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.

17 Responses
  1. Haha, I totally do this too! It definitely bothers me that my first two books in the Percy Jackson series are paperback while the last three are in hardcover. Gah! It nags at me whenever I reshuffle my bookshelves.

    🙂 Glad I’m not alone!

  2. 😀 I totally have the same “collection” mentality, which is why cover changes like IF I STAY/WHERE SHE WENT bother me to no ends.

    My favorite books series ever — Megan Whalen Turner’s THE QUEEN THIEF series — underwent several cover changes because each book was published years apart. All of my covers match, but the first two books are paperbacks. I’ve bought the hardcover for the 1st book, but the discrepancies in both covers and book frames (the hardcover for book 1 is slightly larger and thinner than the others) bother me so much I’ve even considered petitioning the publisher to re-release hardcover versions of the first two books.

    1. Erin

      Haha. I hear you, Emy. At least we are crazy in this together.

      I’m already starting to fret about the next book in Oliver’s DELIRIUM series. They designed the cover to match the new paperback theme and I cringe thinking of how book 2 will look next to that stark blue b1 cover with nothing but swirly type.

  3. I’m SO with you. My bookshelf is my trophy wall, too, and I MUST have a matching set. I generally buy all hardcovers so I avoid any major mismatching, but the If I Stay problem bothered me greatly, too. Also my Sarah Dessen collection is half pb and half hb, but it was more important to me that I have the cover design all the same for those.

    Yeah, I put a lot of thought into it.

    And I LOVE foursquare. I’m a badge addict.

    1. Erin

      IIS/WSW bothers be the most because there’s NOTHING I can do to correct it. If my covers match, they are in different formats (hard/soft), and if I want the formats to match, my cover art won’t.

  4. I’m really excited about BITTERBLUE, too! What I would do is buy the first two books in HC and give away the PB copies to friends…or through your blog around the release of the new book. I read GRACELING right before it came out in pb from the library and was going to wait to buy it, then decided to buy the HC because it was so shiny and the background takes on an additional dimension.

    I know what you mean about wanting your books to match. I do the same thing!I get really annoyed when books change midway through (like right now, I’m considering buying a different version of DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver), or when Cynthia Voigt’s Kingdom books were re-released/re-packaged…except for the third one. What’s up with that!

    I’m so OCD with my “collections” that I have a shelf just for fairy tales, one for mythological tales, one for dystopians, etc. I’m nuts!

    1. Erin

      Oh, yes DELIRIUM is another one that switched the cover art theme mid-way through the series. 🙁

      I think that’s a great idea about Cashore’s books. Look for hardcovers of b1+2, buy book 3 when it comes out, and pass my paperbacks along to new readers!

  5. I am totally lured in by those gaming badges – not that I have more than a few from online Bejeweled – but I’m not that obsessive about my books really. Though I was a bit sad the other day that my CHAOS WALKING books don’t match (I have the US hardcover of the first one, and the UK hardcovers of the other two).

    1. Erin

      Bejeweled! Now that is a dangerously addictive game 🙂

      I wish I weren’t so obsessive about my books. It would save me countless hours of unnecessary fretting.

  6. Oh, Erin, this is SO me too! It drives me batty that my IF I STAY hardcover doesn’t match my WHERE SHE WENT hardcover, and I’m actually quite thankful that I unknowingly bought THE HUNGER GAMES in hardcover even though the paperback was available. Now my trilogy all matches (joy!). I’m tempted to repurchase the first four Harry Potter books in hardcover so they’ll match the last three in my collection, but that would be silly, right? 🙂

    1. Erin

      This may not be the answer your wallet wants to hear, but repurchasing the first four HP books in hardcover is anything but silly. I think it’s genius. 🙂

  7. I understand you completely! It bothers me to have one book out of a series and not have the rest! My Harry Potter set bothers me because I have the first book in paperback but everything else in hardback! I’ve held off on buying the Hunger Games because I want a complete, matching set and with the movie coming out, I wonder if they’ll create a nicer boxset. So yeah, the whole matching thing is a point of mild obsession for me. Plus, sometimes books get redesigns which I like better, and that sends me for a whole different loop!

    1. Erin

      I hear you! The HP paperback/hardcover combo would drive me bonkers! Interesting that you want to wait on HG and get the potential movie-inspired covers. I tend to avoid those. It might because there are usually people on them, and in general, my favorite book covers are the more abstract, faceless ones. Guess this is why they are always redesigning…to appeal to different parts of the market!

  8. I just had to comment on this post! It’s just like my friend and I. We obsess over getting certain editions. I think I’ve grown out of this phase, but my friend has not.

    Sometimes I can’t get a book because it’s still in hardcover and I want paperback. My friend goes as far as to make sure she gets the right version for each book. If a series suddenly has a change in design, she literally pulls her hair out.

    I’m also insanely nitpicky about the book I buy. I inspect it from every angle to make sure there is no crease or dents or marks. It drives me insane! Silly though, because I may crease it anyway.

    1. Erin

      I’m with your friend re: designs changing mid-way through a series. I cringe. And get all melodramatic. hehe.

      OH, and I’m the same way about buying a non-damaged book. I will go through each one on the shelf and make sure I’m getting the one that’s in the best possible shape. And like you, chances are I’ll dent or crease it along the way, but when I buy it, it needs to be pristine. Silly, but I can’t help it 🙂

  9. Jena Khasawneh

    This is so true! It bothers me so much that my copies of the first two books of the Unwind series (which is amazing) are hardcover and the last one is paperback! Now I’m not sure weather to get paperback or hardcover for the next book.

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