For those of us old enough to remember what life was like before smartphones and easy access to the internet, it was inconceivable that in the future we would have access to thousands of films and TV shows all through a little box hooked up to the telly. But that is how we live our lives today, and it’s changing the future of collecting. Physical media for many forms of entertainment has almost given way entirely to digital, with music being a perfect example.

With the world becoming more and more digitally focused, what does that mean for collectors? 

Collecting is still a physical hobby. We collect physical objects; we physically go out and search for them at charity stores and garage sales. Then we organize them, display them, and store them in a physical space. Even if we buy them online, the collectibles we purchase are inevitably some sort of physical object. We pick it up, hold it, admire it, examine it, smell it. Collecting is a very physical pastime.

So…can a collection be digital? It’s an interesting question. It’s one I think will be asked more and more as our everyday lives are encroached on in ever greater degrees by the digital world. 

Again, let’s use music as an example. If someone rips a CD collection onto their computer, replacing hundreds of physical albums with sound files, can they still claim to have an album collection? They still have access to the music – some would argue even better access – and the music is still listened to as intended. What they don’t have are the physical elements; the CD itself, the case, the booklet.

What makes the music collectible; the sound you listen to, or the physical object of the album? Do you need the CD and case to appreciate the music itself? In its purest form, music is just vibrations in the air our eardrums pick up and convert into sound. The disk and case are just trappings, needless “things” that have no impact on our actual enjoyment of the music. Does discarding them make the music any less valuable and, thus, any less collectible? Perhaps I should digress before this all gets too heady…

Via. Red Bull

Part of the practice – and for many, the joy – of collecting is the hunt. Going to conventions and stalls and trawling through boxes of back issues, bins of plushies and shelves upon shelves of vinyl to find just the thing you are after. Can this experience of searching for collectibles be recreated in a digital world? If you want to buy a game on Steam, you type its title, and there it is. There is no going through pages and pages to find it; it just takes a few clicks.

One area where the sense of the hunt can be said to have been recreated digitally, however, are games with collectible elements. Games such as Pokémon Go! encourage the player to keep playing until they find every Pokémon. Another perfect example of this is Hearthstone, the digital trading card game. Just like with traditional collectible card games such as Magic: The GatheringHearthstone encourages players to buy digital booster packs to increase their card pool. 

As with Magic, cards vary in rarity, so players are encouraged to hunt out the rarer cards which are often also the most powerful. You can even buy cards individually. So, with Hearthstone, it’s possible to amass a large number of digital cards, but is it a collection in the traditional sense? It does, after all, maintain all the elements of a conventional collectible card collection, just without the physicality.

The History of Magic: The Gathering

There are several bodies around the world now that are actively trying to archive video game code, software code, and other digital content. If people are interested in archiving this content for prosperity, obviously it must have some worth. And that’s what collecting is all about. It’s preserving the objects of the past so that the future might experience them. However, the average person having access to, say, the source code of Sonic the Hedgehog is pretty slim. However, when you consider something like the Internet Archive, a collection of old websites, digitized music, video, and pictures, you can see how a collection could potentially be digital.

Collecting will most likely remain a hobby based within the physical realm for most people. But the idea of having a digital collection is something that is becoming more and more relevant. Perhaps, one day, people will share code as they now share collector cards. Or, possibly, those very cards will be digital themselves.

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Written by Joe Douglas
When Joe's dad gave him a bunch of his old comics to read in 1992, little did he realise the hardcore geek this simple act would unleash. Since then Joe has dedicated his life to collecting comics, toys, books, stationery sets and all manner of things emblazoned with his favorite characters. In 2006 he started writing about his hobby and has had articles featured on various comic and retro game websites. An Aussie living in the UK, Joe has elaborate and intricate plans to bring his collection over. If you'd like to read more of his work, you can do so via his blog: