It’s a sobering moment. The small smile that twitches at the sides of your mouth as you wonder if you are mentally slipping in other areas of your life. A brief moment of self-awareness pings back with an “I don’t think so” and you know that this issue is probably just related to your gaming. The moment? It’s the moment where you are browsing a sale on a digital distribution platform such as Steam, see something that makes you go “Yes! I’m having that!” and when you go to add the game to your virtual cart, you notice the message “You already own this game.”
Some might laugh this off as just one of those things, or some validation of their previous decision to purchase said game. Others might guiltily delve into their online library to see just what other games they may have bought and forgotten about. This isn’t just an issue with games residing on some online service, although it does seem the most well suited to this kind of forgetfulness. The same can happen with the physical boxed versions that take up space on shelves, in cupboards, and media centre storage. Whilst on a personal level, I have yet to know of anyone who has bought a physical game that they already owned, the issue of buying games and putting them aside until they build into quite a pile is still pretty likely with any form of gamer.
So why do gamers end up creating this often considerable backlog of games? Like any gaming issue, it will probably be a mixture of individual reasons for each gamer, but they might be shared to some degree. I’m no psychologist, but the things that I have deduced and heard from other gamers have all gone toward crafting my thoughts on the issue.
I would also like to make a distinction between this kind of buying and collecting. Collecting and amassing a large amount of games as a hobby is both conscious and enjoyable for the majority of people who do it. You only have to search Google to see pictures of the loving care collectors lavish on their prizes, most having a whole room with immaculate shelving and bespoke console storage solutions. These are obviously chasing a different rabbit to the one I am looking at here.
I think that for myself at least, and maybe other gamers in their 30s or older, price is a big factor. When I first got into gaming, I was about seven or eight years old with only about two pounds pocket-money each week. I was lucky enough that my parents bought me a Commodore 64, but even the cheapest budget game sat at around the £3 price point. I could just about buy a game a month (there were sweets and action figures to be bought too, you see).
Things improved little with the Sega Master System and Super Nintendo, where games ranged from £30 for the Master System to an eye watering £70-80 for the Super Nintendo. My pocket-money did rise but these games were relegated to the domain of Christmas and birthday presents, if even then. Now I find myself with more money in my pocket, and in the mean time games have become cheaper and cheaper.
Allowing for inflation, that £70 SNES cartridge would cost over £130 now! It makes those PS4 and Xbox One games at around £50 seem like great value. Game prices also seem to plummet far sooner after release than they used to. As an example, Assassins Creed: Black Flag was around £20 for the 360/PS3 about one month after release and stayed that way for the next few months. Okay, Christmas might have had a hand in that, and the birth of a new generation of consoles, but it does happen with other games at all times of the year. Add Steam sales into this equation and things get even cheaper with games often seeing discounts of over 70%. Coming from the relatively game starved time of our childhoods, is it any wonder that gamers get a bit giddy when they see prices like that?
With sales and special offers inevitably comes the desire to bag a bargain. I know that I’m guilty of this myself. You might have a handful of games on the go, yet you see more and more coming up on offer and you don’t want to miss out. You know you’ll play it eventually right? I’ve lost track of the number of games that I’ve bought, never played and then traded in when the realisation finally dawned that I probably never would. It seems even more heinous when you buy a game on sale, let it sit on a shelf for a few months and then when you come to play it, notice it is now on an even cheaper sale. A little bit of patience could have saved you a reasonable amount of money.
There can be other reasons why you might build up a bit of a backlog, too. You might buy a game that just consumes all of your limited gaming time and so other games don’t get a look in. You might want a good variety of games for all occasions, shooters for when you fancy them, slower paced civilization building games for when you have had a bit too much to drink but want to play something relaxing. Predicting your future moods and whims can be tricky, so you will inevitably buy games that you might very seldom feel like playing.
But if you can afford it, does it really matter? Some people love to have a “rainy day” stash of entertainment that they can devour if circumstances leave them at home with illness or money becomes too tight to buy more. The trouble comes when your hoard of games becomes a chore to play through and complete, weighing on your mind and making you feel that you have to play through them or clear the backlog for the sake of your own mental space.
It reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Bart wants some freshly baked brownies and Marge says that he can have one, just as soon as he has finished his ice cream sundae. He then takes a couple of bites and struggles to swallow down what moments before, was a treat he really wanted. If your desire for a new game ruins the enjoyment of the game you were already playing, that doesn’t seem to be a very enjoyable way to indulge in your gaming hobby.
Buying games can also be a type of self-therapy, like any kind of shopping. If you have had a bad time of things, feel low or just decide you’ve earned a treat, you might find yourself buying a game just for the sake of it. I know that my own Steam library contains more than a few games that were bought in this way. They were fired up once or twice but never returned to again. I’m not saying that the number of games in your backlog is a measure of your mental health or mood, but it might be something worth thinking about for some gamers. Some people hoard and collect old newspapers. Maybe our hoarding is games.
So what can be done if you come to the opinion that you are buying too many games? Endeavouring to be a helpful chap, I’ve come up with an acronym that might help. It is apt, but some of the letters might be a bit of a stretch if I’m honest. That acronym is “G.A.M.E”, and you need to bring it to mind before any gaming purchase. The individual letters stand for Greed, Access, Money and Emotion.
So let’s imagine that you are on the verge of buying a new game, that little rush of endorphins is still swirling around your body and you feel great. Now is the time to ponder:
Greed: Am I being greedy? Do I already have plenty of games that I want to play, yet here I am about to buy another?
Access: When will I play it? Will it be immediately? If not, will I ever get around to it?
Money: Can I afford this? Would this money be better spent on something else? Maybe even a game that I know is coming out soon and that I had planned to buy then?
Emotion: Am I buying this game for emotional reasons? To lift my mood? To fill a hole in my life? To provide an escape from something that is bothering me?
Some of the words chosen might look a bit battered from my trying to shoehorn them into the GAME acronym, but I think the meanings come through. If you ponder each word and feel anything but fine with any one of them, I would take it as a sign that maybe you feel that you shouldn’t really buy this particular game.
As I said earlier, I’m not saying that buying lots of games is bad or anything like that. I’m just saying that if you do decide that you might be buying too many games, GAME could be helpful to you. I put this into practise myself the last time I was about to buy a game on sale. I queued with the game in hand, waiting for my turn at the till and I just brought GAME to mind. I failed the “emotion” check. I realised that I was buying it for the sake of it and that deep down, I knew that it wasn’t for me. So I walked out of the queue, much to the delight of the guy waiting behind me, put the game back on the shelf and walked out. I still feel the same way a few days later so I know it helped me and was probably the right choice.
We live in a time where it seems that there are so many games to tempt us, at such bargain prices and that might fill any number of needs. With the progression of digital distribution, it has even become effortless to have a large library of games to call on at a moments whim, without having to find homes for the discs and boxes. It seems that we are so spoilt for choice that we are at risk of losing the soul of our hobby and find ourselves more in love with the idea of playing any given game, than actually getting around to playing it. I don’t know about you, but I like games, not the spectral promise of a good time that never comes around.
I used the Bank of England Inflation calculator for the money figures above. Also for the eagle-eyed amongst you, the article image featuring a screenshot of a Steam window is photo-shopped by myself. There are only just over 2,600 games on Steam at this moment in time.
Reporter: Casey Douglass