Backlog

Falling Happily Behind

Every month in Backlog, Gavin Craig examines a game he never got around to when it was new. This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #86, the Family issue. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Gavin Craig has a lot of games on his shelf that he’s never played. Backlog is his attempt to correct that.

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When I launched this column last January, I declared that a backlog should not be viewed as a thing to be completed. Now, just shy of a year later, that statement offers only a hint of consolation as I start to take stock of the games I have played and not played in the past year – which games are new entries on my impossibly long to-play list and which names remain, like accusations, from the list I compiled last year.

My backlog is one of several lists I maintain, in part because it gives me a certain geeky pleasure and in part because I’ve reached a point in life where lists are not just occasional references but essential tools for me to make sense of my work and to avoid forgetful repetition. A year ago, my quickly compiled backlog list was 54 games long. I’ve written about nine of those games in these pages.

Basic arithmetic would indicate that my backlog should now stand at 45 games, except that of those nine games, only five appeared on my original list, and my printout now includes sixteen handwritten additional entries. None of this even includes games that came out this year, which as we roll over into 2017 all become eligible for consideration.

Forgetfulness, perhaps, begins to take on a certain appeal, but delving into a backlog is an act against forgetfulness in more than just the accumulation of data. To focus on catching up and keeping up is to treat culture as a thing primarily to be consumed, but there’s no completion state in art. There’s no prize for reading all the books, watching all the films or playing all the games.

While I must admit a sometimes-distressing weakness for chasing after meaningless digital tokens, the pursuit of 100% completion isn’t really the way I normally play games, and it shouldn’t be. An absolutely finished game, for me at least, tends to come with a sense of pathos rather than accomplishment. As the last markers disappear from the virtual map, anticlimax collapses into exhaustion. The world is finally, truly empty and the only remaining course of action is to delete the game entirely.

I don’t think that’s how most of us play, at least not the games we really love, the ones we come back to again and again. With that in mind, I have some resolutions for the coming year. 2016 was the year of the backlog, and that was a fine thing, but time is change and everything worth doing is worth doing a little bit differently. In 2016, I tried to play a new game every month, which pushed me towards shorter games. In 2017, I’d like to take a little more time to play some longer games. I may even backtrack at times, or dive back into a game I’ve tried in the past but didn’t spend as much time with as I would have liked. I’d love the luxury of an unrushed, provisional encounter.

I’m not sure that such a thing is even possible, but I’d like to try.

My rough backlog twelve months ago was 54 games. I’ve spent some time since then trying to be a bit more thorough in my data collection. I played, to one extent or another, 42 games this year, 23 of which were not new releases. On the other side of the equation, after years of Steam sales, PlayStation Plus membership, and deals on used discs, I own at least 336 games I haven’t played.

I don’t know entirely what to do with that number. I am embarrassed by it and by the thought of how many of those games I will probably never play, but culture isn’t consumption, and the goal of play shouldn’t be 100%

A year ago, I predicted that my backlog would be longer now than it was then. I was right, and I’ve concluded that the only way to deal with it is to slow down. I want to backlog better, and I want to expand that consideration to include the games that I’ve played and am not done with, the ones I want to come back to and finish, and the ones I want to play again and again.

I’ve barely even started. Thank goodness.

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