Tell me if this sounds familiar: I walk into a game store, maybe just to look around or kill some time. I check out the pre-owned shelves, the crappy merchandise, and maybe look in the loose handheld case. Inevitably, I see a game on the shelf that’s literally brand new. This game has only been out for days at most, and I may have even forgot it was out. But seeing it on the shelf is exciting, so I grab it. I take it home, sixty dollars in the hole unplanned, then play it for an hour or two. I jump on Twitter to offer my early opinion to the void, and the game remains unplayed for months, if not years. By the time I get back around to finishing it, I can buy it brand new for twenty bucks or less.
Buying games and not finish them for months, years, or ever is a real-ass problem many of us 18-35 gamers have. Look online and you’ll find tales of backlog woe, and even entire services and communities dedicated to helping people manage their backlogs. You’ll see memes aplenty during Steam sales of people poking fun at themselves for buying piles of games and then never playing them.That doesn’t even take into consideration people like collectors, who buy up retro classics they have never seen the credits for and leave them sitting on their display shelf, to remain untouched for who knows how long.
What’s the deal with this? Are all gamers spoiled brats with infinite disposable income? No, not really (only some of them, natch). It’s a combination of factors that I think gaming uniquely compounds to an extreme level, which is the reason you can look at the trophies or achievements of a game and see how few people progress through the first few hours of a game, and rarely if ever, see them through to the end. There just isn’t enough time in the world to play every game, and games as a hobby and culture moves far too fast to accommodate even the savviest of players.
Gaming is a really personal hobby by nature of the medium, right? Not only are you experiencing a story, but you’re directly controlling it. That’s a banal talking point by now, but that’s because it’s true. Because of that, people really love to congregate and talk shop. The mad rush to get online and deliver hot takes is never hotter than when a new game comes out. But just as quickly as the rush begins, it fades away to make room for the next game. Niche groups settle into individual games and stick with them, sure, but the broader conversation never stops hopping from new release to new release, as demanding by giant marketing machines. Thus the pressure to stay current is multiplied because of that social element.
The sheer amount of content these days is also a factor. How can anyone possibly keep up when there’s dozens of games a week dropping across almost as many platforms and marketplaces? And even without further adding to the pile, having so many options at once can be paralyzing. It’s so easy to stare at dozens if not hundreds of options, then feel discouraged by the sheer size of your backlog and default back to something that doesn’t really end, like Fortnite, or even go do something else like browse Twitter or Reddit for a few hours. The content overload is just as real as the pressure to stay current.
There are movements to help broaden the conversation. Kotaku in particular is a gaming website that has heavily pushed content for games that aren’t new, and it has writers that are actually assigned to specific game beats to follow those communities and make sure to stretch out the shelf lives of games. Sites like Backloggery almost make the act of clearing out old games a game itself; these and similar services help players motivate themselves to see their purchases all the way through to the end, and perhaps further. Personality-driven video essays on YouTube and the like are also growing in popularity, which encourage people to go back and play their forgotten gems as well.
Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a part of the conversation. That’s what our whole “Web 2.0” digital living spaces are built upon. But you might want to take a look at your collection and think about how many stories you’ve seen through to the end, and take a second to rethink your plans to walk into that store again. Maybe consider getting a Backloggery account, or just give yourself a weekly or monthly game goal. It’s fulfilling to finish things! It’s just hard to focus on one thing at a time when the outside world continues to spin despite your efforts to keep up.