“Gotta catch ‘em all!” As a product of the ‘90s, this was the mantra of my childhood. Pokémon was everywhere and many (myself included) fell victim to the craze, truly believing that we had to have them all. Whether it was striving for the complete Pokédex of 150 Pokémon in the game or buying booster packs of the trading cards in hopes of somehow scoring the elusive holographic Charizard, there was always something more to look forward to. This phenomenon is interestingly mirrored in vinyl collecting today, especially so in the cases of variant collectors.
When I started buying and collecting music, I quickly became interested in the new-to-me medium of vinyl. While I grew up during the era in which the CD reigned, I did not I hit my musical puberty and actually start consuming music until after digital downloads became more popular. For me, music had never been a physical thing – it was either the stereo in my parent’s car as a child, or the mp3 files on my computer as a young teenager. Having something physical and substantial that you could see, hear, and touch was fascinating to me. As soon as I bought a turntable and made my first record purchase, I was hooked. I bought as many records I could, anything that I liked in the slightest. I just wanted my collection to grow. This seems to be something that happens to a great deal of people. Their collections will balloon at great speeds in the first year or two. The same thing happens at the start of a game of Pokémon; each Pokémon you encounter is new and you feel like you must add it to your collection. Gotta catch ‘em all.
After I bought all of the readily available records that I desired, I began the hunt for the older, long out of print records that I knew existed but were hard to find. This is another parallel to Pokémon. Once you’ve completed an area and caught all of the Pokémon that you have happened to encounter, you spend lots of time combing through grass or surfing the oceans in hopes of finding the Pokémon you’re searching for. Record collectors do the same thing. We delve into the depth of Google, continuously search eBay, and sift through countless used records at record stores in an attempt to find our white whales. Gotta catch ‘em all.
This also leads to the formation of a community. In order to catch every single Pokémon you must either buy both games in the set and trade between them, or make friends with others who have the same interest as you and enter into a mutually beneficial trading relationship. For record collectors we have conventions, swap meets, online marketplaces, and our own websites in order to help each other in reaching our ultimate vinyl goals. We can try to buy any record we want as soon as it is released, but there is an issue here due to the fact that some sell out very quickly or have been long out of print. This forces us to use outside sources to get all the records we want to fill our collection. Gotta catch ‘em all.
The last step is one that only certain types of collectors make – going on to variants. In Pokémon this could mean multiples of the same Pokémon who have different abilities, stats, or appearances. The franchise has tried to appeal to these types of collectors with the super rare, random encounter shiny Pokémon and, on a less intense level, Pokémon who have different forms depending on various circumstances such as weather or time. In a similar way, many records are released in multiple colors, special packaging, or other exclusives. Like in Pokémon some of these variants are relatively common, while some become extremely rare. In both cases the people who do this sort of collecting have a different mindset and feel very strongly about it. Gotta catch ‘em all.
I never envisioned myself as a variant collector in either the realm of vinyl or Pokémon. For me, it was always just a special treat to be able to pick up the most rare color during pre-order or open the booster pack and find a holographic card. And I never had the dedication to complete my Pokédex in the video games, let alone to search endlessly for shiny Pokémon. However, when it came to vinyl, I eventually got to the point where I just wanted more. Silverstein and The Wonder Years are my two favorite bands. Once I had copies of all of their albums on vinyl, some of which were pretty hard to track down, I didn’t want the thrill of the hunt to end. That is when I decided to keep going and try to get all the variants of every album. This gave me a boost in difficulty, which made it even more intense and exciting. While I have gotten pretty close to completing both of those collections, I am still on the look out for a select few variants that I am missing. You can see why this would resonate for fans of Pokémon, too. There are a finite number of species of Pokémon that you are able to collect, but the game never truly ends. The battles are the focus for the main part of the game, but once you beat the Elite Four nothing is really a challenge in that regard. And after you complete the Pokédex there is even less to do. The variants, especially shiny Pokémon, are what keep these select few people playing long after that. Whether the reason is love, fun, pride of ownership, or bragging rights many people chose to continue their respective quests. Gotta catch ‘em all.
Of course, there is controversy over this in both worlds. “Why do you need two of the same Pokémon when they can both learn the same moves?” “Why do you need two of the same record when they both have the same songs?” “Those are rare and the wealth should be spread – stop hoarding!” I totally understand this thought process, especially when it comes to rare vinyl records with very few copies in existence. It may seem selfish, and I guess it is to an extent, but a major part of it is passion – there wouldn’t be this huge effort put into an album, artist, medium (or fictional creature) that we do not connect deeply with. This goes for both the casual and the extreme collector. A collection is important; it gives you joy, entertainment and value, and becomes part of you. It’s our passion that keeps us collecting, swapping, and sharing; and in the end, it’s our passion that makes us feel like we gotta catch ‘em all.