Act 1: A quest derailed.

Back in January, I had a brilliant and original idea. Ok, maybe “good” rather than brilliant and perhaps not even “original” either, but, look, it was new to me at least. And it was this – 2020 was going to be the year that I finally conquered my gaming backlog.

I’d be playing so many great titles without spending a penny more and I’d also get to reduce the sense of shame I had when glancing at my expanding collection. Plus, as a bonus, I’d possibly manage to get a series of articles out of it for JumpCut – sharing my story and tracking the ups and downs of my epic and hopefully moderately entertaining quest. I even had my hashtag ready with the hope that you, dear readers, might join in and that we could #BeatTheBacklog together.

Except that it turns out this idea wasn’t even a new one for me, let alone for wider gaming-kind. Because, as I started drafting up this article, I discovered a piece I’d written in Spring 2016 (for my old personal site) with a strangely familiar premise. It led with the same wide-eyed enthusiasm that I’d felt again just a few months ago, described the same dreams of “victory” that I held just last week and included many of the same arguments that I was hoping to make to you today. It was, to be honest, more than a little disheartening.

Because, four years on, very little appears to have changed. I still have a ridiculous number of games. Games that I’ve either never started or games that I kid myself I’ll come back to “just as soon as I have more time”. Any gains that I’ve made by gaining a tiny bit more self-control in real and digital storefronts have been obliterated by services like Game Pass and the sheer quality and range of what’s been given away with things like PS Plus. It was always a very “first-world problems” kind of problem to have, but I now feel it’s also time to accept the inevitable – this backlog is just never going away.

Act 2: Revelations.

But it did get me thinking. Does that really matter anyway?  

It’s just a load of plastic and metal or, increasingly, a list of icons on a “ready to install” section. Isn’t gaming supposed to be fun, not another to-do list from which to tick things off? Our backlogs are worlds ready to explore, not a pile of shame or yet another stick for us to beat ourselves with.

And, speaking personally, however dumb I was to buy those games originally; it’s not like they can be unbought. My subscriptions are paid up for now, often for a long time, bought on discounted rates and usually providing important other benefits so that I’ll want to renew. The money has all been spent. It’s gone, done and dusted, Hakuna Matata as the warthogs say.

So (and I feel this has been a bit of an epiphany) I’ve decided my backlog was only a problem because I let it be one. So, while I’m no longer going to #BeatTheBacklog, nor is it going to beat me.

Act 3: Our hero, transformed?

Because, without noticing it, I think I’d begun treating games as another chore to complete or thing to tick of a list. Now I’m celebrating the fact that I have all this incredible entertainment, ready for me to enjoy just as soon as I have the discipline to stop scrolling through Twitter. I don’t need to tackle my oldest games next or put off Metro Exodus until I’ve played through one and two – unless I want to of course. No, I’m now taking a much simpler approach – just playing what I feel like and guilting about it a whole bunch less.

And this change has been, well, rather liberating. As part of “the backlog”, titles like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Red Dead Redemption 2 were a big part of the problem – 70 or even 100 hours just to get me one game closer to the gaming equivalent of “inbox zero”. Now I’m seeing them as the treats that I hope they are – huge worlds to explore, stories in which to get lost, epic adventures to experience. I’m also finally deep into Horizon: Zero Dawn (a mere 3 years after it was released) but that’s perhaps a conversation for another time.

I’ve even noticed that my previous “failure” was mostly because I’d been too busy having fun: exploring off the beaten track instead of ploughing on to the credits ready for the next game on the list; putting things down when they began to feel more like work than play; and, yes, even playing something new here and there – able to join in the conversation, and enjoy or berate it with other gamers rather than be constantly 3 or more years too late. Looking at this in a new light, it doesn’t seem much like failure after all.

So, just like my equally-long Netflix watchlist, I’m trying to look at my games backlog as a buffet full of options and no longer a plate that must be cleared. It’s a luxury, not a burden, to have choices. And when I’ve had enough of my next game, I’m lucky to be able to just stop and pick another. Whether I now call it my backlog, library or collection – I’m no longer ashamed of it but grateful for it.

So, who was beaten in end? No-one, we’re good mates now.