By MajorMitch 12 Comments
2013 is an exciting year for games, a year of change and transition. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are on their way out, the Nintendo Wii U and the PlayStation Vita are fighting to find their place in the market, smaller games (primarily indie games) continue to grow in quality and importance, Valve is bidding to take over the world with Steam Machines, and, of course, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launches loom ever closer. And hey, that Nintendo 3DS thing isn’t doing too bad for itself either. Yet despite so much volatility, I feel like 2013 has been a relatively quiet year for new releases I’m interested in spending a lot of time on. Other than a weirdly crowded March, I haven’t been swamped with new games to play, which is traditional for such transition years. Many of the “big boys” are saving up for the new hardware due out at year’s end, after all. Therefore, early in the year I decided this was an opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: take on my backlog.
You’re no doubt familiar with “the backlog,” that nebulous list of games that you never played but always intended to. There are enough good games coming out all the time (and not nearly enough time to play them all) that I would hazard a guess that many of us miss out on plenty of games we genuinely want to play. I’m no exception, and those games inevitably end up on my backlog. Despite my best efforts, leading up to 2013 the list had continually gotten bigger, reaching an impossible size of over 50 games strong (many of which are lengthy RPGs). In that state, it can quickly become a lost cause, or even worse, a burden. Was I really going to play all of these games someday? Or would the list sit there forever as I tried to fool myself into thinking that one day I’d suddenly come across immeasurable free time, only to let it weigh on me more and more as time went on? It’s a perfectly valid and viable stance to acknowledge that a backlog is never intended to be truly completed, and to be okay with it existing as a never-ending source of games to potentially play. As I stared down my beast of a list earlier this year, however, I decided that I personally wasn’t happy with that fate for these games, nor was I satisfied with the effect it had on my conscience. I wanted to take care of these games one way or another, and decided that 2013 would be a good time to attempt the challenge in earnest. Thus began a process that has turned out to be surprisingly and ruthlessly effective. What began as a list of over 50 games has been whittled down to less than 20 in under a year. My goal is to approach 0 within another year, and keep it there.
There’s no secret to the process, but there are a number of takeaways that may prove interesting or worthwhile. First and foremost, the whole thing requires, as does any lengthy endeavor, a sufficient amount of dedication, patience and perseverance. It’s not something you can rush. The last thing anyone wants is to make playing games feel like a chore, but you also have to be committed enough to make sure the process keeps moving. It’s a fine line, but fortunately that hasn’t been a problem for me; I have enough passion for games to carry me a long way. Second, there are many minor efficiency things that can add up to help ease the process along. I think it’s generally better to prioritize playing shorter games first. It’s easier mentally to process the list if you can get the raw number down sooner rather than later (the site HowLongToBeat has been instrumental in this effort). I also find it helps to not be militant about getting the “full” or “pure” experience for every game. There’s nothing wrong with playing on a lower difficulty, skipping side quests or other optional activities, or looking for help online if you get stuck. The games on my backlog got there because of time constraints more than anything else, and many of them wouldn’t get played at all without cutting a few simple corners. That’s a compromise I feel is worth making, and it allows me to experience the core of what each game has to offer, and move on in a timely fashion.
Finally, and what was the toughest thing for me personally, was that I had to acknowledge early on that I won’t (and can’t) officially “beat” every game that originally made the list. While it’s tempting to decree that every game must be beaten, it also betrays the idea of a backlog. My backlog is not a list of games I should strive to beat, but rather a list of games I wanted to play at some point in time. Removing a game from the list simply means that I no longer want to play it, and there are any number of ways to reach that conclusion. The cleanest (and most common) is certainly beating the game, but I’ve also started plenty of games only to decide after an appropriate amount of time that I have no desire to continue. What’s more, I’ve removed some games before even playing them at all. It doesn’t do any good for me to hang onto the idea of playing a game that, over time, I’ve lost desire to play for whatever reason. An effective backlog (that is, one you can make use of and isn’t meant to sit there forever) needs to be constantly re-evaluated, which requires you to regularly have frank, honest discussions with yourself. This was a potential problem for me, as I’m traditionally very stubborn and don’t like to “give up” on things, so I’m hesitant to remove games without beating them first. Fortunately, I continue to get better at knowing when I’m cheating myself, which happens to work both ways: I know when I remove a game too hastily for the wrong reasons, and I also know when I’m keeping a game on the list for the wrong reasons. So far, that’s what makes this whole thing possible for me. Clearing out a backlog is as much about feeling good about what you’ve played and what you want to play as it is about beating some arbitrary list of games. I feel like I’ve been effectively bullish with the list so far, but also fair and honest with myself and what I want out of it.
That leads to perhaps the real question: what do I want out of this process? Why even bother with all of this mess in the first place? The short answer is the obvious one: I really like video games, and there are a lot of them I want to play. The longer answer would be a more introspective look at why I feel it’s worth going back and playing older games I originally missed at all. That reason varies from game to game, but there are a few common trends. Some games are revered “classics” I never played, such as Mega Man 2, Deus Ex and Persona 4. I find it really interesting to try and understand why such games are as well loved as they are, and often times I end up enjoying them myself. Some games are ones I originally wasn’t able to play due to lacking the proper hardware at the time, such as Jeanne d’Arc, Patapon and Sins of a Solar Empire. These are generally the easiest to manage, and since they were things I always wanted to play I usually enjoy them. Some games still are simple curiosities that I accumulated over the years (generally through sales or bundles), such as Mirror’s Edge, Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale, Metro 2033 and Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. They’re games I think might do something interesting, and I’m curious to see what they’re about, even if I don’t always care to invest too much time or money into them. By the numbers this is likely the largest group, and also the one with the largest spread of results. Some I like, some I don’t, but I usually at least come away with a new perspective on what kinds of games are out there.
The last common reason is also the one I’m primarily facing at this final, but daunting stage of the process. Some games are just really, really long (primarily RPGs), and despite wanting to play them I have never been able to reasonably make time for them. Since I prioritized playing shorter games on my backlog first (though I have played a few longer ones like The Witcher and Persona 4), most of what’s left falls into this group, such as Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together and Dragon’s Dogma. Moving forward from here will likely be the most grueling part of this entire process, as longer games require much more careful consideration and, of course, time. But move forward I shall; I will beat some of these games, I will start some of them and not finish them, and I will likely decide that some aren’t worth it before I even start. That is, after all, the modus operandi for fighting my backlog. It’s a fight I originally thought unwinnable, but given the right opportunity and months of unwavering dedication I find myself in a position to see this fight through. I have every intention of doing so, and look forward to the day when I can put my backlog to rest for good.