As a pastime, gaming enthusiasts are oft met with a self inflicted sense of guilt due to the excess of our particular predication. On the one hand we view our growing collections with a sense of pride and satisfaction, equally, a realisation it represents many missed opportunities to fully enjoy many of the titles before us. It’s a strange paradox or self inflicted condition that despite our best intentions, more often than not a gaming backlog is a common concern across the gaming community. And yet, there is the contrarian view it should be something to be celebrated. Like a fine wine collection, building an assortment of titles based on extensive experience that you can take pride in owning and enjoying. To expand that metaphor, enjoying the process of sampling and playing many different games and titles from a multitude of studios and developers before building your own, personal collection of those you want to own.
In February, Kim and Ellen are hosting the #LoveYourBacklog month that looks to celebrate and shine a light on the vast, impressive gaming collections out there in the community. A chance to be open and take pride in our gaming libraries, our digital pantheons of greatness instead of feeling guilt or shame for building up a collection of things we enjoy. It’s a positive mindset to have and takes an entirely self inflicted mentality and turns it around to be something we can be at peace with. The opening image on this post showcased a variety of games in my expansive collection from over two decades of gaming across a spectrum of consoles, desktops and genres. I’ve tried, as many, to keep my retail tendencies in check but on occasion have succumbed to temptation picking up games on impulse or whim. As I’ve grown older, I have become a little more selective in the titles I play and enjoy, but I enjoy the fact there are a vast number of games I own that I’ve yet to invest in, titles with critical and commercial acclaim waiting to be discovered.
So, this is a post about my collection, how it begun and where I see it progressing to. Keeping within the spirit of the collaboration, I will frame it around the questions posed by both these talented writers and creators. One of the really positive aspects of writing in this digital ether is the collaborative spirit that events such as this brings out of ourselves and each other. It’s fascinating for instance to see the collections of others, spotting shared interests in certain titles, discovering a new game to add or try. There are a multitude of reasons why certain titles haven’t been started or seen to fruition but this is a time to be positive. To focus on the wealth of opportunity having a vast, expansive collection affords you as a gamer. I encourage you to check out some of the other writers in this event if you have time, I will be posting some of the answers to my various social media platforms in February and hopefully picking up some great suggestions along the way.
The effect that the 2020 apocalypse had on your backlog
As with many, when the events of the last year became evident, and the realisation it would afford me a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity to indulge in my favourite pastime to the degree it did, the obvious answer would imply it had greatly reduced my gaming backlog. And yet, working in a frontline role, every working day ‘early on’ was a physical challenge that left me exhausted despite significantly reduced working hours. In the summer time, when the first lockdown began to lift, I wanted to be out and about exploring the world again not stuck inside playing games. I didn’t really add to my collection with the exception of one specific title, Watch Dogs Legion that became a sort of, cathartic tool to explore the capital in the absence of actually being able to get up into London to the same extent I had grown used to. I had grand plans to make a dent into my backlog but the reality was very different.
In those early months, I did finally start and finish the first two entries in the Uncharted Series, enjoying the first for its tight narrative and structure but finding my enjoyment diminishing somewhat when I played through Among Thieves. Still, they were a relatively short experience that was perfect for my mindset and attrition. On reflection, at that period of time I don’t think I would have enjoyed a long, drawn out campaign so they were perfect for me. They had been in my digital collection for nearly two years but never really appealed to me before May when there was nothing else to do. With fewer opportunities to window shop in the real world it did mean I picked up a couple of games in my digital collection, pushing me closer towards that point in time when I abandon physical media but for now, to summarise my answer, despite increased opportunity to make a difference, it didn’t impact upon my backlog in any measurable way.
The oldest game in terms of release date
We’re going on a journey through time now, the Soviet Union was still in power, the Berlin Wall had not long come down and a portable Japanese games console was making significant inroads into the cultural zeitgeist with a plethora of games. In 1991 I was fortunate to own an original, Nintendo Game Boy with a small collection of games I readily played again and again. In the absence of a dedicated save system until later in its lifetime, it meant you often only experienced the early levels if you had the patience of a child, which I did, for I was a child. But these games were often punishingly hard to complete testing your patience and skill in equal measure. Today, as an aged gamer, it does feel a little to easy to finish many of the modern open world AAA games purely on the basis ‘in my day‘ losing meant starting from the beginning. Nearly every game was more punishing than a From Software release, it showed no mercy, you got good or you got dead. One particular game meant more to me to complete and yet, I never have.
