Thursday, September 21, 2017

State of the Hobby - September 2017


Time is a funny thing.

When I was younger, I used to gaze forlornly at the model kits placed behind a sheet of glass in the display cabinets of departmental stores, wondering if I will ever be able to afford a collection like that. When my parents bought me a model kit, I would tear into it with gusto, building it quickly and then posing it and making battle sounds with my mouth and pure imagination. When I was younger, I didn’t have the disposable income to indulge in the hobby, but what I had was a ton of free time.

Fast forward a few decades and I have become a functioning member of society, heading communications for a non-profit organisation. The work, although meaningful, is pretty mentally exhausting, necessitating my utmost attention during working hours and sometimes past those as well. Essentially, I can no longer “chill”, life has evolved into a state of constant and sometimes rapid movement; if you can’t keep up, you will get swept off your feet and plunge into the dark beyond.  Yes, work is tough, but it is necessary to support my lifestyle and also this hobby.

Fast forward a little more and what do you know, I found that someone to spend the rest of my life with. I cannot stress this fact enough: your partner must be able to tolerate your hobby. If he/she can support your hobby by joining you or helping you or whatever, fantastic. Otherwise, just hope that he/she can live with hundreds of plastic robots littered over every conceivable surface. It’s not something that many can accept, therefore I am very grateful of my other half’s forbearance for her other half’s madness.

By now, you will have realised that as I grew older, my free time shrank: there's just so many things going on at any one time that requires my attention and effort. Inversely, my disposable income has increased exponentially. In fact, I am now able to stockpile model kit after model kit, letting the backlog grow from a little pile to the mega-fort it is now. Of course I want to be able to free all those model kits from their plastic prisons eventually, but I simply cannot find the time, especially after shifting from merely collecting to actually customising my model kits.

You see, for the bulk of this hobby, I was content with simply collecting and straight building model kits with zero customisation. I built a model kit, posed it, took a few photos, shared it on social media, and put it into a display cabinet. From time to time, I would look at my cabinet again, notice that one particular kit, take it out for some photography, and then put it back again.

And I was content doing just that. I didn’t think that I have the patience, determination or creativity to paint – let alone customise – a model kit. Also, it would take too much time. Far too much.

It was only a few years ago that I created my first fully painted model kit: the HG 1/144 Gundam Astray Gold Frame Antimatter, a customised P-Bandai HG 1/144 Astray Gold Frame with the HGBF 1/144 Dark Matter Booster. It was a tough but immensely rewarding process, creating a model kit that is different from any other kit out there in the world.

This kit belongs to me. 

Since then, I’ve crossed the point of no return: making it a point to paint all model kits that I build, even if it’s just a simple colour correction. However, this added another cost to an already expensive hobby, and painting supplies can get pretty pricey. Even if I stick to spray cans – industrial spray cans at that – the amount of money sank into paint alone is enough to purchase my 2009 backlog twice over and still have change.

This is why it is a challenge to find the time to sit down and do a model kit. Every stage of the building process needs time: the prepping, the cutting of parts, the painting, the assembly, the decals and finally the posing and photography; all these require time, time that can be put to use in other ways. An hour spent on model kits would mean an hour not spent with your wife, not spent on getting some work done, not spent on volunteering somewhere, not spent on doing pretty much anything else.

However, this time is important. It takes your mind away from the stresses of daily life, putting you into the cockpit of the model kit and transporting you to a fantasy world far removed from reality. Although it is only temporary, it is a much-needed reprieve from the ongoing trauma in the real world.

That is why it saddens me to note the current state of the hobby: it has become nothing more than a price war. In almost every hobby group I’m a part of, there is bound to be a couple of posts asking where to get the cheapest model kits from, whether anyone is selling this particular model kit for this particular price, etc. This is most apparent in local community groups – almost every top-commented or most-liked post is on sales and where to get cheap kits. Gone are the days when builders posted their WIPs and/or finished pieces, nowadays all you see are people asking where the next sale will be at or is this kit worthwhile to be purchased at this price. The best part: these people don't actually build the kits they buy, some of them resell them for a higher price while others just continue to stockpile cheap kits but don't intend to ever build any of them.

It’s pathetic, really.

Then we also have the people who – for the sake of a better term – do stupid things. Instead of Googling for the really obvious answers they are looking for, they ask them in full view of the public. Things like “What should I use to cut my parts with?” or “What are nubs?” It’s really frustrating, especially when the query-poster refuses to believe your answer and goes back to asking the same question over and over again.

Then we also have extreme cases of burnout, people who pretty much just lost it. Instead of properly dealing with their emotions, feelings and stress, they take it out on the hobby, discarding several years’ worth of perfectly good model kits, painted and otherwise. They essentially threw out everything they have done for the past few years, erased in a moment of senseless mayhem. I find it quite amazing that these people can bear to do something this drastic to a hobby that has been a part of them for so long, makes me wonder if they do the same to other aspects of their lives (i.e. their interpersonal relationships), but I digress.

A hobby shouldn’t cause you this much stress. If you are feeling pressured by having to go through the tedious process of building a model kit, then don’t do it. Take a break. Go do something else. Take a hike. Watch some anime and then come back when you're feeling better. After all, a hobby is supposed to help you destress, and not the other way around.

Some people also put too much emphasis on the hobby, effectively cancelling out every other facet of their life. Everything they do is about the hobby, everything they ever talk about is the hobby. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if the hobby becomes the dominant theme of your life instead of other more pertinent matters (like finishing education or getting a job), it’s time to relook your priorities.

To me, a hobby should remain as it is, a hobby. If it can help you earn some money on the side, great! But for the majority of us, this hobby will continue to be a pastime, something that we do when we have a few hours to kill, something that we do to make our collection look a little more unique, a little more ourselves. At the end of the day, this hobby is something that we do when we have a little time.

And time is a funny thing.