The Backlog: Video Game Debt

My backlog started in the tail-end of the PS2 era, right as the console generation began transitioning into what would later be considered an unprecedented “next-gen” phase. Due to the new consoles coming out, a lot of PS2 games were being put on sale due to retail chains trying to make some money from what would soon be obsolete technology. I started building the backlog slowly, not really knowing what I was doing at the time. I was just buying as many games as I could; games that I was interested in playing, but mostly, I tended to purchase any game if it was on sale. I didn’t know when I would get to them but I figured that if anything they would be my “rainy-day” stash, a veritable treasure trove for me to mine through should I ever find myself severely unemployed or with simply too much time on my hands.

Before I could do anything other than stand on the cusp of the next generation of gaming, I found myself enthralled by an entirely new genre to me; the MMO–specifically, World of Warcraft. I never once thought a single game could perfectly encapsulate my mind into a rampant, automated machine dedicated to grinding and re-leveling repeatedly but WoW was that beast. In total, I played for three years joyfully, then spent about two years going through the motions before finally quitting. I ended that subscription with over five years of total game time. Looking back on it, I find myself at an odd juxtaposition, even contradiction; I don’t regret the experience of WoW but I do regret the time that I spent with it.

Although I went through some sporadic console centric intervals during my time in WoW (Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption for instance), I had a lot of catching up to do. Sure, I still bought games and I even picked up a PS3 and a Wii, but the problem that had started in the PS2 days was now spilling into another generation. Initially, it didn’t seem like a problem; I would read about a new game, watch the E3 previews, and eventually buy it on release day. On the surface, it felt as if nothing had changed in my gaming habits. Unconsciously however, I had fallen into a routine; either I played the game once then never touched it, or I simply never opened it. As such, the issue was no longer finding time to play, but finding a place to put everything away. Games went from being displayed proudly and prominently, to being stored in boxes under the bed or delegated to a dark and empty corner of the closet.

To get back into gaming, I started playing Battlefield 3 and Crysis 2 regularly but I soon noticed that the longer I spent playing multiplayer, the guiltier I began to feel towards all the games that I wasn’t playing. I not only had stacks of Xbox 360 and PS3 games but I still had the dusty box of PS2 games waiting for me as well. At first, I tried working through the old and new because although I wanted to enjoy the classics, I wanted to enjoy the contemporary as well. I compromised and tried to play one “new” game and then playing one “old” game. That lasted about a month as going through the stack, I realized that I had purchased games more on the price rather than the actual quality. I often found myself bored or ending up staring at the screen with disdain towards the appearance, outdated mechanics or lackluster gameplay. More often than not, I ended up forcing myself to work through something rather than spending time with something that I genuinely enjoyed (like Battlefield 3) because I felt guilty; not because I thought I was hurting the games feelings or anything but because I felt like I owed myself something for all those years spent collecting. I put an emphasis on the word “work” because at this point, that’s what my hobby was turning into; I was no longer playing games so much as I was working on them.

Feeling like I owed myself a “great” gaming experience due to WoW, was a sweet and sentimental thought, however, it underlies the concurrent issues that stemmed from the backlog; not only did I feel like I needed to play them to experience the “prime” moments in gaming history, but I felt like I also had to justify the amount of money that I had spent collecting those games. I worked hard for that money and yet I was throwing it towards a hobby that I was only enjoying half the time. Every time I played a round of Battlefield 3, I felt guilty; every time I purchased a new game and played it I felt guilty. It felt like I shouldn’t be spending money on new games when I had boxes and boxes of (quite literally in some cases) brand new games waiting for me.

Backlog
Gaming debt: Maxed.

By now, gaming backlogs had started to enter mainstream media but mostly they were seen as a joke, or as an inevitability. I realized pretty quickly that I had built one, but I didn’t understand the debilitating effects of the backlog until I began to equate it with debt. Each game in the stack could be considered as pure simple credit card debt, and every new game that came out was just like a new credit card purchase I couldn’t afford. Credit card debt (if you’ve never been through it) can be overwhelming since the key characteristic of debt is that it’s easy to accrue but past a certain point, it can be damn near impossible to pay off. When you owe a lot of money to something (a credit card or a person), there’s a feeling of dishonestly mixed with irresponsibility and guilt, that slyly crops up every time you spend any kind of money on yourself. “I just spent a hundred dollars on concert tickets, when I could have sent it to the credit card.” That’s sort of the way I started to feel about gaming; the difference being that my backlog “debt” wasn’t being measured by currency but by time. “I just spent three hours playing Battlefield 3 doing nothing, when I could have spent those three hours progressing through Skyward Sword.”

