For this entry I try to take a different tack for a variety of reasons. I am trying to devise ways to get the blog more publicized and expand into other areas. I initially wanted more from this blog than just to play through old games and discuss general progress. I wanted to talk about how it related to what got me in this position in the first place and to inspire others to conquer their own backlog. Since I want to play Gabriel Knight and, for some reason, cannot figure out how to capture screenshots, this seems like the perfect time to experiment a little bit.
What is so Shameful about the Pile?
Many times while reading message boards, reading other blogs, and talking to friends, I constantly hear about a ‘Pile of Shame’-- a hodge-podge of game boxes clogging a corner of the basement, drawer of the desk, steam library, or bookshelf. It is made up of games that may have been bought on a whim because of sales or some lightening impulse that, upon looking at the purchase several days later, one cannot recall what the cause was. These languishing games that cause unwanted anxiety, guilt, and self-loathing haunt the basement and the brain like digital specters. But, enough about me; what about your pile?
The phenomena of purchased games that pile up is one of those modern problems that seem to only be getting worse. As a child, all of my games were purchased by my parents for special occasions such as birthday or Christmas. That is to say: rarely. When blessed with a game, it would be the only game available to play for months that had not already been played to death. Hours would melt away, slavishly dedicated to progressing in this new world that had been opened to me. As I got older, more income became available from chores and, eventually, a job. I was able to purchase more games. Still being in school and having no heavy obligations continued to provide time to fuel my hobby. Keep in mind that motivation was never an issue. The game pile grew, but the ratio of finished to unfinished games remained high. It was not until entering college, working full time during the summer holiday, and graduating into a real working man that shame truly began to take root.
Disposable income, depression, and the abundance of cheap games spelled disaster for me. I would go on tears, becoming obsessed with genres and series trying to snap up everything I could while simultaneously finishing them all. This was always a losing battle, but I did have a much more dedicated sense of playing through them. When I emerged on the other side of the mountain of recovery, I found that I had not only amassed an intimidating amount of un(der)played games, but I had also emerged into a reality where friends, work, and family took a much higher priority. Instead of trying to get to Gehennom in Nethack, I help my wife wash the dishes. I decide to drink beers with buddies instead of potions in Might and Magic on a Friday night. I thought it a better use of my time to begin writing blog entries and other pieces instead of writing notes about what players I wanted to sign in Football Manager. A major sea change occurred and I was unable to continue the breakneck schedule of tearing through my library of games. This is what truly brought about the “shame”.
[I could spend hours examining stats like these.]
The pile of games is not shameful. They are pieces of plastic or digital files that do nothing without human interaction. The money spent on the games is not shameful. I did not skip meals or break the bank to buy them. I feel shameful. I have purchased these products that I have not used and continue not to use as they remind me of the past and what has happened. I project all of my own emotions onto these games making them batteries of ill feelings. Each time I look at them they conduct electrical shocks of memories echoing my helplessness and inability to act. This is what is shameful.
The good news is they do not need to be shameful and neither do you. The clouds can part as you continue to purchase and enjoy new games while mining out your stockpile. There is no need to feel shameful if you are doing something about it.
Using words like 'strategy' or 'plan' for doing something is all well and good, but they are only ideas that do nothing in the end. I have seen many cases where gamers say "Well, I want to play one game a month just to see it" or "I want to play all my games from oldest to newest." These are good plans, maybe they appeal to you, but they don't mean anything. The real first plan you should have is when you have some free time, instead of playing Sleeping Dogs or Skyrim, put in one of those old games you wanted to try and play for half an hour.
Thoughts are just thoughts without the actions of your hands. When I was in a bad way, I would sit and stew on ideas. I would write some down, make some plans, but after everything was said and not done, I had nothing to show for it. In the field of writing, Merlin Mann, a blogger, motivational speaker (he would kill me for this), and Internet personality, refers to this as "making the clackity noise". You have an idea, great. Why aren't you writing about it. You want to finish your backlog, good. Why aren't you playing those games? Maybe it's just not that important to you.
