I’ve been thinking a bit about my video game collection, and how it really isn’t feasible to play all of them. But at the same time, there‘s something to be said for the simple act of collecting, of building up a library. And that got me thinking: maybe the reason I feel so weird about my video game collection is that, unlike my book collection, it’s largely virtual.

There’s something to be said for wandering through a room where every wall is lined with books. The image of a private library is one that still holds a lot of cachet in our culture. At some point, a library becomes less about the individual books and more about the collection. A book collection is something to be proud of. To put on display. To overwhelm others with your learnedness.

It’s harder to do that with a virtual collection. Sure, I can tell people I have over 400 games attached to my Steam account, along with the over 60(!) in my GOG library, but I can’t exactly take someone on a tour through all of those titles like I can my books, or even my console and physical-media PC games.

So that feeling of tangible investment is missing. I’ve started brainstorming ways I could address that, and one of the ideas I came up with is putting together a “display collection,” where I could take empty DVD or CD jewel cases, print out “box art” for the various titles, and then put them all on a shelf. It would look pretty neat, no? But then I realized that spending that much money on empty plastic and printed paper would be silly. Maybe if I burned backups of the game files to a DVD? No, that would also be a waste of resources when I can just download everything on demand. Besides, there’s no way I have that much shelf space.

I did find a neat little utility, however, called SteamHeaderDownlader, which can generate a collage of all your Steam games. So now at least I have a giant, chaotic collage on my computer desktop of all the Steam games I own.

But I guess the real epiphany I had is that there’s something to the act of collecting in and of itself that can be enjoyable. Of having things for the sake of the aggregate whole, rather than individually. Collecting can have its own merits; in fact, I’d miss a lot of my things if all I had was what was “necessary.” The cruft we accumulate is what can make life interesting.