I had a problem. Like most gamers, I’d buy far more games than I actually could play in a year. Across many systems and platforms, I’d have games that would stay in their shrink wrap, or only be played a few minutes to make sure they were tested to work if they were used. As a result, I ended up with stacks of games I swore I’d play, only to end up buying even more, because dammit! that was a really freaking great deal/sale/opportunity and if I skipped it I only know I’d regret it more later when the price would go up because the physical copy went out of print or the system was discontinued. But it was starting to get out of hand, so this year I finally decided I’d do something about it.
As a New Year’s resolution, I promised I would get a handle on my backlog and never be more than 3-4 games behind on any system I owned. I set limits on how many games I would buy, and would try to get at least one game done a month unless technical limitations (such as screen problems) prevented it, so I restarted Gamer Diaries, informal observations of the games I played after I played them to motivate me to keep me on point. It was something I originally did on a personal blog many years ago, and Talk Amongst Yourselves felt like the perfect place to tackle this obstacle once more. Much like most New Year’s resolutions this was laughably unattainable, but as a result I ended up finishing way more games than I had in years previously, and had finished games that in no exaggeration would sometimes take more than a decade to finally complete. And I also learned a lot about myself as well.
I completed fourteen games this year. In reverse order I completed: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Zero Time Dilemma, Miles Edgeworth: Investigations, Rachet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, Ar Tonelico Qoga, Lego Dimensions, Disney Infinity 1 and 2.0, The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney trilogy as well as Apollo Justice, Virtue’s Last Reward and Ghost Trick. Many of these games are ones I had for years, some were ones I had bought recently, and quite a few are ones I bought, played right away and finished in a timely manner. I bought many more games than I finished, and still have many, many games that I haven’t played through. But the pile of games I just bought and haven’t played yet is tiny, and the list of games I intend to buy in the next year is also very short. If I keep up the pace I will get to my goal of being only 3-4 games behind in any given system. I didn’t achieve my goal, but you know what? That’s okay. Because I achieved a lot of stuff I never realized I would.
First, I’ve become okay with having a backlog at all. For a long time I felt guilty about it. It was such a gluttonous problem to have. After so many years of struggling to make ends meet, meaning fun and frivolous things were taking away from real, important bills like water and gas, having even a little spare change to indulge my hobby felt like a real blessing. Ten dollars here or there and suddenly all those games I lusted over in the store while my glasses were being held together with duct tape (and that’s not hyperbole or artistic license, I didn’t get new glasses for almost a decade and because the hinges broke they were held together with a combo of electrical and duct tape) were mine and I could play them whenever I wanted. Problem is that there were a lot of games I wanted so playing them whenever I wanted meant playing them whenever I wasn’t playing something else was well. Suddenly I went from playing over a hundred hours of the same Harvest Moon game on the Gameboy to having a plethora or JRPGs, rhythm games and visual novels. And going from one extreme to another felt indulgent. I was having the same anxiety towards my backpile as if I had bought too much food that was about to go bad. And as I played through the games I owned for Gamer Diary and took time to savor each one and remember why I wanted them so badly in the first place, I stopped worrying. SL Butler on Discord brought up a very good point about backlogs that completely changed my approach: rather than looking at my games as an item that needed to be consumed in a timely fashion, I needed to think of my games as a library, that each game was like a book, an old friend that was meant to be encountered when the mood struck me. I wasn’t playing games because I no longer wanted them, but simply I wasn’t in the mood to consume that particular game at that particular time. Want to pep myself up before starting work? Play some tracks from a rhythm game. Having a weekend where I wasn’t sleeping again and needed to clear my head? Time to sink myself into a candy colored Gust RPG. Just need to unwind and zone out until bedtime? Spend my time grinding in Pokemon.
The next thing I learned to do through Gamer Diary is to come to terms, at least a little bit more than before, with my body’s limitations. I’ve mentioned in the past that I suffer chronic back and joint pain from an autoimmune disease. One that puts my time in front of the TV on a very strict countdown clock. As I worked to complete more console games it dawned on me: my console game backlog was significantly larger than my portables, by a ratio of 4:1. I had always been frustrated with myself that my work would get slowed down by my health, that I wasn’t outputting as much art as I wanted, or should be. By realizing that my recreational hobby was getting as clotheslined as my actual work, it was like it finally hit me: my problems weren’t because I was lazy or not trying enough. The sickness was real. On one hand the depression from that denial collapsing was pretty devastating. On the other it made me give myself more leeway. It was okay to take breaks. It was okay to miss self-imposed deadlines. If a project took 3 years instead of 3 months it wasn’t because I failed, it’s because I need to take each day as its own thing. Now instead of letting the depression overwhelm me and cripple me, I accept (at least most of the time, this is depression after all…) that I’m simply taking a sick day as much as I would if I had the flu or bronchitis. This breakthrough alone made doing Gamer Diaries worth it.
It also made me far more patient. By forcing myself to play past obstacles even when they were frustrating as hell (seriously, fuck you Bongo Bongo and your ridiculous effects on my ability to aim the 3DS’ Gyroscopics…) it started building up my ability to fail at tasks without immediately triggering an anxiety attack. For a while real failures in my life have had Big Serious Consequences, and because of that it to the point where even stupid little failures like burning waffles turned me into a useless pile of Jello. With the exception of a few games where mistakes early on cost you a good ending later on (I’m looking at you, Persona series) if you fail in a game, you simply try again until you succeed. While I might snarl and scream in frustration at a particularly cheap obstacle or boss (seriously, Bongo Bongo can kiss my ass), to the point where my mom throws her hands up in exasperation and asks why the hell am I even playing the damn game if it’s driving me so crazy and games are supposed to be fun hobby, for chrissake! The satisfaction of getting past, that sense of accomplishment even if it’s artificial, has started slowly building me back up from Jello Girl.
And finally I learned people really liked what I had to say. People liked hearing my opinions about the games I was playing, because many of the games I was playing for the first time, or was finally finishing, were games that are classics to many people. When I presented the list of games I wanted to tackle at the beginning of the year I had a lot of comments recommending what I should tackle first because my tastes tended to hover around RPGs that people had lots of fun memories in. By talking about what I liked or disliked about a game that was new to me, I was sparking old memories in the people to whom the game was already a precious childhood memory, and inspired people to go back to a game they may not have played in decades. While I didn’t get to many games on my list (sorry Dino, I will get to Tales of Symphonia eventually) those games are mine and thus I still have every intention of playing, and finishing.
So Gamer Diary marches on as I continue the trek up Mt. Backlog. Only this trip around, it’ll be a stroll where I stop and admire the view instead of a harrowing journey against the elements. See you in 2017!