You can only present to others and to yourself something you have produced. In my case, after reading a few blogs that I have mentioned before such as The CRPG Addict and listening to Watch out for Fireballs (A Retro Videogames Podcast) , I sat down at the keyboard and just started typing. The results of this can be seen as entry number 1: The Start of Something. That name was no accident either. Once I had begun writing, I had a hard time stopping and the ability to actually play through the games in my backlog was not so mysteriously unlocked. With the blog started, it became easier and easier to decide to play an older game to write about instead of just watching TV or browsing forums. I am not directing that you go out and begin your own blog to finish your games because it has taken up a lot of my time, but it works for me and not only improves my motivation to play but also my writing.
Prioritize your thoughts and actions to accomplish what you want to. Instead of just staring at your Steam library for five minutes thinking about what to play, close your eyes and pick something just to start playing it. Even if it is just ten or fifteen minutes, you can get a pretty good idea if you want to continue, if the game is good enough to invest more time in in the future, or if it's junk. In any case, you have made progress because you will either keep playing until you are done with the game or you can just scratch it off your list as rubbish never to be worried about again. A brick has been removed from the wall by one simple click.
Indecision grows exponentially as your backlog (and laundry list of other errands) increases. It is easy to get caught up in first world despair about how much you have to do and how you can NEVER make time to do it. Well, the truth is if those things on your list were completely mandatory, they would have been done already. These things are just items you would like to finish and hold no relevance other than to your own desires. Just reach out and do it because nobody is going to make you. Break through the wall and get more practice focusing and sectioning off a small amounts of time dedicated to these tasks. Clicking through forums? Take those fifteen minutes to talk to everybody in a town in Ultima 4. Watching YouTube videos? Finish a few levels of Duke Nukem 3d. These things are not hard, but get built up in our minds as massive tasks that all need to tackled at once. "Rome wasn't built in a day" is a platitude thrown around and generally accepted to mean "Good things take time". But when tossed out, the word 'built' is normally skipped over in our mind because it also means 'work'. Taking the time to accomplish what you want is always work, but that does not mean it is necessarily torturous. The idea of 'work' has become such a nasty four letter word that we just toss it out the window when we are not 'at work' because we are no longer sitting in our cubicle. This is the perfect time to do this work because you are not producing something for your boss or company, you are making something for yourself. This can be writing, finishing your backlog, learning to cook a new dish, or just cleaning the kitchen floor, but these are all bits of 'work' that are for you and you alone. Thinking about doing these things and not acting on them by making lists, sticky notes, lists of lists, promises to yourself are cool, but can be summed up in one word: stagnation.
There is no motivation here besides the idea that you can accomplish anything, but it's going to take work. Once you start doing work, you realize it is not that bad and can feel good about yourself for accomplishing something. This is the complete opposite of indecision and languishing that comes with backlogs, long laid plans, and promises to yourself. With a little practice, you will find that work can be pretty fun and your backlog/dream will begin to disappear/materialize before your eyes.
Now, I am going to play some more Gabriel Knight to finish in the next two weeks to be ready for my own deadline I have (softly) imposed. This should be pretty fun.
Whew, well, that was a mouthful. As I wrote, I am having difficulty taking screenshots of Gabriel Knight so I am planning to just power through it myself and write some final thoughts. If anyone knows how to get Fraps or other screenshot programs to work, let me know. I also want to really really recommend that you listen to Watch Out for Fireballs' upcoming show about Maniac Mansion because PC gaming legend Ron Gilbert will be a special guest. Ron Gilbert should be instantly recognizable to classic PC gamers. Not only did he design Maniac Mansion, but he also worked with Tim Schafer (Who designed Psychonauts which was covered in this blog) and Dave Grossman to create the legendary Secret of Monkey Island. This should be a fascinating show and is a very exciting step for friends of the blog Kole and Gary. Congratulations guys! And the rest of you, give it a listen.