Backlog – The Games I’m Not Playing

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #96. 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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Calendars are liars. At the moment, my calendar says October, but it is functionally for the vast majority of working critics the end of the year. In a few weeks, editors will be asking for year-end lists of the best media of 2017, so for those of us hoping to make something resembling a contribution to these lists, there are just a few weeks to try to catch up on all the games/books/films/music/TV/etc. that we haven’t quite gotten to yet.

This is, as one might imagine, exacerbated for a writer whose one regular outlet is a short monthly column about games not released this year. The list of my favorite ten games from 2017 currently includes eight games. I have some catching up to do.

There are, however, a number of games that I can tell you right now will not be included, not because of any necessary deficiency on their part, but because there is no way that I will have played them enough to have formed a meaningful opinion of them. This is at times an entirely practical matter. Cuphead, for example, is an Xbox/Windows exclusive, so I can’t play it. Sometimes, this a matter of deep and ongoing frustration — NaissanceE, I’m looking at you — but right now it is in all honesty a relief. I can in good conscience simply mark Cuphead off my list. It’s out of my hands, so there’s no point in worrying about it.

Similarly, I haven’t updated from the Wii U to the Switch, so neither Splatoon 2 nor Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will be making appearances on my ballot. Are they really new enough to be considered more than updated rereleases of their Wii U incarnations? Would the Wii U version of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild merit inclusion on a year-end list, even if it’s not quite as shiny as the Switch edition? I’ll admit that neither of these questions strikes me as compelling enough to justify the investment required to answer them.

The list of my favorite ten games from 2017 currently includes eight games. I have some catching up to do.

Other exclusions are a bit more subjective. (And this is one of the reasons I tend to describe my year-end lists as my “favorite” games rather than the “best” games. I don’t have the luxury of playing widely enough to really make an argument that my favorite games are objectively better than every other game released in a given year, and I’m more than a little skeptical that such a thing is really possible in any meaningful sense even for better and better-played critics than me.) I’ve never played any of the Dark Souls games, and I’m not going to play Nioh any time soon either. This isn’t Nioh’s fault. I’m sure it’s magnificent. But it isn’t really for me and I don’t feel terribly bad about that. I do feel a twinge of guilt, though, that I’m probably never going to play Rain World deeply. There are dozens of games where I can swing a sword in a lushly-rendered digital environment, but the non-anthropomorphic survival premise and idiosyncratic 2-D visual design of Rain World strike me as being much more interesting. I’ve even loaded Rain World up once or twice, but I’m not sure I’ve even figured out the basic controls and I simply don’t have enough intrinsic motivation to overcome the initial difficulty curve. I’m sorry Rain World. It’s not you; it’s me.

I’m sure that Destiny will carry on just fine without me.

Destiny 2, for me, is this year’s Overwatch. All my friends seem to dig it, but it’s not going to overcome my aversion to multiplayer games. Like Overwatch, I’m sure that Destiny will carry on just fine without me.

On the other hand, it’s not quite as simple for me to write off some of the other games that I’m just not going to be able to fit in. I’m going to fight to make it through Nier: Automata (I’ve started, but, yeah, let’s just say that I’ve started). Chances are good that I’ll get to play Tacoma, if only because it’s just a few hours long. I might even get to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, but if I’m honest, I probably won’t before it becomes eligible to be a column entry next year. Persona 5 just isn’t a possibility. Horizon Zero Dawn and Rime are going to have to wait. Resident Evil 7 is right out.

And life goes on. I still haven’t played The Last Guardian from last year. In all honesty, I’ve never finished Shadow of the Colossus. In fairness, I wasn’t assembling a year-end best games list in 2005, but in any case, it’ll still be waiting for me when I’m ready. Games don’t disappear after the year-end lists are compiled and published. Sometimes it’s good even for a critic to remember that.

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Gavin Craig is a writer and critic who lives outside of Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @CraigGav.

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