Game Hoarding and The Paradox of Choice


#1

It’s getting to be the end of the year, which means time for reflection and also time for top ten lists, GOTYs and other retrospectives – which means it’s also time to be reminded of all the games you didn’t play this year, of everything you bought in a Steam sale and never played, of all the games that got added to a wishlist somewhere and were never thought of again until they won some award, of all the games that you really liked but you somehow never got around to finishing.

My brain has a tendency towards alternating periods of tunnel vision and indecision – either i’m locked tight to one game and rushing to its conclusion (if any) or casting about my constantly growing collection of amusements and not finding anything that scratches the very specific itch i’m feeling at that moment. The more games I have access to, the more likely I am to put off playing a specific game until I’m in the perfect mood for it, which may never come. Additionally, games that don’t grab me immediately in the first hour or so are likely to get thrown back onto the pile for another day.

How do you decide what to play and what’s never going to be played?
How do you deal with overwhelm in a time when not only are there more good games coming out per year than you will ever play, but your own collection has grown so large that it’s intimidating?


#2

I don’t know that I have a helpful reply, I’m just chiming in to say that I feel this anxiety so hard.


#3

I didn’t do a great job of finishing the games I started this year. Didn’t finish Dark Souls 3 because I switched to Dark Souls Remastered. Didn’t finish that either because I screwed up my build. Didn’t play as much Burnout or Lumines Remastered either. I’m only in chapter 4 of Valkyria Chronicles 4, and I’m someone who put 200 hours into the english VC2 release after bumbling through 300 hours of the japanese release. I spent 24 days out of province and didn’t finish anything on my handhelds.

I sure did play 1000% more Rocket League than I was expecting. Turns out that 5 minute rounds and the ability to listen to podcasts at the same time is a good way to get me to play a game.


#4

Usually what happens is a game sits in my ‘New’ Steam category for months and I either get super bored and try it out or get annoyed at the game still being in my list, I move it to ‘Graveyard’ and delete it


#5

Yeah, I finally started using Steam categories and it’s helped somewhat. It’s nice to be able to to visualize what I’m actively playing and what’s sitting in my backlog, but it’s also satisfying to move something into the “Island of Lost Games” category once I come to terms with the fact that I’m never going to finish it. I kind of wish I had something like it for Switch, because I have trouble letting go of games even when one’s obviously not clicking (this is why I’ve been at the same spot in The World Ends With You for the better part of a month, but I can’t bring myself to move on to another game). I also made a list of games I’d really like to finish before the end of the year; it’s way too long and I won’t get to most of them, but it has helped me knock out a couple of smaller games that I could finish in an evening or two.

Of course none of this is addressing the bigger problem, which is getting yourself to recognize that there’s nothing wrong with leaving a game unfinished. I know for some people it’s a value thing, and you feel like you’re wasting money if you don’t wring ever last drop of Content out of something before setting it down, and for others it’s about wanting to keep up with all of the conversations going on in various circles. I think I fall closer to the second category, but there’s also an element of being greedy and wanting to experience all of the things all the time.

Another issue is that even as games are getting better and better at keeping you engaged over long periods of time, I think they’re actually getting worse at rewarding you for seeing them all the way through. This is especially true of AAA games. I made the same point in another thread and used BOTW as an example, but it applies to most big-budget games; seeing the ending or getting to endgame content just doesn’t add a lot to the overall experience relative to the time investment it requires. It’s not like you have an enjoyment meter in your brain that’s going to peak as soon as soon as you see the ending cutscene. Really my ideal way of playing something is getting in, getting to the part that I enjoy, and getting out as soon as that significantly fades. Once I start to feel like I’m just going through the motions, or my time would be better spent with another game, it’s time to bounce. I’m not saying I’m good at following my own advice, or that there’s any “right” way to play games, but keeping that in mind has helped me.


