Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Classifieds Contact
Previous story: GSA is Second Federal Agency to Consider Moving Truck Traffic Off the Peace Bridge
Next story: Work by Alex Spaulding and Ani Hoover at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center

One Local Man's Record-Breaking Hobby

(photo by Brianna Blank)
(photo by Brianna Blank)

In 1978, Michael Thomasson and his older brother rode their bicycles to a local Dairy Queen. Young Michael entered the building craving a Mr. Misty, jingling the coins in his pocket, when a shape that would define his destiny appeared before him.

“I saw a huge, hulking box in the middle of the restaurant,” recalls Thomasson. “It was a Space Invaders that ended up taking the quarters I had saved for my slushy.”

Flash-forward to December 3, 2012. Michael Thomasson, 43, has become a Digital Media Arts professor at Canisius College, a husband, a father, and, potentially, a Guinness World Record holder. He stands beside me in his basement, adjusting the angle of his camcorder, giddy and excited. He is about to prove, officially, that he owns the largest private collection of videogames featuring non-repeating titles on the entire planet.

“When I purchased a copy of the 2011 Gamer’s Edition of the Guinness Book of World Records and saw the entry, I knew that I was close if not already over the standing record,” says Thomasson. Prepared to show the world just what his passion for gaming has amounted to, his decades of collecting is about to receive wide recognition.

Going for the gold

Obtaining a Guinness World Record is a lengthy process. Thomasson first contacted Guinness in April 2012, when he was given permission to make an official count in October of that year. Qualified experts were then registered and approved in advance.

John-Paul Dyson, the Director of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at Rochester’s Strong Museum, and Leonard Herman, renowned gaming historian and writer, were selected as expert witnesses. Brianna Blank, a Canisius student, was brought on as a professional photographer and videographer of the record attempt.

In addition to the experts, five other videogame enthusiasts arrive at Thomasson’s Hamburg home on day of the event to assist in counting videogame titles. With boxes, drawers, piles, and shelves of games already pre-counted and labeled by Thomasson himself, the counters verify his numbers.

After finding a few discrepancies, the total count comes to 10,607. Far greater than the previous record of 8,616 individual game titles privately owned by collector Richard Lecce, Thomasson recognizes this may be a historic moment for him, though he remains slightly nervous.

“I purchase games in bulk from several dealers,” he says. “I made the mistake of telling one dealer in particular that I was going for the record. As it turns out, Richard Lecce also buys from that same individual, and this dealer gave Richard a heads up that I was ‘gunning for him and the record.’ As a result, I stopped buying from that seller and waited quietly as I built up my collection to be several thousand games over the existing record just to assure that I cleared it.”

Thomasson, with some concern, imagines “a possible scenario where Richard would also beef up his collection to try and retain the record.” He seems hopeful, however, that he has surpassed his rival, reaching record-breaking heights.

Inspired by “first love”

Game collecting has long propelled Thomasson. He vividly remembers his very first videogame, Cosmic Avenger, a space battle program designed exclusively for the Colecovision system. “It was a gift from my grandparents given to me on Christmas Eve,” he says, recalling his problematic lack of a console. “I thought for sure that an actual Colecovision would actually emerge the following day but it was the hot Christmas item and sold out everywhere, so that didn’t happen.”

Such a small detail hardly hindered his immediate love for the videogame he couldn’t play. “I looked at the Cosmic Avenger box and read the manual every day until the following Christmas when a Colecovision unit did emerge,” he remembers. “When we went to hook it up, the Donkey Kong screen came up on the television and then almost immediately a snowstorm knocked the power out. Eventually I had to go to bed, and as soon as my head hit the pillow, the power came back on and I lay there in bed listening to my big brother and sister play until I eventually fell asleep. It was the best gift my parents ever gave me, other than their love.”

Once he had a working Colecovision (or as he calls it, his “first love”), Thomasson quickly began collecting every game there was available for the console. Eventually in 1989, Thomasson sold his then-collection to buy a Sega Genesis. From then on, he purchased video games at a rate of roughly 1.25 titles per day. He once again sold many of them in 1998 to help pay for his wedding.

Titles in Thomasson’s collection include demos for unreleased games and, in one case, a full game made for the Halcyon Interactive, a gaming system prototype that never made it to market. Though he possesses most of the major titles ever created, a game ironically titled Magical Chase remains elusive for him. Fortunately he owns many favorites, including Nintendo GameCube’s Resident Evil 4, X-Box 360’s Alan Wake, and Intellivision’s Beauty & the Beast.

Making gaming history

On August 8, 2013, Thomasson receives an official certificate from Guinness’s United Kingdom office. Without ceremony or celebration, the professor has quietly achieved his goal. After writing and teaching classes on videogames for years, he has become a part of gaming history.

As the Guinness Book of World Records 2014, a popular Christmas present, finds its way into shelves across the country, Thomasson now relates more fully to the entire Guinness enterprise. Appearing in a special Guinness World Records 2014 Gamer’s Edition, Thomasson’s name will now be read by thousands, many envious of his towering collection.

The new record holder, however, is already looking forward to future endeavors. “I hope to continue building my brand,” he says. He has recently received an endorsement agreement with Collectorz.com’s game collector software. He also dreams of publication in Retro Gamer and Game Informer magazines.

As he pursues his new goals, Michael Thomasson has enough videogames to ward off boredom for the rest of his life. Bearing one of Western New York’s most unique treasure troves, his extraordinary collection has now been globally recognized for the accomplishment it is.

blog comments powered by Disqus