There’s one word that strikes fear into the heart of every gamer. No, it’s not ‘microtransactions,’ though that is a scary one. It’s not ‘delayed game,’ because that is, in fact, two words. That is not a fun thing to hear, either.
No; the one word that truly strikes fear into the heart of every gamer is ‘backlog.’ Did you shudder? I wouldn’t blame you if you did.
For those of you unaware, a backlog is a game or games that a player has in his or her queue to play. That seems like a relatively simple concept, and it really is. You can only play so many games at one time, so if you ever buy more games than you have time to play then some of them will have to sit unplayed until you get to them.
This is all well and good, and plenty logical, but there’s a huge catch when it comes to games. You can listen to a music album in 45 minutes. A film will take about two hours to watch. Reading a novel will usually take between three and seven hours. Watching an entire 20-episode, hour-long TV series will take a little over 14 hours if you’re not viewing any commercials.
But games? Well, they are a different animal entirely. The website HowLongToBeat polls gamers by asking how long it took them to beat a game, and then lists the averages of the polls. The Legend of Zelda: the Breath of the Wild won Game of the Year at this year’s Game Awards. According to HowLongToBeat, the core story of Breath of the Wild takes a whopping 44 hours or so. Extras can take dozens more hours, and a full completionist runthrough could climb to almost 200 hours. Many modern games will last about 20-30 hours, but some may last even longer than Breath of the Wild because they are open-ended.
Add the longer time it takes to experience games to the fact that there are dozens of great games that come out every year and, well, that’s how you get your backlog.
Every gamer has a backlog. It’s just a fact of life. But here are three steps that you can take to make peace with that backlog.
STEP ONE: Don’t buy a game that you’re not going to play now
Look: video games go on sale all the time. All the time. Digital sales, physical sales–games rarely stay at full price for very long, and even after they drop you can often find a great deal on a title that you covet. There are at least two major Steam Sales every year, during summer and winter. If you prefer your games in Xbox or Playstation flavors, though, they often have digital sales of their own. And with consoles, you get the benefit of choosing used games, which are cheaper anyway and offer an additional avenue for gamers.
While seeing that hot indie title in the Steam sale at just $4 might be tempting, and seeing that Xbox Live sale of that newish game for only $20 might also be tempting, keep in mind that you’ll see those games at that price again. Yeah, it’s a great deal! But great deals happen in video game land constantly.
So, unless you are going to buy that game to play now or play next, don’t get it. Even if you think you’ll love it. Even if your friends are telling you to play it. Don’t buy games that you’re not going to play now.
If you’re a big fan of that game’s franchise and you know you’ll play it at some point, sure, that’s an exception. But a big source of most gamers’ backlog problems is that they knowingly add to it. Cut out the initial purchase until you’re ready to buy it, and you’ve cut away at the core of the issue: you don’t have a backlog if you don’t have games sitting around in the first place.
STEP TWO: Utilize let’s plays and Twitch
Nowadays, Youtube and Twitch are huge for gaming. You can look up and watch pretty much any game that has ever existed. Just the other day, I looked up a Lego Racer let’s play (for Nintendo 64, of course) because I wanted to see the game again. Lego Racer is not exactly a thunderous title that everyone remembers, but it’s there. Of course it’s there. The internet is infinite.
Part of my problem with my backlog is that I don’t want to spend a few hours learning and mastering a game’s mechanics. Games are a lot more complicated nowadays, and the learning period for many big titles or RPGs can be huge. But watching somebody else play it gets around that issue, and it might help you learn faster if you watch somebody else use the varying systems first.
Look: you will not be able to play every single game that comes out, let alone spend a lot of time in them. Twitch and Youtube allow you to explore games that you’re lukewarm on, experience games you know you won’t get to, or expand your palette into games you wouldn’t necessarily play yourself. There are a lot of ways to use let’s plays and streams, so if you want to use that to attack your backlog, you can, and if you want to use that to prevent games from getting there in the first place, you can. You have a lot of freedom, so use it.
STEP THREE: play what you want
Every gamer has uttered the sentence our thunk the thought “I should really be playing Game X right now” before popping a different disc into the console or clicking a different game in your Steam library. I certainly have. This will give you a feeling of inadequacy, like you’re failing yourself in some way. Like you have a responsibility to play that other game.
But I’ve got a news flash for you: life is too short. Play what you want.
Yes, it is important to expand your comfort zone and play games you wouldn’t otherwise play, because that’s how you find new experiences. As much as possible, you should try to do that. However, you should never feel bad about not playing something. If you want to play another few rounds of PUBG rather than starting up Hellblade, because you’re in the mood for the former, go for it.
Games are entertainment and we work hard to have downtime in which to partake in said entertainment. So why on earth should you feel bad for playing a game that you like?
It is this mental shift which will truly help you with your backlog. No gamer will complete their backlog. That’s just life. There will always be games to play, games we’ve bought but never completed, that darn backlog. If you want to play some games on the backlog, do it. That’s great. You’ve bought the game, after all. And if you don’t? Who cares.
Sometimes a sunk cost is a sunk cost. Don’t stop it from letting you enjoy the game you’re playing now.
All screenshots are from games on my own backlog. I may never play them. So it goes.