The Hunt For Red October was a tie in to the 1990 Tom Clancy inspired movie of the same name. It was played from the perspective of the Russian submarine attempting to evade pursuing Soviet forces and escape to freedom in the US. Lacking perhaps some of the hawkish political manoeuvrings of the novel and film, it was still an enjoyable but challenging experience. It was in a niche genre of aquatic games such as Ecco The Dolphin that took pride in the difficult of playing beneath the surface and evading many of the natural and artificial challenges around you. There was a version released for the NES that featured an exclusive ship board level but my sole experience was on the original Game Boy and to this day, it remains unfinished, sitting there. A game in my collection for thirty years I haven’t had the fortitude to go back and finish. Perhaps this year, it’s time to put that game to rest. And if I’m lucky my plucky, three decades old console will still be operable and working.
A game you bought on day one, A Game you were gifted only to not play it
I had to change the premise of this question, purely for the fact for all my gaming sins if I decide to purchase a game on its release date, at this point in my life, I’ll invest time and energy in actually enjoying it. In year’s gone by I’ll accept I may have been a little frivolous with my media buying habits, and honestly there are a number of DVDs and Blu Ray discs I’ve brought on release that remain unopened but given the significant outlay required for most big releases, it just seems logical to actually take a day off and experience some of the game even if it does then get added to the backlog when you lose interest. There have been a couple I’ve received and picked up that I’ve yet to play in any meaningful way but for the most part, nearly all my physical media collection of games has been played at some point to various stages of completion so for better or worse, I’ve never purchased a game on release that I’ve to play. I amended the premise of this question then to a game that I’ve been gifted that I’ve yet to play and then there becomes one clear example of a title hanging around my neck that recently made for a nice surprise to discover again.
I was having a little bit of a clear out recently much to my partners delight of some of the horde of media I’ve collected over the last decade or two. It led me to a sealed box where I discovered a number of Christmas Presents from 2019. When I got home after that last visit with family in Glastonbury I clearly put them aside to organise at a later date. Which then got covered over, and sealed up. And so last month when I was having a clear up suddenly I had a whole assortment of unconsumed media to enjoy. I did feel a little guilty and slightly relieved as I had made plans to buy some of these items over the last twelve months completely forgetting others had gifted me them. One of those items was Assassin’s Creed Origin‘s. I enjoyed the prior game in the series immensely using the Victorian setting of London to craft a series of articles about many of the cities most well known landmarks and their appearance in the real world to the digital. I was unsure about going further back to the Egyptian setting but I’ve heard only good things. I’ve wanted to pick it up and play it for a while now, as it turns out I’ve had all year to actually enjoy the game I just forgot entirely I had been given it over a year ago.
The game which has spent the most time on your backlog
Back around 1992, with home computing starting to evolve and grow we took ownership of a Macintosh Performa PC, one of the formative attempts of the company to break into this lucrative market. It would be another decade or so before the Apple brand gained its prestige and credibility with the launch of the iMac range and personal devices. This was the early days, before having an Apple product was the cool new hip thing. There weren’t a huge amount of games and software release in contrast to the growing number of titles coming out on a little known competitor called the Window’s 95 operating system. But there were a few with some system exclusive developers including titles such as Civilization 2, Warcraft 2 and a game based on the movie franchise, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Now, at this period of time, to curtail pirating and other nefarious schemes, developers had the tendency to put stages or levels that required codes to be inputted to allow you to play further or complete the game. One such code existed on the early release of this game which prevented you going to far though if you were quick you could play a significant proportion of the campaign.
As such, I remember playing this game incessantly on its release as we managed to obtain a copy from my fathers school at the time where he taught for a majority of his career. The only issue, not having the required unlock code for the game which stopped it from crashing at a certain point. I’ll always remember this game fondly for being able to reach a certain stage and then hitting the brick wall. About a decade or two later I finally picked it up again in a Steam sale for a bargain price and was determined to finally complete it. I tried my best but the game is punishingly hard at times and hit a brick wall again when you encounter a Nazi filled maze which ends the game if you are discovered. It is on my list of games to complete at some stage, but for a title that has spent the longest time on my backlog this is certainly it. I’ve been frustrated as a child, taxed as an adult, it needs to be completed. I just need the skill and patience to do so.
The most recent addition to your library
A game series that had been on the periphery of my collection for a long time. I decided to take a chance before Christmas last year on picking up the Banner Sage Trilogy, a long form Norse inspired series. It promised interconnectivity, a narrative that carried over between games reflecting your decisions and choices throughout the main campaign. It has the look and ‘feel‘ of a budget, indie style game without any of the flash or style of its bigger peers. It garnered a lot of critical acclaim from those that have submerged themselves within this forlorn spirited world, I feel that anguish, it is a really dour experience and does require you to be a positive mindset before undertaking your journey across the desolate wasteland. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad game, it’s not. There are a number of ways you can imagine a bigger budget release would expand or enhance the game, scripted and narrated cut scenes for instance. Interestingly, they are used fleetingly that I’ve experienced so far but it does create an inconsistency between chapters. I do enjoy these sort of long form interconnected gaming experiences, it was one of the selling points of the Mass Effect franchise for me so looking forward to seeing how it expands between games.
