I grew up during the height of the Pokemon craze in the nineties – trying to catch them all. At the time, there was nothing bigger on the planet if you were 11 years old – and I was one of those 11 year olds. Soon after the anime aired in the west, Viz Media decided to throw collectable Pokemon cards into the mix, which changed everything. For me personally, money was hard to come by at the time due to… well, me being 11, so picking which pack from a shop to buy was extremely time consuming in a way that only occurred to me recently. ‘What if I pick the wrong pack and miss out on a shiny?’ ‘What if a certain pack had more powerful and cool Pokemon in it?’ It is these type of burning questions, even to this day, I ask in regards to which video game to buy.
Now, dear readers, you may be asking yourself “why are you talking about Pokemon and the aforementioned cards?” Well, it’s simple – How many of us really used the cards for their intended purpose and actually played the card game? I sure didn’t, none of my friends did, nor did anyone at our school (at least none that we were aware of). It was just that we had something deep inside us telling us to ‘catch them all’. The same can be said for video games and why we buy them.
Currently, I have eight disc based Xbox One games sitting on my shelf unfinished, as well as several downloaded onto my hard drive. I keep telling myself, like we all do, that I’ll go back and play previously bought games. But, it rarely happens, and thus we have the game backlog. So, why are we as gamers just not satisfied with playing only one game at a time?
Some believe that a deep backlog stems from a type of addiction and hoarder-ism that comes from playing video games for a long period of your life, and that buying too many games is just the overflow effect of such a thing similar to alcoholism or smoking. To really delve deeper into the subject we have to look at Denis Diderot, a French philosopher who lived in the 1700s.
Denis Diderot wasn’t a rich man by any means, in fact it’s said that he spent the majority of his life in poverty, writing strange theories. However, that all changed one day when his daughter was to be married and needed money. Denis decided to take it upon himself to pay for such an affair. The only problem being he was more than a little strapped for cash. Thus he took the decision to sell his library of work to emperor of Russia. With the wedding paid and sorted, Denis decided having recently come into money, to buy a brand new coat for himself. Now, this was fine until Denis realised that all of his belongings looked extremely out of place when compared to his shiny new coat. He began to spend his new found wealth on possessions that would compliment this new luxury. He replaced his old carpet with a new one, he decorated his home with better furniture and sculptures, even his old armchair that he had had for years got replaced by a new leather chair.
By now you may be wondering why on earth I’ve brought up an old French philosopher, and what does it have to do with having a ridiculously long back log? Well, these purchases are known as ‘reactive purchases’, which is also known as the Diderot-Effect.
The Diderot-Effect’s meaning states that obtaining a new possession, more times than not, creates a spiral of consumption, which leads a person to purchase more ‘newer’ things. In the end, the result is we end up buying such games that previously we would never of considered just to have a level of fulfilment and ‘buzz’ from having something shiny and brand new. Casting out the old and making way for the new, even if we haven’t completed nor played that particular game.
Of course there are more common reasons as to why we all acquire a huge backlog of games; one such reason boils down to dashboard sales. We’ve all done it; scanning through the store page of the Xbox One’s home screen and found a game’s price slashed in half or even more, and thought to ourselves ”yeah… why not”, knowing full well deep down you’re barely going to play it, as each time your hard drive starts to fills up you think about deleting it to create space for that brand new release you’ve just bought for full price… that you play for 20 minutes before getting bored and moving on.
For example, a personal experience to back up this theory; I have had Dragon Age Inquisition installed since release day, November 14th 2014. I have started the game four times overall for the simple reason that I play the game for about two hours, put it down, but don’t pick it back up for another four or five months. I bought all the DLC on sale, even though I have nowhere near finished the game, just because it was on sale. But it’s nice to have the whole package even though I know Dragon Age will probably never be played to completion.
Other such direct reasons for owning too many games and perhaps one of the strongest is the friend factor. What are your friends playing? For me, I’m in a bit of an odd situation; the people I mainly game with move from game to game like it’s going out of fashion. One week we’ll be playing The Division, the next week we’ll be playing Gears of War 4, (yes, I know these two games didn’t come out close together!) this all leads to a form of indirect peer pressure that only builds as time goes on.
In-fact, many online research websites have conducted surveys on such matters, with one such website called “pewinternet” stating that 72% of teens play videogames and of those, 84% of them are boys and of that 84%, 34% play online with their friends everyday. Just so we all have a reference for how big those numbers are, Polygon recently reported on a survey in which they found that over 155 million Americans play games on a regular basis. That’s a lot of indirect peer pressure opportunity to consume games that we’ll barely play.
Of course, that is when we can find the time out of our busy schedules of working, paying bills, having families and doing basic living things to play such games. Time, is perhaps the biggest cause of a hefty list of unplayed games. Especially nowadays, when games can become so bloated and padded with various content and added extras. Much like in 2008, when every shooter tried to copy the mechanics of Call of Duty 4, nearly 10 years on every big console release seems to feature an open world, or at the very least open world questing elements. This means that even if you did have a little gaming time to spare, starting a Witcher or a Watch Dogs – no matter how good they are – may be extremely daunting to a fault where they again, just sit on a shelf while you look at it every now and then and say “one day!”.
These are but a few reasons as to why a gamer may have an overabundance of games just sitting there; a backlog, if you will. Some are philosophical, some are scientific, while others are from personal experience. No matter what category you fall in to or how big the rabbit hole goes, you’re not alone.
Maybe games should grab you instantly and keep you hooked, maybe games should just be a shorter, much more focused, linear experience, or maybe we should all just think more carefully about what we buy. All I know for sure is that if Ubisoft’s recent comments about them moving away from story oriented games and instead focusing on more ‘player creating their own story’ fun are true, then my backlog isn’t going to shrink any time soon.
What about you?