Dr Gamelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love my backlog

Last year I decided that I needed to cut down on games (being newly unemployed was an unwelcome aid in that endeavour). I decided that I would buy at most one game a month, or a maximum of thirteen games over the year (the latter condition is not a result of the first; I am aware how many months are in a year). Also I would complete said game before buying another. I failed. Well I largely failed. I failed on the first part, “Buying at most one game a month”. I also failed on the second part, “I would complete it before I buy another”. However I actually succeeded on the implicit monetary issue, I ended up spending ~€65 a month, or the price of thirteen new games over the course of the year. But that’s a different story. Why did I try and institute this policy in the first place? While there certainly was an economic issue the real impetus was my backlog. Ah the backlog, the yoke chained to every gamers neck. The Sisyphean ordeal that is arguably intrinsic to the hobby in its modern form. But before I talk about my new relationship with the beast, and how I plan to vanquish it (snicker, snack), we need to describe the beast. Or in other words, what the fuck is a backlog?

A backlog is a somewhat unwelcome luxury. One brought about by the aging target audience, as well as the growth and transformation of the industry. Simply put the backlog is the pile of games which you own but have yet to complete. In the good old days there weren’t as many games coming out and/or we didn’t have as much disposable income. In these halcyon days you’d buy a game, finish it, lend it to a friend, he’d lose it, you’d have a fight behind the bike shed, etc. as such it was unlikely to develop a backlog. But then along came the PlayStation 1 and DVD burners and the rest is, as they say, history. The gaming industry exploded, gamers got jobs and money but along with those they also lost free time, to jobs, romance, borderline alcoholism, etc. Unsurprisingly more money + less time = backlog. The problem of course being that one’s backlog tends to grow and grow while ones time to deal with it tends to shrink and shrink. The problem is further exacerbated by current sales practices in the videogame industry. These days buying a game at launch is arguably a suckers bet. It’s a fact that you’ll be able to pick up the game (often significantly) cheaper in a few weeks or months times.

If you’re interested in stretching the value of your gaming dollar then it’s a veritable golden age of parsimony. On PC nearly every major digital retailer has numerous significant sales throughout the year. Retail PC games were already cheap and again most major retailers offer significant discounts. The major consoles are following suit and introducing sales on their closed digital platforms or free games via subscription services like PS+ or Gold (and again for retail most major retailers have decent sales and you always have the option of second hand). If you like to save a quid or two or stretch your money it’s easier than ever to do so. All of which is good for the consumer but bad for their backlog. Only those of iron will can safely make it through a Steam sale (or one of the competing sales from Steams main competitors such as Amazon.com, Greenmangaming, etc.) without adding at least one or two items to their backlogs. If you own a console and are signed up for services such as PS+ (arguably required if you have a PS4) then your backlog grows even without your direct intervention.

So now we know what a backlog is and why it’s likely to keep growing. So why is it a problem? Well I can only really speak for myself here. While there is an argument to be made that buying games one will not or possibly for some people simply cannot complete is a waste of money that isn’t my main problem with a backlog. At first it wasn’t really an issue at all, I was vaguely aware that I had a fair few games that I hadn’t complete. But I just had the nebulous notion that I’d get around to completing them sometime. There wasn’t really any pressure involved and honestly I didn’t really think about it. Then I stumbled across the idea of categorising this mass of unplayed games as a backlog rather than simply as my game collection. I got sort of hung up on the idea at the time, which was six years ago I now realise, fuck. “Luckily” there are a number of online tools to help one keep track of this luxurious burden, with the oldest perhaps being Backloggery, though I find I use How Long To Beat more these days (because knowing how many hours are involved makes it worse).

At that point though it was still only something I was aware off, but as the years passed and the backlog increased it became more than that it became an irritation. Knowing that I had all those unplayed games, looking at them listed out in front of me became a sort of mental itch, which I went about trying to scratch in a variety of ways. None of which were particularly successful. In 2013 I tried coming to terms with it, picking the games I actually wanted to play and abandoning the rest, I made my list in 2013 and again in 2014. But I think that actually made it worse. Every time I wanted to play a game I had to think about the list, had to kowtow to it (yes, yes I know I made it), had to feel guilt for ignoring it, or for adding to it and so of. In essence what had been nothing, but had become an irritation, by trying to codify I transformed it further into a burden, my backlog had become my enemy. Now admittedly my questionable mental health may not have helped here. Either way, the situation such as it was had become a problem.

But then I had an epiphany, well that’s over-stating it, let’s call it a change in perspective. The backlog wasn’t my enemy. I’d bought these games because I wanted to play them. I still wanted to play (most) of them. So why didn’t I just do that? Why didn’t I just stop worrying about my “Backlog”, about “completing” it, why didn’t I just simply play the games I had bought? So that’s my plan for this year. I’m not buying any new games (well in the interests of full disclosure I had a few games pre-ordered before this revelation). I’m simply going to play the games I have.

Of course whether I’ll be successful or not is another story. Though I did make it through the Steam Winter Sale with only one game added to the backlog so perhaps there is some hope there? Though along with completely cutting off new additions to the backlog I think I’ve also come to terms that there are some games that I own which I simply wont get around to playing or completing. Whether I got them because they were super cheap or part of a bundle or that I’ve simply lost interest in them. There are too many games to reasonably get through. Perhaps instead of forcing my descendants to spend a night in a haunted house I’ll have them complete my backlog before they can gain their inheritance.

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