Monday, September 15, 2014

The Bittersweet Backlog

I have a lot of video games.  Well, that's an understatement.  Honestly I probably own more video games than I could even finish before I die.  And yet knowing this, I still collect new games on a weekly basis.  More and more virtual voyages added to the unceasing pile.  With decades behind me of collecting, one could write it off as simply an old habit.  It might be that, but in a positive light one could say this is continuous library building for posterity.  Whether or not it's a good thing, the fact remains I own multitudes of video games I have not played yet.  They sit neatly organized and alphabetically congealed into segregated areas based on their respective platform.  Waiting patiently for their time to shine.  The truth is some of them will never get that chance.

It's not that I don't play, oh I play video games as much as I can.  "Can" being the operative word there based on playing in my free time.  My "free time" being that which I am not spending on my day job, adult responsibilities/chores, family obligations, relationship quality time, additional hobbies and other such necessities.  A mature responsible social adult cannot play video games with the same frequency they did as a carefree teen.  These days I average twelve to fourteen hours a week because of this reality.  I still have to sacrifice plenty of sleep just to pull off that amount.

Due to this situation I am a time traveling gamer.  As in, I play games from all eras of gaming.  This is born from having a backlog spanning decades.  There are still games I haven't played from the 8-bit era that I fully intend to play some day.  Despite their technological obsolescence.  All the same, I also play brand new modern releases.  But what I do not do, is disallow entire eras of gaming just because the next era has begun.  There are some people who do this.  "The PS4 came out?  The PS3 is now dead to me.  And don't even talk about the PS2 or PS1, that's just stone age crap."  To me this sort of thought process is needlessly dismissive, and illogical.  But from a purely technophile point of view, I guess I can understand their side of the argument.  I just don't share it.

An example of this?  Lately I've been playing King's Field (Japan), a game released in 1994.  It is 20 years old currently, but I've only just now gotten around to playing it.  One might wonder why I'd bother playing From Software's first release, when I've got a PS3 and their recent Dark Souls sitting in the same room (which I have not played yet).  I guess part of my reason would be due to scholarly inquisitiveness.  Historically speaking King's Field (Japan) is a significant release.  So to play an old game is to go back in time to a degree.  A larger degree though, is I'm able to disregard the graphical merit of a game, and rather enjoy its core gameplay as a separate entity.  This may have to do with growing up from Atari 2600 graphics.  I came from a time when gameplay sold a game as much (or more than) graphics did.   Having the ability to see beyond graphics is a double edged sword of course.  It means I can't disregard huge swaths of my backlog simply because of their archaic pixels.

Currently my backlog spans from the 1980's to 2014.  That's over thirty years of collecting.  So how does one begin to dig through a backlog that spans so many years?  Trying to prioritize what to play, and realizing one doesn't have time to play it all, can lead to backlog anxiety.  Feelings of shame, remorse, and loathing might manifest as a result.  I've been there!  I understand why folks come up with complex methods of dealing with this.  Some sort of regimen, or algorithm, designed to prioritize the top "must plays" or "most expensive rarities" of their respective backlog.  I am guilty of concocting such stratagem shenanigans myself in the past.   Let me tell you, that's a young man's game.  Age has brought me the realization that backlog anxiety is just silly and ultimately toxic.  The answer? Acceptance is the key.  It's not the same thing as apathy either.

Do I have too many video games?  Yes, and I accept that.  Do I need to stop buying them until I finish what I already have?  That would be financially logical, but psychologically unsatisfying, so no, I won't do that.  My fiance and I created a gaming budget for that instead.  Will I ever finish every video game I have?  Hell no.  I will be dead before that can even happen.  I accept that.  Is there a truly efficient way to choose what to play from one's backlog?  Maybe.  Do I really care?  Not anymore.  I accept that.  Instead I play what my ardent gamer heart yearns for, regardless of genre, release date, or game time length.  Hence I'm playing a Japanese oddity from 1994 right now.  Yes I could handle my backlog in a more efficient and hierarchical manner, I know this.  But I choose not to.  I accept that.

In reality my backlog is a monster.  It's a monster that I cannot slay, and yet I feed it more every week.  Maybe because I am in awe of its size and like to see it grow.  Or maybe my backlog is a well, keeping me hydrated in my unquenchable thirst for new gaming experiences.  And therein lies the two sides of the backlog coin.  Bitter monster, sweet well.  This is true, and I accept it.  But I no longer accept my backlog as a source of anxiety.  The librarian does not rue the library, nor the curator fear the exhibits.  Rather they revel in their potential.  And that is the beauty of a big backlog; pure potential.  That's why a pile of up-to-date-modern-only games can't match my backlog.  My crazy time spanning backlog is a monstrous well of potential.  And from it I can always sip a little joy as life permits.  So I throw a few coins in it every week, making the wish that it never runs dry.


  1. This was brilliant and beautiful. I'm glad you mentioned this on Racketboy; reading it has been truly cathartic because that "backlog anxiety" is EXACTLY what plagues me. Thanks, man. This was fantastic.

  2. Well f-ing said dude. I share so many of these points of views its not even funny. You've actually summed up a lot of things that I've felt but never put into words.

    "The librarian does not rue the library, nor the curator fear the exhibits. Rather they revel in their potential. And that is the beauty of a big backlog; pure potential." = My new signature on my gaming forums.