How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love my Backlog

I have a problem: Whenever I start a new game and get really into it, I quit playing. I get a feeling that I’m coming to the end of the story and I set down the controller – Yeah I play on a controller, sue me – and decide that I’ll finish up the game proper over the next few days. It’s a lie I tell myself, of course. I sometimes never return to the game worlds that drew me in so heavily. Why do I do that? I wanted to find a new way to look at my backlog. Instead of stressing about it, I needed to learn to not care.

We live in weird and cool times. It’s easy to think, “ah jeez, everything is bad and will be forever”. After the last year, it’s easier than ever to fall into that mindset. We have the whole of human knowledge at our fingertips in the form of smartphones, tablets, and other internet-connected devices. Therein lies the problem. I have access to roughly every notable video game made in the last 30 years. At any moment, I can go buy the game, add it to my backlog, install it, and be playing it, depending on download size, within an hour or so. In a world where I can play figuratively any game at any time, why am I rushing onto the next game in my collection?

Growing up in rural Oklahoma, I was socially and monetarily disadvantaged. My mom tried her best to raise 4 kids by herself and work full-time. It was difficult. My uncle got me into video games, and my mom, trying to keep me happy, bought us a used Super Nintendo. I had 2 games throughout the life of that machine: Mortal Kombat 2, and Super Mario World 3. I’m fairly certain it was 3. It was the one with the cape that Mario could wear. Either way, over the course of a few years I played nothing but Mortal Kombat 2 and Mario. People with 2,000 hours in Final Fantasy XIV will leave reviews on Steam that say, “It was okay”. While that’s funny, their playtime will never reach the pure heights of a bored pre-teen with an SNES and 2 games. I had no SNES backlog.

When I got older and I could afford to buy games, I bought a used Xbox 360. I still valued the experience of thoroughly working a game over. The first game I bought was Bioshock. Believe me when I tell you I spent my free time beating and re-beating it. I had every achievement. That’s a thing I used to be proud of. I would get 100% completion on every game I owned, and I wasn’t buying anything else until I reached that goal. It didn’t feel like a challenge. It just felt like what you do. If you buy a game, you beat it thoroughly and move to the next one. No hassle. No backlog.

When I was 18 I got high-speed internet. With that, came the advent of online games. I could buy stuff from the Xbox store! Games started to get away from me. I would start something, and then something new would come out, and I’d find myself dropping the previous game to go after the new thing. The first time I consciously remember doing this was with 2008’s Alone in the Dark. I had played the hell out of that janky mess, but this game called Dead Space had recently been released, and I wanted to play it. I told myself I’d come back and finish Alone in the Dark. It’s been 13 years…I don’t think I’m honestly going to finish Alone in the Dark.

The problem is the paradox of choice. I have too many options. It’s easy to play Mortal Kombat 2 for 5,000 hours when you know that it is all you’re going to get besides Mario. It was easier in a sense. There was no agonizing over what looked good, or what I was in the mood to play. Mortal Kombat 2 looked good, and I was in the mood to play Mortal Kombat 2. There were no other ways to feel about it. In a way, it’s nice. Can you imagine how hard it would be for me to be a games journalist that forced himself to completely %100 every single game I played? I’d still be writing my first review. The amount of choice in my backlog used to bother me. I would get nervous because I didn’t want to ignore a really good game for something new.

Steam is actually the cause and solution to my problem. With my steam library – currently 1,500 games strong please send help – I don’t have to feel bad. I can lie to myself and say, “Hey, no worries, it’s still in your steam library. You can finish it later”. A lot of the time, I might not even be lying to myself. I stopped playing The Evil Within 2 shortly after launch. Something else (who knows what) had come out, and I told myself I’d be back to finish it. October of 2018, a whole year after it was released, I came back and finished it. Excellent game.

As my library has grown, I’ve stopped caring. Not in the sense that it was too monumental for me to care about, but in the sense that it is okay. Don’t beat yourself up if you spent 50 dollars during the Steam winter sale for games you still haven’t played. Play what you want. Hell, I’ve been playing Neon Abyss almost non-stop since it was released, and I’ve bought countless other games that I haven’t even booted yet. I’ve found that if I force myself to play a game just for the sake of getting some time or to not feel guilty about buying it, then I don’t like it. It’s not fun to play a game when you feel like you’re completing a task.

I know I’m not alone. The affordability of digital games has made all of our libraries gigantic. There is this attitude of, “you gotta clear your backlog”. You don’t. I’m telling you right now, you don’t. I bought the games. I supported the developers. It’s my call if I want to play them all the way or not. Some stuff isn’t good, so I don’t come back. You can do what I’ve done. Just play what you want, and don’t worry about the accusing stares of your bloated Steam library. You’ll feel a lot better about it. Or, I mean…you could always just play Mortal Kombat 2.