The strange monetization of childhood nostalgia

Update: Found the link to the obscenely expensive Pokemon cards! Here they are:

Disclaimer: I go into this post acknowledging my experience is not an entirely universal one. My parents have, and continue to, do everything they can to ensure my happiness and comfort whenever possible (as well as the happiness and comfort of my siblings). This is something that no number of thank-yous can possibly make up for in any number of years. I say this because, though I doubt it will necessarily become an issue, I want to address that I’m aware that not everyone’s parents are insane enough to shell out the frankly-absurd amount of money for the latest Lego sets or whatever, and that’s on the basis of everyone coming from different social and economic backgrounds, and so on. If I offend anyone, in any way, with this post, I apologize. This post is probably going to wax a bit nostalgic, too, which is something I can’t apologize for because it’s literally part of the post title. You knew what you were getting into before you even got to this point, people.

That last bit may have sounded a bit dour, and that is largely because I have just dealt with the fourth and fifth calls to Navient (the off-shoot of SallieMae now responsible for crushing the souls of current and former college students everywhere). It has not been a particularly cheerful morning. This information comes in handy, however, as something caught my eye as I was scrolling through Facebook in the brief time I have left before I head to work.

First, let’s take a step back before the big reveal. Forever ago, back when I was in grade school and before I learned what it felt like to be bullied on a regular basis, I was moderately obsessed with Pokemon (just like many other people at the time). Pokemon cards were such a rarity, and the best-made efforts to have some of my own fell rather flat. My sister–an entirely remarkable person with an enormous heart–gave one of the neighbors $5 in exchange for three cards: Sandshrew, Ponyta, and Charmander. When she gave them to me, anyone who witnessed this moment would have thought she gave me a billion dollars and a crystal ball that would help me avoid any of the pitfalls of life. It was a big deal. Later, my mom and one of her friends managed to procure what can only be called an obscene number of booster packs, all of which yielded their own unique and shrieks-of-excitement-inducing hauls of new Pokemon.

I still enjoy the Pokemon video games, as absurd as that may sound. I’ve dabbled in a number of different trading card games over the years, including Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Digimon, and some others I’m not remembering at the moment (there are so freaking many). As I got older, and (possibly) a little wiser, I realized the best way to win these card games was to be able to buy all of the best cards for the best possible combos and strategies. There were deck-types that could play well, but ultimately every card game had/has a handful of card combinations that bring consistent wins. As someone who lacks the patience, money, and people with whom to consistently feed such habits, I quit bothering with card games of this nature. Instead I buy things like Munchkin, which at least have some practical use for when everyone at a party is some degree of drunk enough that no one can really remember the exact rules.

Back to the thing I saw on Facebook. The link in question, which has since evaporated in a puff of inconvenience, was to an article about first edition booster boxes of Pokemon cards being on sale on eBay for more than a goddamned sports car. The auction in question had a price tag of $190,000, but at least had the decency to offer free shipping. A quick Google search reveals that this is actually not an entirely uncommon thing. While I accept the various ins-and-outs of things becoming worth exponentially more thanks to status as collector’s items, supply versus demand, and so on, this still reads as completely insane. Probably because I still associate Pokemon cards with a time when my biggest concern was the chance of opening the right pack to get a holographic (or, as I called them forever ago, holofoil) Charizard.

The same thing can be applied to all sorts of childhood toys, though. The original Lego sets. The first batch of Tamagotchi virtual pets. And so on forever. A lot of it comes down to perspective, I realize; seeing the thousand-plus set of connectable bricks not as a spaceship, but as a $100-or-more price tag. There’s something inherently wrong about seeing the small elements of what made up my childhood fun being turned into big payouts, as naive as that may sound. It’s some sort of far-reaching, time-traveling violation of happier times.

Fun fact: apparently Pogs are approximately as inexpensive and unloved as they were back when they were popular, so at least that remained constant.

Realistically, it all comes down to capturing someone else’s love of a dusty, old thing and turning it into a payday, even if that sounds like the kind of sinister plan a cheesy, semi-effective comic book villain would think up while wringing their hands and cackling.

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