If you’re hardcore about your hobby — whatever it might be — chances are, you’ve actually dreamt about it at some point in your life. Not just daydreams, but actual, vivid, REM-sleep dreams. Perhaps rarely, perhaps often. When your hobby is collecting something — be it videogames, beer cans, Faberge eggs, whatever you’re into — you may have had dreams that go something like this:
You’re in an area of town you’ve never been in before. Or maybe you’re in a city that’s not your own. You find a specialty shop that just happens to cater to your collection, so you enter it. Inside, you start browsing the shop’s inventory. Maybe you find some items you already have, some common pieces that aren’t of much interest to you. And then you see something strange. A piece you’ve never seen before, or a piece you’ve never even heard of! Maybe it’s really unusual and makes no sense, but it sends your mind reeling. And then you find another. And another, and more, and suddenly you realize there’s a whole lot of strange items that you need to add to your collection!
And then you wake up, frustrated that all of those amazing items weren’t real, and you don’t have them in your collection, and you didn’t even get to play them. But it sure got your imagination fired up, didn’t it? Maybe it inspired you to keep hunting down those rare gems, or to learn a little more about the further reaches and obscure corners of your hobby.
Such is the dream of the collector. I have tried to research it, but I’ve come up short on information. All I can find is that dreams of shopping represent unfulfilled desires — well, anybody could probably have told you that. But what is it about the weird, nonexistent items that we find in our collector dreams? Sometimes they’re super rare pieces that really do exist, a holy grail you’ve been lusting over to add to your collection. Sometimes they’re weird versions of a real thing that you’ve never seen before, with screwy cover art or gameplay that’s not right. Sometimes you dream of something completely bonkers, and wake up thinking how did I even invent that in my sleep? Maybe it was a brilliant idea, or something really cool!
I know that other collectors have these dreams. Back in the mid-’90s, when I was active in the online classic gaming communities such as RGVC, we had a name for these dreams: they became known as “Reef Store Dreams,” so named by one of the community members who had posted about a dream he had about finding a game shop on an ocean reef that was filled with rare, prototype, and strange games. Googling “reef store dream” may yield some of the old posts from those newsgroups (in particular rec.games.video.classic, for those of you who were there, and its companion IRC channel, #rgvc — hi guys, it’s me, Varan), and a definition on the AtariAge glossary. It looks like the term may still be in use on the AtariAge forums as well.
However, that’s as much info as I can find on such dreams, and I’m sure collectors of things other than videogames experience them too — because I myself have not only had videogame collector dreams, but record collector dreams too, where I find strange bootleg albums, foreign releases I’ve never heard of, and records with weird covers. But I just can’t find any more info — neither from collectors nor from any dream-analysis websites.
So I wanted to write about the topic, in the hopes of starting up some more conversation about weird collector dreams! I’ll tell you about two such dreams I had — both of them quite a few years ago, but they’ve stuck with me.
Hole in the Wall
I’m on a bike, riding through a very compact, very Japanese-style neighborhood of narrow streets and commercial buildings. I think it’s inspired by the Champion District in the Ryu ga Gotoku/Yakuza game series — the small block of back-alley bars inspired by the real-life Golden Gai district in Tokyo. Only it’s brighter and cleaner. I stop at a corner shop and go in. It’s a small game store, dimly lit and fully stocked with piles of inventory, not particularly well-organized. I poke around, ignoring the PlayStation and 16-bit stock, and find a shelf in the corner with big cardboard boxes, dumped full of pre-NES stuff: Atari, Intellivision, Colecovision, that sort of stuff. It’s not displayed like the rest of the merch, indicating that the shop owner hadn’t expected anyone to be interested, but I start digging. Pulling out and placing aside some steering wheel controllers and maybe a couple Star Raiders-style keypads, I start pulling out loose Atari cartridges with shapes that are reminiscent of the few games that Konami released for the 2600, or maybe the uniquely-shaped Parker Brothers carts. None of the titles are anything I’ve ever heard of. A couple of them are prototypes. Beyond excited to discover and play these strange, unheard-of games, I quickly gather an armload of these cartridges and take them to the counter to purchase. The shop owner is surprised that I even want them. As we are coming to an agreement on the price…I wake up.
I’m in a mall. Not sure which one. There’s a small new videogame store there that looks very interesting, so I stop in. It’s very minimally decorated, not a lot of signage, brightly and evenly lit, white walls and light grey carpet. Very sleek and modern, like an Apple store. The left and right walls each have a row of 3 or 4 flatscreen monitors, underneath which is a recessed, lighted, glass-front shelf, with a game console underneath each screen. All the consoles are the same, but it’s nothing I’ve ever seen before; some sort of cross between a PC-Engine Duo R and a JVC WonderMega, sleek and light grey or barely off-white in color. The monitors are showing different games on this console; all of them are colorful and arcade-y, mostly shmups, maybe a fighter or a scrolling beat-em-up. Apparently this is a specialty shop that only sells this new console. Toward the back wall of the shop is a checkout counter and a glass display case. There are two attractive Japanese women staffing the store. They both wear sharply-tailored white business suits, and have their hair pulled back in slick buns, looking very classy and pristine. They don’t seem interested in talking unless you’re buying. In the display case is the lineup of the six or eight or ten software titles available for this mysterious new console, as well as extra control pads and an arcade stick accessory. The game boxes are large, plastic clamshells, like Neo-Geo AES or PC-FX games. All of them are covered in very colorful anime/manga style artwork, but all of the titles are in kanji, so I don’t know what any of them are. The aesthetic sort of reminds me of the Tohou series of doujin games. I get the impression that they’re some sort of cartridge and CD combination package: maybe all the games come with soundtracks, or both cart and disc are required to play each game? It’s obvious that this is a very high-end new game system, aimed at hardcore videogame enthusiasts, and it’s probably not cheap. I haven’t yet learned the name of the console or its manufacturer. Regardless, I want one, and I want all the games for it, and the extra controllers, and the arcade stick too. One of the shop’s associates turns to make eye contact with me and I’m about to pull the trigger and tell her I want it all, and…I wake up. And for the next week or two, back in real life, all I want to play are shmups and Sin & Punishment 2.
Then there are the dreams of games that don’t really exist. Maybe they would be impossible, or maybe they’re absolutely brilliant but will never really happen. I distinctly remember dreaming of a very cinematic-looking Batman game, with closeup shots of the Caped Crusader and the game’s action being shown from different angles — but this dream happened in the early 1990s, before games looked like that, and the game in my dream was for Atari 2600, a console which never got a Batman game. 20 years later — well, let’s just say the Arkham series looked spookily familiar to me.
All right you guys, I can’t be the only one. I wanna hear about the weird stuff you’ve found in your dreams, the amazing shops and crazy games you’ve played that made you wish they were real when you woke up! Let’s have them in the comments, or on the RGSH Facebook or Instagram!