I’ve put a few hours into the game so far, reaching the halfway mark of the first game which took a few hours between encounters and confrontations. So far, a really forlorn desolate tone and experience. Which is refreshing from the usual bright colours and tones of other games. There’s something enjoyable about that sense of dread and pursuit that permeates the game although I did find myself longing for a little optimism or light relief. It did raise the question or idea in my idea of deliberately experiencing a game so melodramatic and lacking in humour or optimism. There are certain films I’ll watch from time to time that has a similar effect or structure, this is one of few games I’ve played to date that doesn’t really have any positivity in it, certainly not in the opening chapters. It’s fine, its different from anything else out there but all I can say is, play the game with a positive headspace otherwise it has a danger of dragging you down into despair. I did see the special edition available for the PS4 in Game before the last lockdown struck and mused picking that version up instead as it had the soundtrack included to download, having opted for the PC release I probably preference this as it seems a game based suited for this format.
The person responsible for adding the most entries to your backlog, due to their good recommendations
A tricky question to answer given most of the games that have ended up on my backlog in recent years have been through my own doing. Usually, I have a tendency to see a similar game to one I’ve enjoyed in the same genre or style and on it goes. This does have the unfortunate consequence of creating some repetition or overt familiarity from title to title. I have a plethora of open world third person titles I’ve yet to finish or in some cases begin but the general homogeneity in these releases does deter you from investing too much time and energy when frustration sets in. But then I started writing about gaming and culture and interacting with a number of people in recent years and discovering some gems I would otherwise have been entirely unaware of. Given the collaborative nature of this post’s origins, it seems fair to credit the duo of Kim and Pete and Later Levels who tuned me into the relaxing world of Eastshade with this excellent review from April 2019. It acted and has been a great palate cleanser when the overt familiarity of the third person exploration game has kicked in and afforded a nice relaxing environment to explore at whim. Equally Heaven’s Vault which was added to my Steam Library although I was going through a bit of a Stargate phase at that period of time in 2019 to that may have influenced my habits as well.
One of the best aspects of creative writing and reading is being caught up in other peoples enthusiasm for a particular series or title. Sometimes you realise with buyers remorse you may have been swept up in the moment and it wasn’t really for you but through reading these detailed reviews it does leave you with a strong impression one way or another. Old Man’s Journey was picked up entirely from a writers recommendation although alas I can’t find that particular review right now. Equally The Banner Saga is equally enthused about whenever anyone happens to come across this Norse based epic of a game. Going back a few years, the entire Bioware series of third person action games was a recommendation from an old friend who suggested the first Mass Effect game to me given my penchant for space and exploration games and as a result I’ve picked up and played every game in that series in addition to its sister series Dragon Age. So a lot of people to thank for their recommendations, but as with most things trying to remember who they were at that moment in time is another challenge all together.
A few anecdotes and reflections from the last thirty years or so of gaming. I was fortunate to experience this particular interest from its early formative years into the industry it has become today. Reflecting back, you can observe at a point in time when solid, commercial games were few and far between on particular operating systems there was a need to enjoy and appreciate what you had in the absence of a wealth of alternatives that we find today. I spent many days absorbed playing Civilization 2 on the Apple Mac in the early 90’s, one of few full release games we owned for that particular model. Moving into the console era, for the most part I tended to play to completion the titles I had for the N64 as the carts and releases were quite expensive and didn’t afford an opportunity to expand my collection outside of sale or birthday gifts. It was during the Gamecube era that I was able to spend a little more and build up my collection of titles with more abandon, as such, looking at what I own today it’s clear this was a turning point for me as a gamer, building up an assortment of games that have yet to see completion. The length of the seventh generation of consoles exacerbated the problem with my xbox 360 collection adding my backlog even more.
In the spirit of this endeavour, not a problem to overcome but an opportunity to look forward to. This year, I finally decided to revisit and complete a number of challenging games from my past and bring them to a conclusion. The first was the horror adventure title Dead Space I had begun on a multitude of occasions before giving up with the difficulty spikes or general fatigue of the setting. This time, for whatever reason it just clicked, I felt comfortable with the controls and environments and overcame this title in short order. Sometimes, you just need a little space and a mentality of overcoming the challenges one by one. If you do that instead of focusing on the larger issue you’ll reach the end and wonder what the problem was in the first place. A personal habit of mine had been to let certain series rest on specific consoles, I enjoyed the first two entries in the recent Tomb Raider series on the xbox 360, it felt unfaithful to play the third game on the PS4. But in the spirit of enjoying this game I finally played and finished this in the last week. So, the best result I’ve taken away from this months celebration of the backlog, there is a reason for most things, time and reflection affords you a new opportunity to discover a game you may have forgotten in the passage of time with a new found sense of appreciation. In March, I’ll be adding another title from my discovered to my accomplished list.
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