#6

One deciding factor that has helped me immensely is having only a single gaming system and sticking with that. If it’s not on the Switch, I am not going to play it and them’s the breaks. (This approach is proving to backfire as everything is ported to the Switch now…) As to “what’s never going to be played,” that has come with the awful passage of time, knowing myself and my tastes, and slowly being okay with the fact that I do not need to play every “significant” game. I am extremely into the concept of Dark Souls; I love high/dark fantasy, deep lore, the designs, the customization for characters, everything about the dang game except for how it is played. I am not that type of gamer and, at thirty, I do not think I will ever grow into that type of gamer. As such, while Dark Souls coming to the Switch is so cool in so many ways, I knew it wasn’t going to be for me. A lot of my game making choices are now made in this brutal introspection in which I ask myself a bunch of times “is this something you will actually engage with?” Having said all of that, it is not a perfect system as I was fairly convinced that Diablo III was not a game I would resonate with but it was super on-sale over Thanksgiving so I got a copy and… I actually really like it.

I deal with this poorly because, despite my attempts at moderation and “knowing” my tastes as outlined above, I still end up with games that I do not play or fall off of and feel terribly guilty about. This year, I bought Valkyria Chronicles 1 and haven’t started it, bought and then eventually sold Octopath Traveler, keep picking up and putting down Darkest Dungeon (picking up because I do like it, put it down because I hit walls and then feel like I am only playing to validate my owning the game), put minimal time in to Wizards of Legend and Kingdom, and tried to play Golf Stories again but still can’t click with it. I would like to think that, even if I did not enjoy these games or play them to the degree I had hoped for, I still got something out of the process. You learn something about yourself and what you respond to as well as maybe get a sense of what “works” and doesn’t in games or themes you gravitate towards. That may simply be justifying spending and collecting. I like collecting but I particularly like collecting physical items when I can because (1) tangible goods are tangible and I like seeing physical representation of my interests; and (2) trade those goods. If I do not like a game after giving it a go (Octopath), I derive a different enjoyment from trying my best to either trade or sell it in a way that I feel is valuable.


#7

The two biggest factors in deciding what to play are time and how much engagement the game demands.

If I have under an hour to play something I will gravitate to a big a game where I can make small incremental progress. Lately this has been either Witcher III or Destiny 2. I avoid playing shorter games because I know I will try to power through and finish it in one or two sittings. This means games like Firewatch, Flower, and Donut County either get finished right away or slip further and further back in my queue.

Many of those shorter games work best when the game has my full attention so they aren’t compatible with podcast listening which makes me less likely to play them.

Each month as part of my budget I set aside $30 for buying games which carries over to the next month if I don’t use it. I also only play PS+ games if its something that really grabs my attention. If I buy something and don’t play it I do not consider it mistake nor do I put pressure on myself sink more time into it “to get my money’s worth.” For me it can be hard to remember that the way I spend my hobby time does not have to match the way I’ve spent my money. This helps with feeling overwhelmed by the amount of great stuff out there and already in my library.


#8

Honestly, the best thing i’ve done is just remove the concept of hoarding and backlogs from how i play games in general. I have lists of things i want to play, but i don’t really actually own any extensive library of games that i haven’t touched yet. I play the game thats in front of me, then when i’m finished, i go out and look for a game that fits my level of engagement/budget/time that i am looking for. I find this helps me avoid having a bunch of games that i bought that are all like “well i half thought this would be cool and it was only 10 bucks so i got it” weighing on me.

And really its just having to adopt the mindset of knowing what stuff you are gonna be okay with just never engaging with. Take something like RDR2, something that, if i played it I would probably have a solid time with. But looking at my level of interest, the cost of playing a 60 dollar game vs several older/smaller games for the same cost, the large time investment, its just something i looked at and was like “You know, its okay if i don’t play this”.

As for knowing when a game you are playing isn’t for you, it so tough. I hate that how much I spend has an impact. I’ve started Dying Light three different times because i spent 40 dollars on it a year and a half ago. It took me about an hour and a half to put down Crypt of the Necrodancer for good because it cost me less to buy than getting fast food. Suck cost fallacy sucksssss.


#9

I’ve had a Steam account for 7 years and only have about 25 games on it so I can’t say I relate all that much. Move down an income bracket, would be my advice : p


#10

I’ve actually not bought just about anything new this year. I had to leave my job in late May, and most of my games since then have been gifts from my husband or just the product of me sharing Steam libraries with two friends. The Steam sale came for autumn, and between Valve being shit and me not having any cash, I didn’t actually buy anything. The games I’m rotating through now–Octopath Traveler, FF-X, Dragon Age: Inquisition-- have either been lent to me by friends or are just older games I own.

