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Ethics, Morals, and Trading Cards: The Normalization of Pack Weighing

Pack weighing has a long and storied history within the Pokemon TCG. Why is it becoming more accepted now?

Since the beginning of the hobby, pack weighing has been the scourge of collectors who wish to buy loose packs of cards. The process is simple and easy enough, and is driven by the fact that holographic cards weigh slightly more than non-holo cards. If you purchase a basic scale for a small amount of money, you can determine quite easily which packs have holographic cards and which don’t. The ethical issues here are immediately apparent: if you can find what packs hold holographic cards, you don’t have to “waste” your money on non-holo packs. You win big, while everyone else loses. It has long been a consensus within the hobby that weighing packs is bad, and those who weigh packs are unethical. As with any ethical issue, however, there are degrees and levels to it, to which I hope to explain in this article. I’ll also explain why I believe pack weighing is becoming more normalized, and why such normalization is wrong, even if it is inevitable.

PART 1: THE BASIC ETHICS OF PACK WEIGHING

When people buy packs, the vast majority of the time they are buying them for the chance to get certain cards. If one goes into a store and buys a pack, the thing they are paying for is a one in three chance to get a holographic or EX/GX card. Weighing packs removes that chance that people are paying for, and therefore fits the textbook definition of scamming. People think they’re paying for one thing, but in reality they don’t have a chance to get it. As the basic function of a pack is to conceal its contents, using non-detectable methods to discern what is inside also defeats that purpose. As a result of these reasons, pack weighing has been almost universally loathed throughout the hobby for years. The issues have been somewhat mitigated in recent years by several factors. One is Pokemon’s insertion of different-weight code cards for each pack: a pack with a holo gets a lighter code card while a pack without one gets a heavier code. A second is the move by many major stores to move their trading card section to the area near checkouts, as opposed to in a back aisle. This makes it harder for weighers to weigh packs in-store. Older packs, however, don’t have any of these mitigating factors in place.

PART 2: THE WORST CASES

Two immediate cases of clearly unethical pack-weighing come to mind. The first is the store weigher, which as a result of the countermeasures employed by stores and Pokemon has become less common. The store weigher’s modus operandi is simple: mainly dealing in newer packs, they go to a store, weigh the packs on the shelf, and buy all the holo ones. This exploit leaves only non-holo packs on the shelves, and scams everyone else out of a fair chance at cards. The second is the person who buys a large number of packs, whether they be loose or from a box, weighs out the holographic ones, and then sells the remaining light packs without disclosing that they have been weighed. Similarly to the store weigher, this person scams others out of the chance that they are paying for when they buy a pack. These cases are so clearly unethical because the connection between pack weigher and scammed individual is direct. The misrepresentations and actions of the pack weigher directly result in an individual being scammed. However, what happens when there is less of a clear directional action? This is where we get into the murkier cases, with conditions and hypotheticals and less clarity than the cases we have here.

PART 3: THE MURKIER CASES

One example of a murkier case is purchasing and weighing packs, and then selling the lighter packs while disclosing that they are weighed. This isn’t as clear-cut as the previous cases because one could make the argument that both participants in the transaction are fully informed of what’s going on. Nobody is making any misrepresentations as to what is being sold or bought, and each participant in the transaction is willing. However, there are still strong arguments as to why this is unethical. By weighing the packs to begin with, the original seller is making it much easier for anyone down the road to turn the packs into the situation previously explained: selling packs the seller knows are weighed as unweighed, thereby scamming the individual who purchases them. People who scam love buying weighed lots of packs, as it is incredibly easy to flip the packs and make money simply by listing them individually and not disclosing that they are weighed. Additionally, this ease of scamming is made possible by the direct actions of the original pack-weigher. Despite their original listing of the packs as weighed, the purchaser does little to no work, as the unethical act of weighing has already been done. But again, this is murky, as there are legitimate reasons beyond just scamming that someone may want to buy a weighed pack. Many people enjoy having sealed pack collections, or grading packs with PSA. It is much less of a temptation to open the packs if the owner knows they won’t have any holographic cards in them. Additionally, the weighed packs can be obtained at a lower price than unweighed packs.

PART 4: THE LEAST PROBLEMATIC CASES

While I view weighing as inherently unethical, there are occasional cases where I believe the ethical issues are mostly minimized. For example, selling a weighed pack privately to someone you know is purchasing it for a sealed collection or for professional grading. When you are personally aware of the buyer’s intentions, the probability of future scamming is reduced significantly. Additionally, if you wish to open a box but keep the packs sealed or professionally grade them for your personal collection, this has limited to no issues because you are not transacting with the packs in any way.

PART 5: WHY IS IT BECOMING NORMALIZED?

A cursory search of eBay for WOTC-era packs will quickly turn up a significant number that have been weighed, and others confidently proclaiming that they have not been weighed. This is not limited to the bottom-of-the-barrel of eBay sellers either; major, reputable Pokemon sellers have taken to selling packs either as heavy, light, or unweighed (although this must be taken with some skepticism). I’ve personally seen the opinions of some of the biggest names in the hobby shift from an absolute rejection of weighing under any circumstances (even for the least problematic cases I mentioned) to acceptance of everything except the clearly unethical cases outlined in Part 1. This brings us to the major question: why is something that was in the past so universally rejected becoming normalized? I’ll outline a few reasons why I believe so.

The first is fairly clear: money. Back when WOTC packs could be had for $15-20 a pop, it wasn’t too big of a deal if your pack had a holo in it or not. The same logic holds for before the price boom in high-grade WOTC holos - there simply wasn’t too much of an incentive to weigh packs. Now that many 1st edition WOTC holos have jumped in price, the stakes are a lot higher as to whether one’s pack contains a holo or not. Ascertaining that through weighing is now a significantly more attractive proposition. And as goes the market, so will public opinion. Now that the potential values between light and heavy packs are so disparate, it’s a better business decision to abandon the morals that structured our previous understandings instead of shouldering the heavy risk brought on by maintaining them.

The second is one of herd mentality, i.e. as some lead, others will follow. Now that major players are embracing weighing, it is becoming less of a problem for others to do the same. When one sees the large amount of eBay listings of weighed packs, and sees major sellers trading in heavy, light, and unweighed packs, it’s very tempting to follow along. This also affects those new to the hobby, who see these and assume that pack weighing is the law of the land within the Pokemon hobby. Once it starts, it’s difficult to stop, and even harder to reverse.

Last but certainly not least, a connection can be drawn between changing attitudes towards pack weighing and the general culture in Pokemon. Pokemon collecting has long been looked down upon by other collectors, mostly without good reason but occasionally so. As “raffles,” “mini-raffles,” and “flipping” continue to grow, in addition to spurious refund claims on already PSA-graded cards and attempts to torpedo community events due to lack of personal profit, it is clear that the Pokemon hobby is not one of ethical purity. While this is subjective, it certainly seems as if the normalization of pack weighing is one of the many results of this less-than-desirable overall culture.

Some concluding thoughts here: in my view, pack weighing is inherently wrong if you intend to transfer the packs to anyone except yourself and your close collecting friends. The act of weighing itself defeats the main purpose of a pack, and if one does not plan to track the ownership of the weighed pack, then one is responsible, at least in part, for any scamming that happens down the road with it. Given the first reason for normalization, I believe this will continue, and given sufficient price rises, pack-weighing will inevitably come to structure future eras of the Pokemon TCG. Despite this inevitability, we do not have to be content with it.