- I initially posted a variation of this in NekuSakuraba's recent thread asking for advice on how to tackle his own backlog. What I'd originally intended to be a few helpful pointers developed into a lengthy analysis of my own backlog-battling techniques. Given its length and detail, I figured it might make for a pretty interesting blog. That's why it's here now. -
As someone who's been wrestling with their own Pile of Shame for a good few years now, I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable authority on the subject of staring at a seemingly insurmountable list of unfinished video games. Back when I first joined Giant Bomb in the summer of 2008, I was the kind of gamer who often started games but seldom finished them. When I began posting blogs here almost three-and-a-half years ago, it was with the expressed intention of trying to turn that around - the initial function of this space was to encourage me to write about the games I was playing, which in turn encouraged me to finish those games so I didn't look like a moron when I wrote about them.
Initially progress was slow, mainly due to my prolific game-buying habits which meant I was purchasing titles quicker than I was finishing them. Towards the end of 2009, my Pile of Shame reached its highest peak to date at over one hundred and thirty games. At one point, I was ready to give in and simply accept that I was never going to get around to playing any of these games. Thankfully, I didn't. I was lucky enough to encounter some like-minded gamers on this site, who were kind enough to give me some tips that, while not perfect for me, definitely set me on the right course. With a heightened sense of resolve and determination, I was able to put a rough infrastructure in place to help me turn things around and finally put paid to the games that had been haunting me for so long. This infrastructure is outlined in six steps below.
I'm not professing to have all the answers and quick-fixes for every gamer currently struggling with a huge backlog. I realise as well as anybody that everyone who plays video games does so in different ways and at different paces, and as such there isn't a magic cure-all procedure that every inundated gamer can follow to guaranteed results. All of these tips have been adapted from tips offered to me by other gamers, in a way that suits my own preferred types of games, methods of play, and how my mind works best. What I'm hoping to do with this blog is perhaps plant some seeds in the minds of other gamers like myself, and encourage them to take those first tentative steps towards overcoming their own Piles of Shame.
1. Keep Lists. Lots Of Lists.
Without a doubt, this is the point that has been the most influential in getting me to play through the games on my Pile of Shame. Back in 2009 I compiled a list here on Giant Bomb of all the games I owned, but hadn't finished. There's something about seeing all of that information concentrated into a concise listed format that makes it much easier to take in. Another thing I really like about the List feature here is that it's really easy to alter them. Being able to remove a game from that list provides me with a tangible sense of progress - it's physically not on that Pile anymore. Also since 2009, I've been keeping listed records of every game that I HAVE beaten as well. Besides giving me an easy point of reference when it's time to write up my end-of-year blogs, looking at them also fills me with a sense of achievement. If my backlog ever seems too overwhelming, I can look at those lists and remind myself just how far I've come since I began this endeavour. That's definitely helped to keep me going.
2. Don't Play Too Much At Once.
I used to be guilty of spreading my game time far too thin over several games at once. The problem with this approach is that I would rarely commit to any game enough to finish it, often playing around twenty games in a month and being lucky if I managed to finish one of them. These days, I focus on two games at a time. This all but eliminates the prospect of distraction for me, ensuring I remain focused and see every game I play right through to the end. I also try to make sure that the two games I'm playing at any given moment aren't too similar to each other. This is really important for me because it means that if I'm not in the mood for one of the two games I'm currently playing, then I can play the other instead.
3. Variety Is The Spice Of Life.
Following on from my last point, I try to make sure that I play a good mix of video games. I'm the kind of gamer that can get burned out from playing too many similar games one after another, so I endeavour to make sure that I don't play games of a similar style or length back-to-back. I really enjoy RPGs, but find I often need a couple of weeks' break between them to cleanse my gaming palette. For that reason, I'll typically only play one really long game every couple of months or so. I'll try to punctuate those longer, sprawling experiences with shorter, tighter ones in the form of action games, first-person shooters and downloadable indie titles. I'll also keep these shorter experiences on rotate, so as not to get fatigued on any specific kind of game. As a rule, the less burned out I get, the more games I play, so keeping this rotation system in place definitely benefits my attempts to clear my Pile of Shame.
4. Don't Buy Too Many Games.
This is probably the thing I had the most trouble with initially. A few years ago, I was spending a significant amount of my disposable income on pre-owned PS2 games that I'd always been interested in, but couldn't afford at the time of their release. The result of this impulse-buying habit was a mountain of critically-acclaimed PS2 classics that I just couldn't find the time to play. These days, I try to limit my game-buying to just one title a month. I focus on buying only the games that I'm really excited for, or games that have come highly recommended to me from trusted sources. I think it also helps a lot that I've become much more confident in recognising the kinds of games I enjoy most, and so can focus my attention on those rather than other titles which might be critically well-received, but that I might not enjoy as much.
5. Know When To Cut Your Losses.
I think it's safe to say that the biggest worry with having a large Pile of Shame is the dread that you'll never completely eradicate it. My response to that was to accept that I won't finish every game that I own. There will always be games that I won't be able to finish. And do you know what? I'm ok with that. Knowing when to cut my losses and sever my ties with those unfinishable (or unplayable) games has stopped me from becoming too worked up about the games I don't finish. It's also enabled me to detach myself from my collection somewhat - recently I sold a lot of my games in order to raise money to pay for Christmas presents. Among them were some titles that I knew I would never play, and I was comfortable getting rid of them because I knew that.
This is the most recent addition to this list of steps. A couple of months ago, while I was updating my Pile of Shame list, I assigned a priority ranking to every game on it. Games that I'm desperate to experience in the immediate future have been marked as High priority titles, games that I'm interested in but not desperate to try are labelled Medium priority, and games that I'm not even sure why I bought are marked Low priority. I anticipate that in the New Year, this is going to transform my approach to choosing which games to play next. Instead of being overwhelmed by a list of almost a hundred titles, I can now concentrate on a subset of about twenty that I really, really want to play. It also has the effect of minimising the worry that those Low priority titles can cause, which for someone who worries as much as I do, is a blessing.
I suppose what everyone really wants to know is, how successful have these steps been for me? Well, by following them, I've managed to achieve what I'd hoped to when I first started contributing to this site - I've finally started to make a dent in my monstrous Pile of Shame. My backlog, which if you'll remember once stood at over one hundred and thirty games, has been reduced to just over ninety titles in the space of two short years. This year alone, of the twenty-seven games that I've managed to beat, twenty-four have been games cleared from my backlog. In the last twelve months, I've bought probably nine or ten new games in total. That's an overall reduction of my Pile of Shame by about fifteen. Last year I finished thirty games and bought around fifteen, resulting in a similar drop. If I carry on at this rate, then by the end of 2017 I might have all but wiped out my Pile of Shame.
If anybody has any other suggestions that might help people tackle their backlogs, then please post them in the comments below. Like I said, I really don't profess to know all the answers, so if I've missed anything that might be of use to somebody else, then do share it. Even I'm still looking for new ideas that might help me to whittle down that Pile of Shame just a little bit faster. To those of you struggling through backlogs of your own, I wish you all the best. Together, we can push through the games that have hung over our heads for so long, and overcome our Piles of Shame. Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES (PS2)