@ainda is kinda right, tbh. Once you’re broke as fuck, new video games become a completely unsustainable hobby. You stop buying new shit b/c you can’t afford it, and that gives you some time to stop and go “okay, what do I have that I haven’t finished or played?”


#11

I’ve had to seriously work on the “finish what you started” mindset that I used to have about games, in particular. I have a rule now that I’m allowed to dip in and out of games as I feel like it. If I’m not having fun, drop into another game.

Part of this is being really selective about about which huge open world collect-a-thons I’ll get. I’m skipping Far Cry and RDR2 because I know I don’t have time for them. I gave up on Soulsbornes because they frustrate me in a way that I really don’t enjoy.

I have a rotation of “pop-in” games, Destiny 2, Blops 4, and Burnout Paradise, that I play then I have 15 minutes to an hour to play. I usually keep one singleplayer/story-driven game around at a time for when I have more time to play. Right now, it’s Spider-Man which I’ve been playing off and on since launch. It recently grabbed me so I’m probably going to finish it soon.

Ultimately, I’ve had to rewire some of my gaming habits. It took some time, but Waypoint and the community have been really helpful in getting into smaller games, like Brigador, that I would have totally missed before.


#12

I do the same, and tend to fall back on older games as comfort food instead of reaching out for new experiences.

I have some trouble finishing games if it’s not the only thing I play around the time of its release. I got far, but never finished God of War for example, despite enjoying it; other games came out that interested me more and it’s one of those games that keeps ramping things up that makes it hard to jump back into.

At some point I just have to accept that a game doesn’t always grip me enough to finish it, and move on instead of feeling some obligation to reach an end point before all the GOTY discussions inevitably spoil big late game moments.

Right now I only have a few things I want to get into before the end of the year; Obra Dinn in particular because the whole conceit seems to rely heavily on the mystery of its circumstances. I also bought Ghost of a Tale earlier in the year and never booted it up, I always intend to play these games but often I like to get them on release just to support the indie developers ^^"


#13

Almost every game I got this year that I didn’t play to completion was either from the Humble Monthly Bundle or PS+, so I don’t feel too much anxiety about the games I haven’t played this year, it’s mostly just wondering if I should resubscribe given how few of them I played.

With PS+, you have to buy back in to play those games so I’ll subscribe again eventually, but I touched almost none of the Humble Monthly games I got so there’s a great chance I’ll drop that service.


#14

I could not possibly relate more to this, it’s exactly how I seem to operate. In general, everyone’s sentiments in this thread are super validating.

Like many of you I’ve developed several tactics to both decide what to play and forgive myself for what I don’t play or finish. Being fortunate enough to have money to spare, I’ve found that Humble Monthly is a nice way to stop thinking of my collection as “games I bought and need to play” and thinking of them as “games I own and can play if/when I want to”. The obligation of getting my money’s worth is not constructive, so it helps to make the distinction.

More than the “get your money’s worth” obligation, though, I feel this compulsion to Experience All The Things that are going on in games, at least in genres I like and keep up with. I combat this by: 1. Just watching streams and LPs of things that are on the fringes of my interest.
2. Playing something really small from time to time to feel that I’m keeping up (e.g. sit down and play Florence).

All of this compounds with stuff like comics, books, anime, movies, etc. that I also want to experience. My partner’s a super avid reader and I want to have discussions with her, but we both have trouble playing/watching/reading each others’ faves. A lot of it is just trying to learn to let go of these impulses, and having like-minded people close to you who you can mutually reassure.


#15

The fact that my computer is completely unable to run most big modern games helps cut down the number of things I buy and don’t get into quite a bit. That said, I’ve never had any sort of completionist impulse in the first place. The only games I did everything in this year were Into the Breach and Return of the Obra Dinn. I usually have a rotation of two to three different games going at one time, but I pretty much never actually “finish” any of them before moving on to something else. Most things I play these days are wargames or Paradox grand strategy, both of which lend themselves pretty well to this kind of approach.


#16

“Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories. More than that: the chance, the fate, that suffuse the past before my eyes are conspicuously present in the accustomed confusion of these books. For what else is this collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order? You have all heard of people whom the loss of their books has turned into invalids, or of those who in order to acquire them became criminals. These are the very areas in which any order is a balancing act of extreme precariousness. “The only exact knowledge there is,” said Anatole France, “is the knowledge of the date of publication and the format of books.” And indeed, if there is a counterpart to the confusion of a library, it is the order of its catalogue.”

