Why buying books is like gaming

OK, it’s not really, but hear me out.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a web designer by day. I work at a wonderful little shop in Boston where we design and build all sorts of interactive experiences (web sites, applications, iPhone apps, etc). Because we are small, everyone wears lots of hats. For example: I don’t just design. I touch nearly every stage in the process: strategy, sitemaps, wireframes, designs, pre-production. This really isn’t the point. The point is that because I touch a lot of stages, I spend a decent amount of time in brainstorming meetings talking about why a site should act a certain way, or how it will convince a user to interact and/or return for another visit.

Which brings me to gaming. We recently pitched a new account (which we won – hooray!) and were talking about how the site could go beyond just a site and become more of an experience, with friendly competition. Gaming mechanics. Badges. That sort of thing. If you’ve ever used foursquare or getglue, you have an idea of what I’m talking about).

Badges are addictive for many users because they leverage the “collection” mechanic, which is among the most powerful psychological gaming tactics. Let’s say I earn a Super User Badge, but know there is a Super-Duper User Badge (almost like a level-up) for even more passionate users. I haven’t unlocked this one yet, but now I want to! This tactic (collecting while also seeing what can still be collected) encourages users to strive for new items. A collection of badges is really a trophy wall.

So getting back to books. My bookshelf is my trophy wall. My books are my badges. I want to collect more and show them off. If there is a series of books, you bet I want to snag those too, because collecting and completing that tiered series is even more rewarding than a one-off addition. Plus series just looks gorgeous side-by-side on my bookshelf.

I usually end up reading series one of two ways. I stumble across it long after it’s entered the world or I’m with it from day one. I like being with a series from day one because my trophy wall fills up with more impressive “badges.” Example: I have a first edition hardcover of every Harry Potter book.

But the series I discover in the middle can be problematic. I recently bought and read GRACELING in paperback. I loved it. I ran out to buy FIRE. Again, in paperback. There were no hardcovers for me to chose from for either of these books because I was late to the game. And now, I want to complete my series. Only, I can’t. Not yet at least.

BITTERBLUE comes out soon. You bet I want to buy and read it instantly, but it will be hardcover. It will not match my previous badges – erm, I mean, books. Some massively powerful “collection” mentality is messing with my head. Do I borrow BITTERBLUE from the library and wait for the paperback version to come out before I buy it? That would ensure that my collection is a complete paperback set. Or do I buy the hardcover immediately and begin a search for used hardcover copies of books 1 and 2?

I don’t know the answer. I only know that I stared longingly at GRACELING and FIRE on my bookshelf the other day and felt a little pang in my chest. Because I want to complete this collection as quickly as possible, but my inner gamer wants that collection to be perfect and whole.

I had a similar incident back when I bought WHERE SHE WENT. You see, the cover art for this series had changed themes between book 1 and book 2. My hardcover copy of IF I STAY was a soft blue with white branches. WHERE SHE WENT had Mia on the front, which went along nicely with the paperback version of IF I STAY (redesigned to also show Mia). But I wanted my hardcovers to match. I wanted that collection to be unified, and there was no way to make that happen.

Maybe I’m a little crazy. Maybe it ties back to my designer roots and aesthetically wanting everything to “get along,” or maybe this just proves how truly powerful the “collection” gaming mechanic is.

Does you guys get obsessive about your collections? Do you anxiously add books to your trophy wall, and when doing so, does your heart flutter a little when a series is a perfectly cohesive unit? Mine certainly does. Seeing my HUNGER GAMES and HARRY POTTER spines lined up in perfect harmony makes me far happier than it should.

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