I have had a reading backlog since the day I learned how to read. I find out about interesting books every day, and the list grows faster than the kids you shipped off to college earlier this month. It didn’t help to be a Stephen King fan right out of the gate. Getting through his (awesome, haunting, evocative) phone books was like starting a marathon at the pace of a Sunday stroll and watching the other runners leave you behind. It doesn’t help that I’m a slow reader.
Knowing that you will die without reading everything that might have been interesting to you should not be a thought that keeps you up at night. Those hours are for thinking about your finances, or that embarrassing thing you said to a college crush. But having a reading backlog is my default state.
Having a video game backlog is something that has only started plaguing me in the last four years. And before you say it, yes, I know an alternate title for this post can be “The Very Definition of a First World Problem.”
Let’s go back to a time when XTREME was a selling point, when my voice was marginally higher-pitched than it is now, and when Blockbusters could still be found on street corners.
Video games were expensive, and my family had more people in it than your hand has fingers. So my brothers and I were expensive, too. We were very fond of playing on our Nintendo 64, which was the perfect system for us since it allowed up to four players at once.
I was also fond of sticking my eyes right next to the screen as Mario jumped around because I had never heard the phrase, “Wow, your glasses are really thick,” but that’s another story.
When we bought a game, we were stuck with it until the next major holiday. With some games, like WWF No Mercy or Super Smash Brothers, this was not a problem. I still have the Tony Hawk Pro Skater soundtrack burned into my memory. The year we brought home Superman 64, on the other hand, was also the year we learned that loving something can be an acquired skill.
My point being we were going to pour hours into a game, either until we finished it or found another hobby that didn’t lead to as many fights.
Flash forward to me as an adult with a disposable income.
I am going to preface this by saying that I love how Steam and Good Old Games (GOG) have created avenues where computer game players can connect to each other, and how their periodic sales have allowed me to buy games I find interesting but wouldn’t go out of my way to purchase.
I also hate how their periodic sales have allowed me to buy games I find interesting but wouldn’t go out of my way to purchase.
I know that I’m the one at fault in this scenario. Temptation is a mistress I too easily succumb to. No one at Valve or CD Projekt is forcing me to buy these games, but since the’re 1) being offered at a significantly reduced price and 2) I might want to play them some day, into the virtual shopping cart they go.
Except now, instead of marrying myself to one game and seeing it through to the end, I have choices. If I don’t like a game for whatever reason or lose interest, I uninstall it and figure I can try again at another time. My Steam library is filled with games I have spent less than an hour on.
Using the Steam Calculator, you can find out statistics like how much money your game library is worth, how much money you spent on them taking sales into account, and, most important for our needs, the percentage of games you own you haven’t played. Guess how many of my games fall into that last category?
Actual, not-Monopoly, could-have-gone-into-my-retirement-fund money has gone into video games that only exist as data on the cloud and I haven’t even clicked on a quarter of them. That doesn’t count games offered online for free like Dwarf Fortress or the huge list of abandonware.
My younger self would be disappointed in me if he was able to see anything with those Coke bottle bottoms he wears on his face.
So What Have I Done About It?
Both Steam and GOG have this nifty little function where you can hide a game from your list. A click of the mouse or two, and they are squared away in the web equivalent of a storage locker your family will sell off to Storage Wars after you die.
I went through my list, and if I asked three questions about every game on the backlog.
- Does the time other players spend on the game make you rethink investing yours in it?
- Would I get the pay-off I wanted (experiencing the story, looking at the graphics, etc.) if I watched someone else play it, or read the game synopsis?
- Do I own anything that offers a similar game experience that I would enjoy more?
The first question reminds me that I have limited time these days to play video games. The second question asks me if the experience would be different if I watched a Let’s Play during a long bus ride. The third makes me prioritize games I would find most new and interesting. If they all get the NO stamp, then it’s staying in my library and I will look at it the next time the video game hype train rolls through the station. If it gets a YES, it’s going into hiding and maybe I’ll take that second look when I get through what I already have.
I am also not allowed to buy new games anymore. Although that snake is coming around in autumn with Civilization VI and Pokemon Sun and Moon in tow.
So what was the point of this, besides making me feel like I have a lighter load (artificial as that feeling may be)?
I read a great post recently from Laura B. She applies a similar method of prioritizing and cutting down to that world video games are supposed to take you away from. Real life. I feel like I’m ready for another round of spring cleaning.