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Video games propel collector into educational arena

As a child in Lexington, Ky., Michael Thomasson discovered he could drive a car, fly an airplane and be an astronaut – all by playing video games. Today, Thomasson is 44, and he has made video games his livelihood.

As an instructor in the Digital Media Arts Program at Canisius College, Thomasson teaches animation, and video game design and history. He’s a published author of several college textbooks, and he also has published dozens of video games.

In 2013, Thomasson was certified by the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition as owning the world’s largest video game collection with more than 10,500 games. He has also compiled 152 high-score records in 152 consecutive days.

Thomasson lives in Buffalo with his wife of 15 years, JoAnn. They have one daughter.

People Talk: Do you and your daughter play games together?

Michael Thomasson: I didn’t let Anna see a video game until she was about 3. I don’t want to say it’s addictive, but there are some obsessive qualities to it. There are certainly worse addictions, but I wanted her to play in a sandbox, throw a ball. I brought Legos home for her, but in the winter we play the old video games from the late ’80s and early ’90s, mostly because they’re quick but also they are more wholesome. A typical game now takes 8 hours or so to get through.

PT: Don’t you long for the days of Atari?

MT: A new Atari machine just got released this fall. It has five of the games I published on it. You can still buy a brand new Atari console with 85 of the original games on it. One of my businesses is that I make brand new games for old systems. Officially it’s a business, and what little money I make I roll into the next project.

PT: How many times have you sold your collections?

MT: Completely sold? Once. When my wife and I got married, I sold about 25 percent of one collection to pay for her engagement ring and wedding band. One of the things about collecting is the thrill of the hunt disappears. I had every Atari game ever made. I had every ColecoVision game. Eventually there wasn’t much left to obtain, especially when eBay came along.

PT: Aren’t video games geared toward males?

MT: That is a fallacy. If you look at the demographics of the video industry, the average game player is age 27 to 35. In the U.S. 48 percent are female and 52 percent male. Overseas, there are more female than male.

PT: Were you an A student?

MT: Straight As, except for foreign language where I got Ds. It’s funny because I married a linguist. My wife teaches French.

PT: What was the golden moment in video game history?

MT: When my idol Ralph Baer thought to use the television to play video games. He is known as the father of the home video game. One day he’s sitting on the bus and has a eureka moment. He draws out the schematics, and it takes decades to sell it and get a product out. I’ve worked with him on books. I’ve made toys with him. He lived in New Hampshire, and I’d go there once or twice a year. He just died in December.

PT: Where do you have eureka moments?

MT: Mowing the lawn. Pushing that little mower around in circles with nothing to do with my mind but think. I have a lot of ideas mowing the lawn, which could explain why I am not so productive in the winter months.

PT: What’s your take on the future of the video game industry?

MT: I love the Internet but I used to write for about eight or nine gaming magazines, some of them have been around for years. With the price of oil shooting up – which makes the ink more expensive – the paper medium is dying and the Internet is killing the newspapers and magazines. I try and support print. I’m a collector, you know, and video games are being distributed electronically now. This was the first Christmas where more games were sold digitally than in physical copy. If the games go digital there is nothing for me to collect. It happened to the music industry. It’s happening to newspapers, and I think it’s going to happen to the gaming industry. There’s a magic to holding the game. It’s like an old record album.