyways! And every time San Diego Comic Con rolls around, I do the same thing, jostling to try and get the new exclusives (and, for the most part, failing completely).

This is all fucking insane, but the most insane part to me is the boxes thing. The whole point of owning these things is to play with them, but I'm a grown man, and that would obviously be absurd. So the next thing to do is display them, which I don't do either. When I lived in a house several years ago, I actually was able to buy a big set of shelves and have most of my collections out - my Avengers, my Final Fantasies, my Futurama and Evangelion and One Piece and Star Wars and weird Japanese stuff including the remote control robot monkey that delivers beer - and it was awesome. But then my wife and I moved to a tiny apartment in DC so she could go to law school, and my toys got sent to a storage unit. We're now in a duplex where we have more room, but not nearly enough for me to display more than a 1/3rd of what I own. Hell, even during the last two and a half years, when I had no ability to display them and no idea when or if I might, I never stopped collecting. Furthermore, all the years before I had the house? I was merely collecting and hoping I'd get a chance to display them later. And I'm certainly not going to stop now.

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See, the displaying, while nice, is secondary to the collecting - or to paraphrase, it's not the having, it's the getting. Owning toys kind of blows, which is why I don't really care if my toys are out or not. But finding a figure you want in a toy store? Getting that package from UPS, ripping it open to get the figure inside, checking out the accessories, and getting a whiff of that new toy smell? That's pretty sublime. To bring it back to Trainspotting, toy collectors wouldn't do it if it weren't enjoyable on some level, and it is. Despite the aggravation, the cost, and the bullshit, getting a new toy is still a sweet, sweet hit of nerdiness and joy. It doesn't justify all the bad stuff - it doesn't even come close - but it doesn't matter. Because I'm going to keep doing it anyways. I've got to.

I mean, better toy collecting than an actual heroin addiction. Right?

…right?

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DISCUSSION

James Whitbrook

I don't really know if or how I class myself as a Toy collector. I have a lot of action figures displayed around my room - 11 Doctors (and their mini-figure representations from the faux-Lego Doctor Who range) on one set of drawers, an array of Halo figures surrounding the statue from the Halo: Reach collector's edition, on the other. And that's not even including the stuff on my desk, From Hobbit and Mass Effect figures, to still-in-the-box 11th Doctors signed by Matt Smith, to no less than six different representations of Admiral Ackbar. I follow toy news regularly, especially Doctor Who stuff, visit forums, discuss toys and the industry in almost alarming detail.

But I've never been into the... how shall we put it, 'extreme' side of things. I don't collect every single figure in one range. I certainly don't buy them to keep in their packaging (except for my signed Doctors), or buy multiples just to keep one in the box, which is something I have never understood personally. And I've definitely never waited outside a toy store in the wee hours to try and grab some new figures, or been one of those people who hogs the pegs, picking up everything and leaving nothing for kids or other people at the store (seriously, that kind of stuff happens!). I suppose for me, rather than the obsessiveness of it all, is that I just like having them around. They represent my interests, in a far more cost-saving form than having a bunch of incredibly expensive busts and statues. It's just the child at heart, I think - I just like the toys, not necessarily the 'thrill' of collecting them.