Are you a gamer? Do you have a “pile of shame”, AKA “those games I’ll get around to playing someday”? Many gamers obsess over clearing their pile of unplayed games, but I’m giving up on the concept. Here’s why.
I am gamer.
Not a shock to many of you, but there it is.
Like a lot of gamers, I have a pile of shame. A pile of games that are either underplayed, or in some cases, not really played at all.
Blame Steam sales. Blame Humble Bundles. Blame time constraints. Blame (to a certain extent in my case) having been (on and off) a games writer for a number of decades with an ever-growing pile of game promo discs. Blame a recent trip to Tokyo that saw me return with 40-odd (in some cases, very odd) retro classics, most of which cost me less than a dollar a piece.
However your gaming pile o’ shame has built up, there’s a strong focus across a lot of the gaming community to finish those games and get them out of your inventory of unplayed titles. With the way that game prices crash, you’re not likely to get much out of them in resale/trade-in value, and I’ve never been a big fan of trading in anyway, but I do understand the impetus to clear some games in order to realise their play value.
It also plays into a well known phenomenon: FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out. You haven’t seen the sun rise over Hyrule Field in The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time? You’ve never completed every sub-quest in Fallout 3? Never taken down Tyson in Mike Tyson’s Super Punch Out? Never collected every crown in Head Over Heels?
You’ve missed out — or at least that’s what the prevailing idea behind a pile of shame suggests. For what it’s worth, there’s only two things I’ve done in the list above. I’ll leave it to you to work out which ones they are.
FOMO is a powerful incentive, and recently I decided that I’d had enough of some of my pile of shame.
Not so much the stuff I’d been sent (some of which was, shall we say, less than optimal in the first place), but titles I’d tracked down, spent my own money on and expected myself to play. So I set myself some time aside every day for gaming, intending to plough through a few titles and see what all the fuss was about. So for at least an hour every day, I stopped and played games to the exclusion of everything else. I made time, and made sure I played games during that time.
About a week into the exercise, I realised something.
I was playing the games, and making progress. I’d even finished a few games, or at least completed a few primary storyline quests in them.
But something was missing. That something was enjoyment. Yes, I was playing some games that I could recognise as excellent titles in their own right, both recent games that I’d not given enough attention and titles from yesteryear that either had nostalgic connections or were still great games in their own right. But I wasn’t really having fun ploughing through them, and it took me a while to figure out why.
To explain why, I should probably delve into my own experiences as a games journalist.
The functional reality for me as a journalist is that gaming only makes up a tiny fraction of what I do. Realistically it’s not a great career to get into from a financial point of view, because the time inputs are massive compared to the fiscal rewards on offer.
Any game that takes more than a few hours to complete to review-worthy levels (a figure that will differ depending on experience, gameplay and in my experience the personal ethics of the writer involved, but these days that really is pretty much all of them) rather quickly becomes an economic drag for a freelancer. There are countless other gigs that’ll pay a better overall hourly rate. Even for staff writers it’s not much better, as game play is often something that’s expected to be done in your own hours. I’ve been there and danced those merry steps as well.
Whenever I explain to anyone what I do, their eyes nearly always light up when I talk about games writing. The vision is that I lie around on a beanbag all day, scarfing chips and playing early release titles while amassing a fortune. It doesn’t really work like that, though, but it is a hard sell to tell people that playing games for review purposes is a great way to suck the life out of even exceptional titles, because the pressure to deliver copy quite quickly is immense.
Why have I gone off-track to talk about games writing? Because the realisation that I had was that by assigning myself a pile of shame to work through, I was turning games — something that I endorse as a fun hobby — into “work”. I was trudging my way through titles because I felt some sense of FOMO, allied with a sense that I wanted to get “value” out of these games.
Neither is a terrible aim, but here’s the thing. The games themselves don’t care if you play them for ten minutes or a hundred hours. You could get more value out of ten minutes of play than a hundred hours if that hundred hours is a dead slog and the ten minutes never lets up for a second. It shouldn’t be a pile of “shame”, because it’s between you and the games, and trust me, the games don’t care at all.
That’s why I’m dumping my pile of shame. Not as in throwing away perfectly good games, or even Backyard Wrestling: Don’t Try This At Home, but dumping the concept.
I am a gamer.
I play games, and I intend to enjoy them.
Turning them into a turgid chore of titles you “must” finish, whether to get the same experience as others, or in order to get “value” out of them is a soul sucking experience that I intend to have no part of.