Steam tells me I own over 2,000 games I’ve never played. Not one single minute. Never even installed, in most cases. It’s a shameful list, and while mine is extreme (thanks to my job) I think most gamers eventually rack up a similar backlog. They’re good games, by and large. Some are great, even. I’ve always meant to get around to Monster Hunter World, and Devil May Cry 4, and Ashen. One day—when I had time, you know?
Or at least, that’s what I’ve told myself for years. These past few weeks I’ve had all the time in the world though. I’ve played a lot of Animal Crossing, Dreams, and the excellent card game Ancient Enemy. When I get bored though I pull up my Steam backlog and just…stare at it. I haven’t made a dent, haven’t even played one of the myriad games I’ve been “meaning” to play.
And I did! I played Bloodborne, which I’d always meant to get around to given its rabid fanbase. I finished Sekiro too, a game I didn’t have the time nor patience for last year when it released. (Both were very good.)
Then I started to run out of games though. Not games I could play, but games I wanted to play.
That’s not to say there’s no value in old (or just older) games. I’d never make such an argument. I like revisiting old favorites, and have done so repeatedly when I’ve had reason to do so. I replayed Myst and Riven when the 25th anniversary collection hit Steam. I’ve adventured through Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment more than a few times.
I’ve also gone back to games I missed. I played all the God of War games a few years ago before the reboot/sequel released. The Evil Within‘s another one I finished years after release.
It’s always a spur-of-the-moment decision though. Often it’s a sequel that goads me into revisiting the earlier games, desperately trying to refresh my memory on key plot points. Anniversaries are a common instigator as well, as are PC ports. I carved out 150 hours for Yakuza in 2019, when Yakuza 0, Kiwami, and Kiwami 2 all made their way over.
And that’s the key, I think: Recognizing that time isn’t really the limiting factor here. I mean, sure, there’s only so many hours in a day. It’s difficult for me to commit to an RPG knowing it might take a month or two to complete. How many smaller experiences could I have over that same period?
When a game’s important though—and I mean important to me personally—I make that time. The Witcher 3, Yakuza, Divinity: Original Sin II, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, I’ve dedicated days upon days to games that took well over 50 hours to finish. My Switch tells me I’ve spent over 100 hours in Animal Crossing since March. I don’t even want to know how many hours I’ve spent with Destiny 2 since 2017. Too many.
There will never be an ideal time for me to get into Final Fantasy XIV or spend more time with Remnant: From the Ashes or revisit Prince of Persia though, because time isn’t actually the problem. It’s simply the most convenient scapegoat as an adult, a villain practically anyone can understand. Why don’t I want to play [Insert Your Favorite Game]? “Oh, I just don’t have the time.”
It’s harder to admit I’m just not interested. I don’t want to play Danganronpa and perhaps I never will. I don’t want to spend 40 hours replaying Fallout 2, even though I barely remember it. I’m never going back to Elite: Dangerous probably. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy these experiences, but it means I’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming. Goaded. Coerced.
On the one hand, it’s a tough admission to make. Writing about video games, you’re encouraged to be knowledgeable about everything. Every series, no matter how obscure. The more obscure the better, actually. The playground litmus tests never really go away, the accusations that you’re just “not a fan” and “don’t get it.”
For me it’s a professional consideration, but for others I suspect that urge is just as strong. Play everything. Admitting that you simply don’t want to means giving up on this vision of yourself, this martyr who absolutely would be better about exploring Eorzea or chopping the tails off Rathalos if only given the opportunity.
It’s also freeing though. At the top of this article I called my backlog “shameful,” and to some extent I still feel that way. But there’s a relief to admitting you’ll never actually play or return to certain games—and that you don’t have to. Uninstall them. Hide them from your library. Out of sight, out of mind.
And then go back to playing the games you actually want to play. How do you know which ones those are? Because you’re probably already playing them. If you spent 100 hours on Animal Crossing this month? Then that’s the game you want to play. Likewise if it was Final Fantasy VII Remake or Call of Duty or Crusader Kings II or Planet Zoo or Destiny 2 or Dota 2 or just Pictopix.
There’s no point letting your backlog hang overhead like a dark cloud. Treating it like homework isn’t making you any more likely to delve into it. Enjoy the time you have, and spend it on the games you want to spend it on, and don’t let guilt creep in if you never play “the classics.” It’s okay—and I say that as much to myself as to you.
Hayden writes about games for PCWorld and doubles as the resident Zork enthusiast.