I, like many gamers, have an obscenely large backlog of games.
It began many years ago when I received The Orange Box as a gift. Half-Life 2 demanded to be played through something called “Steam”, and I begrudgingly installed the software.
“There,” I said. “Are you happy?” “Yes,” said Steam. “Thank you for selling your soul to me, I will take good care of it.”
Since then, the games have piled up with alarming velocity. There’s always one more game that snags me with sparkly screenshots, another tantalizing sale, the alluring promise of something new and different.
I have succumbed to many of these temptations, and the sheer weight of my backlog often paralyzes me. When I sit down to play a game, I am pursued by a disturbing doubt: is this really the most fun I could be having right now?
It is a stupid problem to have, one that feels awkward to even describe. But it is also a modern problem. There is so much being produced these days that it would require several full-time jobs to actually consume it all. Even if you don’t share my exact affliction, you likely have a problem with some other medium. Have you read every book you own? Or worse: every book you want to read? Ghastly.
When I hit the weekend, I often wring my hands, knowing that free time is special. And there’s a tremendous urge to maximize my use of it. I’m ashamed to admit how much time I’ve spent scrolling through my Steam library, hoping to select The Best Game for the eve.
Fortunately for myself and my sanity, I work in tech, an industry filled with people who like doing things efficiently. These engineers and product managers have developed tools and processes to Prioritize Things, and I, in a fit of productivity, have applied these processes to all the media I’m trying to consume.
Behold! My Trello board for games.
The board above is inspired by Getting Things Done, with just a dash of Agile methodology. Both are lean processes designed to keep things moving, like a high-fiber diet. Each game gets its own card, and each card lives in a list representing its position in the overall process. Let’s take a look at the lists.
Unreleased / Unpurchased
A watch list for interesting games I don’t own. Ranked by general release date.
A list of all the games I own that haven’t been explicitly prioritized.
A list of games I’ve prioritized, ranked by quality and time.
My sister observed that I’m probably not processing my feelings on a game unless I write about it, and she’s absolutely right! So these are games I’ve finished and am processing. I’ll be adding another list to capture games that are Truly Done.
The order of games in each list is arbitrary, EXCEPT for the “To Play” list, where games are ranked by two metrics: Quality and Time.
When I let my whims decide what I’m consuming, there’s no quality assurance. I might think I know what I want, but I usually don’t. So I pick a mediocre game, play it for a couple hours, experience dissatisfaction, then repeat the process with another subpar game. Madness!
If I died tomorrow, would there be games I regretted not experiencing? Yes! There’s a whole list! We have a finite amount of time on this planet, so spending it on mediocrity makes me barf. I want Quality Games to bubble to the top of a list. Then, without thinking, I can pluck a game from the top and know I’m getting a Quality Game.
So what is a Quality Game? This is absolutely another blog post, but for now, be content with some unexplained bullet points.
A game is high quality if it…
- consistently keeps me in a flow state.
- affects me emotionally.
- doesn’t require me to use wikis or guides.
Without actually playing a game, it can be tricky to know whether it satisfies any of these conditions. So (unfortunately) I have to rely on trustworthy sources like Rock, Paper, Shotgun and untrustworthy sources like friends.
Games vary wildly in the amount of time they demand. You might spend 3 mind-bending hours with Pony Island, or push past 100 with a behemoth like Skyrim. In my experience, the most impactful games are between 8-12 hours, or about the length of a season of Game of Thrones.
Long games are more prone to padding – you’ll likely have to grind or farm at some point, both of which are design smells and wastes of my time. This doesn’t mean long games are off the table; they’re just further down the table. This is apparently a very French way of consuming things.
So! This metric really boils down to two rules:
- Play games with actual conclusions.
- The longer the game, the more quality you should expect.
Time is much easier to measure than quality. The first rule eliminates games that occur in matches, sessions, or runs. This means games like League of Legends, Civilization, and every roguelike are at an immediate disadvantage. Sites like HowLongToBeat help me get a sense of the time required before I commit to anything.
So that’s my system! I am sure it’s broken in some way I haven’t considered. But so far it’s been helping me make decisions, and that, at least, is a win.
Since this is my first blog post in a while, I should briefly talk about timing and content. Every Sunday night at a random time, I’ll be publishing a new blog post. You can either stay up late and read it with bleary eyes, or you can get a solid night’s sleep and read it with coffee.
Most of these blog posts are going to be about games or other media, but there will also be occasional detours into other subjects, depending on my mood or attention span. If you don’t like games or reading about them, then go read my other stories and stop complaining!