Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: I’ve got a pretty massive Pile of Shame. Anyone who knows me personally has likely seen at least a portion of my Pile of Shame. It’s not going to get any smaller. And before I let this pseudo-euphemism get much further out of hand, let’s clue in the uninformed: the Pile of Shame (or “Stack of Shame” for the alliteratively apt) refers to the collection of essentially unplayed games owned by a person. Though many gamers out there have Piles of Shame that could literally be piles of physical games, with the push towards digital titles and a prevalence of sales and deals on PC releases, many gamers have a virtual pile of shame to go along with their real one. For those looking to quantify their shame, SteamLeft lets you put in your SteamID and it’ll tally up just how much time you owe the Steam Gods since the results of that last Steam Sale. Let me start with this: though I know I likely could be spending this money in better ways, I’m kinda proud of my Pile of Shame, and I think society’s collective Pile of Shame is one of the reasons gaming is flourishing as an industry today.
It’s the issue of many a gamer today: games come out that we’re excited about, we buy them because we’re excited, but they each want 20, 30, 40 hours of our time…and that’s when we’re not talking about open-world RPGs like Skyrim which easily pack 100+ hours of content, or eSports titles like Defense of the Ancients 2 or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive which can command hundreds of hours of practice and play on the same maps, playing the same game but refining skills, learning new tactics, mastering new characters. There’s a veritable flood of games out there, and an ever-increasing media presence fighting for our time (like movies, and TV, and oh, those paper things with all the words printed on them). It’s almost inevitable that the modern gamer will end up with a backlog of some kind, and it’s easy to feel guilt when thinking about the other things that money could have done. But without money flowing in to the hands of game developers, they wouldn’t have the resources they need to continue making games. Think of it this way: people who purchase games, even when they don’t play them soon (or at all), are acting as patrons for studios so they can continue working at making games. As you can see from my collection below, there were quite a few purchases in there that might’ve served more as subsidies than actual “I’m going to play this” purchases (My collection has grown far beyond this 2011 image, sad/happy to say).
During the Italian Renaissance, tons of great statues, paintings, and other art pieces were created by artists who would have had no way to create them without the help of patrons. Nobles would fund the creation of various works because it provided them and their cities prestige (I imagine it as the Renaissance version of “Viewers Like You“), and artists would get the resources they needed to create works that we still love and enjoy to this day. Though this treads dangerously close to the “are games art” debate that everyone loves to obsess over (which we can talk about another day), make no mistake that paying people for their work makes it far more likely they’ll be able to continue doing that work, and when we pay for games even when we don’t play them right away, we’re still providing those creators we love with the tools they need to make more games we’ll love (hopefully).
Now, if you’re like me, nothing quite hurts like buying a game, then seeing it go on sale before you’ve even torn the plastic off of your copy (or maybe that’s just a problem for me…I really have a problem). If this happens every-so-often, then chalk it up to luck of the draw; companies have incentives to start putting games on sale faster than before, and if you’re really passionate about a franchise, it’s OK to spend a little extra occasionally to support its development. But if this is a recurring issue for you, well, there’s a reason that the word “hoarder” is in the title of this post.
Many of you might have read this thinking that I was going to absolve you of all Pile of Shame guilt. Well, guess again: like most situations portrayed as binaries, the answer isn’t either, but a bit of both. Let’s be honest: there’s nothing inherently reasonable about stockpiling over 7,000 hours worth of virtual games. What happens if Steam goes under? What was all that money spent for? Could it not have gone to better uses: helping disadvantaged people in foreign countries, helping friends out of tough situations, or even just sitting in savings for a rainy day? Hell, you could even be MAKING money by investing it or starting a business!
See, inherently, as people we hate missing opportunities. Companies put on sales because they know that, even though they’ll make less money per sale, they’ll trigger the “buy” impulse in some consumers’ heads just by tempting them with a limited-time offer. Bundle sites like Humble Bundle and Bundle Stars are masters of this: they put counters at the tops of their pages that show the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the deal they’re offering is gone forever. As appealing as the idea of 12 games for $2.99 is, often you end up with a few games you want to play, a ton of games that you might look at one day, and a pile of games that make you think “Why would I ever want to play that?” staring you in the eye, adding to your ever-growing Pile of Shame. Trust me, I have plenty of those games in my Steam Queue… I’m looking at you, Heavy Fire: Afghanistan.
Intelligame isn’t just about literary analysis and current events; it’s about learning skills and ideas to make yourself a better, smarter, more intelligent gamer. That’s why we’re not just going to talk problems: we’re going to talk solutions! If you’re like me and you’ve got a bit of a backlog, don’t grill yourself over it. The past is the past, and you’ve probably been a Patron to people that you hopefully respect/admire for making the games you know and love. That said, if you’re like me and want to cut down on your Hoarder’s Pile of Shame, here are a few tips:
- Unsubscribe from all sale/game store website newsletters. Yes, you may miss out on the $20 off of a game that you’d wished you’d known about, but you’ll save multiple times that by avoiding impulse buys. (If you DO end up making a purchase, make sure you don’t let them send you emails afterwards!)
- Create a gameplay schedule so you stay focused on games you already have. Check out what games are coming out in the next three months that you absolutely MUST BUY AND PLAY (if any), then look through the games you own and pick a couple you want to beat by the end of the three month period. Tell yourself you won’t buy another game until those ones you’ve selected are beaten.
- Trade/sell games to other gamers. Yes, you can purge your physical collection with little effort by going to a retailer like GameStop, but you’ll get so much more value from your games by interacting with other gamers instead. My favorite site for this is GameTZ; you create a list of the games you have and the games that you want, and it matches you with users who fit your preferences. It’s easy, it’s kinda fun, and it may help you get some hard-to-find titles, particularly if you’re in to retro gaming.
- Give it away. Yes, the hoarder in you is screaming right now. But if you’re not willing to put in the work to do the other methods, but you’re still carrying Hoarder’s Guilt, you’d do best to just get rid of some of your stockpile. Maybe a school or hospital could benefit from some of your less violent games, or maybe you’ve got family who could enjoy your PS2 that’s collecting dust with no plans for the future? If none of those work, there’s always Goodwill.
It’s going to take some organization and willpower to plow through our backlogs, but how much better will it feel to know that we’re both giving money to companies we love AND not being guilty hoarders? I’m going to be creating a game schedule of my own over the next few days; I’ll post it here and hopefully you’ll feel inspired to make one of your own.