O, what sweetness it is to hear the crinkling plastic as you leave the hobby shop! There’s nothing like opening a pack of trading cards. For many of us, it was our first collectible. They took us through many twists and turns in the social world, all starting with what was in the pack. Maybe you opened yours at the shop. Maybe you waited until you were outside, or went home so you could see your haul in private. Then it was time to seal it away. We looked upon our binders with pride, slotting them in their own special places and decorating them with logos and stickers. We’d open the covers to our slightly folded collection, leafing through the growing plastic sheets we paid for ourselves. It was very official business, between us kids. And it hasn’t stopped. Today’s TCGs are as popular as ever. There’s plenty of franchises to pick from, whether new or another set from a current series. Be careful—pick up one and you might want the whole collection.
There is just something about so many square inches on a rectangle that makes people want them. Mixing them up makes it interesting—it’s fun to check out someone’s binder and find it packed with cards from all sorts of series. But it’s also cool to be a purist. Pokémon and Digimon were the big rushes of my childhood. No, I never got a holographic Base Set Charizard.
If you did (or obtained the equivalent of another series), you no doubt learned the feeling of fame. Sliding your card out of your jacket on the playground or the bike racks must have been the top of the world. There would have been shouts, gasps. It probably ended with the drawn-out awe of at least one hushed “Whoa…” The very sight of triumph in front of your peers may have brought on more onlookers. All basking in your glory. No doubt about it, a rare card is a definite win in nerddom.
Just as rarity brings awe, though, it also brings envy. How many times did you have someone come up to you and say, “Hey, want to trade 10 cards for your…” Obviously, you turned it down. “But it’s first-edition!” Didn’t matter. Shiny, Japanese, Exodia-like power…they were all null and void when you had your one special card. So the offers became begs, then shouts, and then a whole crowd of barterers would surround your personal space, some swiping for your card when they thought you couldn’t see (not surprisingly, trading cards have been banned from campuses across the country). Your peers would continue coming up to you one by one through the day. Maybe they even followed you home. Yes, sure, they’re carrying your science project out of the good of their heart.
And so you learned a lesson that with great riches comes the necessity for security. Well, shame, because you brought it outside to show it off, not have it stolen. If you’re not careful you could turn paranoid. Now your best friend, who comes over twice a week and has the privilege to see your gallery free of admission, could become your worst enemy. So much greatness within their reach could prove too great a temptation. You might have to start doing pat-downs every time they’re about to leave. But your friend is probably craftier than that, and will wait until several people are over before making their move. This wasn’t the way you wanted to use your fingerprint dusting kit. Sometimes life’s just not fair.
I guess the way to settle it from nerd to nerd would be a showdown of epically geeky proportions. Many card series have their own fighting games. Those might be the cause of ruined friendships more than the trading. Still pretty awesome, and despite appearances to passersby, they can take quite a bit of strategy to win. After all, knowing the minute tricks of every single card in a set and all their combos are a total part of nerdiness (along with knowing the trivia!)
There’s also the pain of backfire. As much as we enjoy our cards, many of us also pored over our troves with the gleeful idea of how much they would be worth in the future. After all, as we knew, the value of collectibles went up with age. We were going to be 30-year-old millionaires! So we grew up (or will grow up), and totally facepalmed at the hindsight reality that none of your cards actually became the trinity of investment riches. Not even mint singles! Only a handful of each set really amount to anything as the years pass—and you probably don’t have any. Well, at least that antique shop had fun dumping your stuff in the kiddie bin.
It’s worth it, though. Trading cards are amazing. They’re fun to look at and fun to have. They’re a collector’s fancy, immutable for generations to come. And if you get more of the same card, hey, that’s where you trade. Dang it, the companies are getting us to socialize!