  • Walter Benjamin

I mean, you don’t actually own anything in a Steam library, it’s all licenses, but it functions as a nice shiny geode whose collection of intricate shards, there to delight the senses, can occasionally be traded in for their representative monetary value as a product to be consumed and not just admired amongst others. The wonder of the options is pretty effectively turned into a bludgeon by the sheer breadth of alphabetical ordering which, as people pointed out, is nullified a bit by reordering for personal preference.

Anyways I mainly stop playing games I buy now because it turns out that if I come home from work I don’t want to play something that also feels like work and then I just have to eat the 30-60 bucks. Not being a teen sucks.


#17

I’d decide how to play on mostly what I fancied at the time. I think only Andromeda I’ve ever gone “I don’t want to touch that in a long time” and consigned it to last.

Plus the benefits of second hand and rise of day one patches I might as well wait longer in general. This has kept the number down.


#18

So, I struggle with this for a lot of reasons and in a lot of ways.

One thing I’ve tried to do more is ask myself what I want to play instead of what I feel like I should play. This influences especially the games I plan on purchasing. An example: I feel like I should play Monkey Island or Doki Doki Literature Club, because people have said they’ve enjoyed it, but when I imagine sitting down and playing either of them, I don’t get very excited. I also think there are games that I feel like I should play because I’ve been told I might enjoy it. For a game like DDLR, the time investment might be worth it (also because it’s free) just to see if I enjoy it. But if I don’t actually think I might get into a game, and it’s a larger experience, why waste the time? Games usually take hours to get through, and that’s just not worth the investment.

I think an important thing to think about, though, is that time investment. I put about 30 hours into Pillars of Eternity. I got to the end of the second act, and I decided it wasn’t for me. I put the game down and haven’t picked it back up, and I don’t feel any remorse over that. I put like 10 hours into Legend of Grimrock 2, and was actually enjoying it, but I just decided that I didn’t want to keep going.

There’s no reason, when going through your backlog, to have to finish everything. It is completely fine to try something out, decide it’s not for you, and leave it at that. It’s probably better if you drop a game you’re not enjoying than to force yourself to go through the whole game.

Something I found really helpful is categorizing my library. (Okay, I’m looking at pursuing an MLIS, don’t @ me) First off it just makes it less stressful. But I also have this Four Box system that has been really helpful for me.

Here are the four boxes:

  • Box 1, “Backlog”: This is a category for any game I have not finished. Literally any game that I haven’t gotten to the end of. This doesn’t mean I’ve committed to playing it or not. (Though, writing this I’m actually considering adding another box to distinguish between games I want to get to and games I haven’t finished but don’t really feel any desire to play through/have tried and didn’t really click with)
  • Box 2, “Next Up”: This category is for the games I actually would like to play soon. Not “Oh, I’ll play that someday”, but “Oh, I think I’d like to go through that soon.” Marked by an actual desire to put time into the game. Things get added and removed from this list at intervals, and that’s fine. It’s just putting it in a space to remind myself it’s an option.
  • Box 3, “In Progress”: When I’ve actually started playing a game, I move it to this category for ease of access, and also to acknowledge that I am giving it an actual solid try. If I’m not feeling it right now, that’s fine. Move it back to the Backlog.
  • Box 4, “Finished”: This is when I finish the game. That means I get to cross it off the list. Yeehaw!

Maybe this seems really convoluted and overly complex, but this has really helped me keep track of where I am, whether or not I feel actually interested in a game. I also need to get better at dropping things I’m not really into!


#19

Do this. I did (calling it “attic”), and it instantly relieved just about all my backlog-stress. If you’re a categorizer, just being able to make the distinction between “game I haven’t yet finished” and “game I don’t plan to finish” can be psychologically huge.


#20

Yeah, super similar to vehemently, I have 5 categories in Steam that help make sense of this.

Shortlist - Games that I really want to play to completion. Max 10 of these
Backlog - Games I own but haven’t finished
Completed - Games I “finished” in some way, and am happy moving on from
Shelved - Games I walked away from as no longer worth my time
Replayable - Strategy games, roguelikes, fighting games, and other things I might pick up for one more session.

This (plus not buying anything unless I plan to put it on the shortlist) reduced my steam anxiety to a background murmur.