Do you buy games faster than you finish them? Does your continuously expanding collection start to feel like a pile of shame? Then this story will help you eliminate this first-world problem once and for all.
As gamers, we are constantly coaxed into scoring bargains under the guise of saving money. If you do not recognize this, well, congratulations. You are wired for the digital age, and your tips are more than welcome in the comment section.
For the rest who, like me, are a bit further down the compulsive spectrum, let's go!
How did we end up here?
HowLongToBeat.com has existed since 2011 and reports on April 8 of that year: backlogs added. With a growing range of digital entertainment, users want to get a grip on their libraries and wishlists.
It is when the ‘fear of missing out’ comes up. Less than a week later, FOMO is the word of the day in the Urban Dictionary. And there is plenty of reason for that: 2011 brought us among others Skyrim, Skyward Sword, Batman: Arkham City, and Portal 2. There were only 283 games on Steam back in those good old days, sigh.
Not even twelve years later 75,000 more games are featured on Steam. At least you still have to buy those. With Game Pass, you have over 450 games at your disposal in one fell swoop. It is a natural development, given the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, HBO, and Disney+.
So much entertainment, so accessible to such a large audience. What is the problem?
You only have a little time
Let's make a simple calculation: imagine you are 30 years old and will live until you are 80. If you play one hour every day and each game takes an average of 18.5 hours (stats: HowLongToBeat), you will play not more than 1,000 games for the rest of your life. It might sound like a lot, but it’s still little more than 1.3 percent of the entire Steam catalog right now (what will it be in 2073?).
In his book, 4000 Weeks - Time Management for Mortals, British author and former Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman coins 'existential overwhelm' to describe the feeling of being swamped by your options. These include games, books, travel destinations, parties, relationships, etc...
We want to cram so many experiences into the limited time we have (by the way, you "have" nothing at all, according to Burkeman) that we sometimes forget to enjoy anything. For example, a Redditor tried to clear his backlog of nearly five hundred games. To conclude, three years later, exhausted and dissatisfied:
"There never would be a glorious moment when I was free to play whatever my heart desired because I was always saddling my heart with more and more desires while simultaneously letting it only pursue one at a time. Slowly."
There are infinite things to do in an all too finite life.
However, as a casual gamer, there is no deadline or crunch. You don't have to be accountable to anyone (except your wallet). In short, you do not have a backlog! Still, many casual gamers use the term as if they have a to-do list they need to get through. By now it might be no surprise that I was one of them.
Four systems to deal with a backlog
Burkeman offers the solution: give it up, and embrace the joy of missing out (JOMO). Stop telling yourself that you can experience everything. You only get to a fraction of it in your life, an average of 4,000 weeks approximating 77 years.
He refers to the 'paradox of limitation': the more we limit ourselves and do not manage time, the more productive we become and the better we feel. Burkeman:
"It's precisely the fact that I could have chosen a different and perhaps equally valuable way to spend this afternoon that bestows meaning on the choice I did make."
If you agree with that, it is still easier said than done. Because systems work better in the long run than these vague intentions, I will detail four strategies that help you enjoy your existing game collection and all the games you still want to play.
Emptying the wishlist of every platform selling games and transferring it to an Excel sheet contributes to preventing impulse purchases. You simply do not see the promotions anymore. I use Google Sheets, which can easily be updated anywhere when encountering something new and exciting (e.g. at SUPERJUMP).
You can also use the HowLongToBeat backlog tracker, but be aware that the platform has a commercial interest. In addition to IGN, owner Ziff Davis also has Humble Bundle and BlackFriday.com in its portfolio for example.
I use four categories: Favorite, Good, Meh, and Played. These can be based on experience or expectation (if you do not own the game). Needless to say, feel free to create your own classifications.
My favorites are the games I play now. It is followed by a theoretically infinite list of games classified as Good, which I might own or want to buy. They are simply not meant to be for now, and that's okay. They may be promoted to Favorite later.
I was surprised by how many games I classified as Meh, after which the sobering realization set in: I most likely will never play these games.
Remember the Redditor? He went out of his way to play at least one hour of each game in his backlog. If he could not make himself do it, he had to do homework on the game until the hour passed:
"I had not technically played the game for an hour, but I had legitimately dedicated a full hour to the game, which, in my mind, still counted."
Sell physical games that were disappointing or that you will never play. Alternatively, give them away, for example, to a charitable foundation. As for digital games, I'd recommend to deinstall them and hiding the purchases from your library.
Why? It makes you resistant to the sunk cost fallacy, our tendency to double down on a bad buy. It also weapons you to cognitive dissonance reduction, the urge to change your beliefs when you feel wrong about something. For example, I paid 2 dollars for a game that usually costs 20, so I think I saved money. Deep down, I know it was an impulse purchase, so I play the game for a bit to suppress guilt.
Conversely, feel free to keep the games you enjoyed as a trophy or souvenir of a fond memory.
Do you recognize this sometimes: you really want to boot up a game but procrastinate? I'm not talking about Vampire Survivors here, but games that take some time to get into, and some determination before they really get fun. For example, a story-driven game that you’ve never played before. Instead, your dopamine-loving brain craves instant gratification — or "internet sugar" — after an intense workday.
Ironically, it can help to do a little digital detox by embracing the focus mode on your phone, cutting back on linear television, and disabling notifications at work for apps like Gmail, Slack, and…Discord. It helps tame your brain and makes it less prone to continuing a dopamine rush. Leave that to your games.
Press the reset button
Close your eyes and take your time. Imagine a giant reset button in your head. As soon as you press it, you no longer have that backlog. Your games are still there, and so are your consoles and handhelds, all your subscriptions, all the books on your shelf, and all the other things you could pursue today.
But once you press that imaginary button, you no longer need to play anything. Your backlog has evaporated like snow before the sun - as we say in Dutch - in the realization that you will never get to experience everything you want.
Game over for the backlog. Let's boot up a game!
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