To Hell with the Backlog

I pressed the eject button on my PS3, and pulled out the disk contained within. BlazBlue: Continuum Shift. Its presence in my PS3 had been constant for weeks- despite the number of games available to me to play, I’d stuck with BlazBlue for quite a long time now. And now, I was finally replacing it… with BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend. Essentially the same game, but with a handful of more content. And I knew as I put it in the drive that it would likely be my PS3’s sole occupant for a number of weeks itself. Not because it would take that long to beat it- its added story content took me an afternoon to clear- but because it was so fun that I just didn’t care that I wasn’t mixing things up.

I’ve run into this sort of thing before with other games- games that I kept playing long after I “beat” them (though that’s a silly word to use in reference to any fighting game). By conventional wisdom, it’s a problem because nearly all of us have a list of games that we own but haven’t tried yet- the backlog, as it is known. For some, it’s a pretty short list, but for me and many others, it’s several hundred games at this point. Whether we never finished them, or in fact never started them at all, there is that nagging feeling that we need to give them some love.

Fuck that feeling.

Full disclosure, I have played some of these, but still… got several more boxes like that.

It’s not hard to figure out why we have it. We own all these incredible games, games that have taken years and a great number of people to create, and we feel guilty letting them sit on our shelves. All that work, and we’re just ignoring them? And then there’s the people that talk about them- every time someone talks about Aeris you kick yourself for never getting very far in Final Fantasy VII, every time someone raves about the Hunters you wish you’d given Half-Life 2: Episode 2 a spin. You want to be part of the conversation, and that’s totally understandable.

But let me ask you this. How many games have you played more than you would have because someone told you it was good, and you just didn’t see it? And how often did playing more change your mind? Because the times that I’ve kept playing after deciding I didn’t like something… I nearly always continued to not like it. I can count on one hand the number of times I actually felt it got better.

On the other hand, we all have games that we enjoy so much that we are willing to play them over and over. Call of Duty, Devil May Cry, Mario 64, Madden, whatever your poison, there are games that you just don’t find yourself getting tired of, that are fun every time. Why should it matter if we’ve beaten them a dozen times? The ultimate goal of gaming is to enjoy yourself, so if you’re enjoying yourself, it shouldn’t matter if you’re not covering new ground.

I guess this is more “museum” than “backlog” at this point.

I believe video games are art, and I believe that there is worth in seeing new art. But I also believe that forcing yourself, or others, to view art that they’re not excited for is only going to embitter them toward it. In school, I was required to read a lot of books, as I imagine most of us were. Without exception, I hated them… and some of them were quite good books. Catcher in the Rye, I now think is a fantastic work. The Great Gatsby is also a classic. But since I was required to read them in school, since it was against my desires, I hated them. I didn’t give them a chance, and loathed them.

The same thing happens with games. We can be won over, of course, but playing an RPG when you’re in the mood for an action game is only going to make you resent the RPG’s slow pace, not consider its good elements. The backlog is a real thing, and certainly many of the games in it are worth playing. But you can never play everything worth playing, there aren’t enough hours in the day. So play what you want to play. Branch out every now and then, but if you find yourself popping Super Mario World back in because you just want to experience that brilliance again… go for it. Don’t feel guilty. Because the ultimate goal is fun, and that’s what’s important.