Once I started thinking along those lines, I began harboring and downright nurturing resentment towards my backlog. Strictly speaking, it was ruining gaming. In order to find some respite during my gaming sessions, I started to hide all traces of it, placing games as deep within the recess of the entertainment center as possible. When I ran out of space, the rest of the backlog was shoved into the hallway closet behind a cat carrier and a hand vacuum that didn’t quite work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the exact same reaction I had when I was in severe debt. Whenever the credit card statement came in, I went into automatic mode; the credit card bill came in and I paid it, never once looking at anything on it other than to make sure I was paying more than the minimum. Slowly and subtly, gaming went from relaxing-to-stressful in matter of months.

Earlier this year, I stepped into the next console transition. With a shiny new Xbox One, I decided to make a change; I played nothing from my backlog and exclusively played Xbox One games for a month. During that time, I played the absolute hell out of Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare and loved every minute of it. It was liberating to only focus on two games and for the first time in so many years, I found myself seriously excited about upcoming releases. I equate this feeling to the same feeling I had when I paid off my credit card and started using the extra money I was saving each month to book a real vacation. After my first month with the X1, I came to the conclusion that my backlog, much like the monthly credit card payment, was preventing me from enjoying new experiences in life. I lost a lot of good games in the last generation of gaming, much like I missed out on a lot of potential memories in life due to my credit card. I didn’t want to lose out on the next generation too, I wanted to enjoy my X1 the way I enjoyed my PS1 when games were few and far between and you spent your time with nothing but the gems. I wanted to feel excited about new games and more importantly, I wanted to play games for fun, moving on when I felt satisfied rather than punching in-and-out of games like holes in a time card.

The solution to my problem happened unexpectedly. As my girlfriend and I began prioritizing moving boxes, I had to make a decision and I made it quickly. I picked up the boxes of PS2 games that I had collected and never touched; a box that I hoarded over for years like a dragon over a pile of gold never spent, and told my girlfriend to throw them away because I wasn’t strong enough to do it myself. It’s hard throwing away the things that you love, especially when they’ve been with you for so long but it had be done (don’t feel too bad though, Jaws: The Game was in that box). Luckily enough, a neighbor came by and after checking to see if a Gamestop had exploded nearby, he took almost all of those games home, thanking me and sounding positively more excited about my backlog than I had ever been (Guitar Hero, oddly enough, was left for the garbage man). The games that had sat untouched for years were suddenly bringing delight to someone who was genuinely enthusiastic to play them; I can think of no better end for them.

With the PS2 box gone, I am now in the process of selling and/or giving away everything that was last gen (X360, PS3, and Wii). I came to the conclusion that I was never going to play all of it and to be honest with myself, I probably wasn’t going to play any of it.  I decided that if I wanted to bring back the joy gaming, my backlog had to go. It might sound melodramatic to think of your backlog as credit card debt but consider this; for as many apps, programs, communities and indeed, support groups dedicated to helping you catalogue and defeat your own backlog, there are just as many sites, communities, services, apps and programs promising to help you eliminate your debt. There are some of you out there who are going to scoff at this article and/or call me a quitter and to you I bid you good luck. You are doing something that I simply cannot do but at the end we’re all gaming together and I’m happy that everyone has a game to play. As for myself, I’m looking forward to Assassin’s Creed: Unity, FarCry 4 and (possibly) Sunset Overdrive. I am currently playing through Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (loving it by the way) and Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze after which I will go back and finish Metro: Last Light. That is the extent of my backlog. And I couldn’t be happier.

Note: This article is only covering console backlogs. Ari showed me his Steam catalogue and wow, that’s just scary. I was surprised (and impressed) by the amount of options available to catalogue it all; I wonder if that’s Steam’s way of giving you something constructive to do with the backlog. I made a comment that in the amount of time Ari spent cataloging his games, he probably could have beaten one. (Several, actually. -Ari)

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5 thoughts on “The Backlog: Video Game Debt

  1. What a brilliant read,

    I’m not as extreme as the guy who wrote this article, but I must certainly agree with loads of points such as feelings of guilt at playing a new game and comparing it to being in debt with a credit card.

    Like

  2. I could never go current gen only (mainly because I don’t like most modern games), but can certainly relate to feelings of guilt. Great games get replayed often in my house, and while they are fun, I always have this feeling that I should be working on something I’ve never played or finished before.

    I also used to buy games just because they’re on sale, which is a terrible habit that I stopped several years ago. Now, I purchase games that I want to play, and pass on cheap games that I will never touch.

    Like

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