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Unopened Anxiety and the Pile of Shame

Every gamer has their own private Pile of Shame. That is, everyone has a stack of unplayed, unopened or unfinished games that they tell themselves they will one day get around to playing. For those of us who spend any amount of time working in the gaming editorial business, that pile tends to be exacerbated by unrequested review copies and a tendency to purchase anything and everything on sale. I mean, c’mon, Borderlands: GOTY edition was $7.50 on Steam yesterday. That’s the full game and all the DLC! How could someone resist that? But I digress.

There are a number of reasons for the Pile of Shame beyond just the desire to have and hold. As those who were introduced to games as kids grow up, their ability to purchase the ones that they truly desire increases. Unfortunately, this typically corresponds with a distinct lack of free time to play them. Another slightly more perplexing issue is the anxiety that comes from having so many games that it’s nearly impossible to pick one to play, at least, insofar as to give the game the time it really deserves, that players end up not playing anything at all. That or they play something they’re already intimately familiar with instead.

My own problem is a little from column A, a little from column B.

203. That’s how many games I own–not counting disc-based PC or older generations of consoles and handhelds–that have never been booted up. Not once. Even for someone that freelances around and writes two or three gaming-related pieces a week, that number seems excessive. But when you break things down a bit further, that number becomes 170 spread out across different digital distribution services. Steam, Impulse, Direct2Drive and other, smaller services house the overwhelming majority of my Pile of Shame. That leaves a mere 33 that I’ve purchased as a physical product and let sit idle.

A likely reason for this is the extreme simplicity of purchasing via Steam or similar clients. When a game as lauded as Grand Theft Auto IV or The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion goes on sale for 1/4th of its original asking price or less, it’s like some kind of breaker flips on. These are amazing deals that may never been seen again. They should be snatched up before they are gone for good.

The instant gratification angle is also important. When purchasing via Steam, you’re installing within five or six clicks of the mouse. With a decent connection, even the larger titles will be downloaded and ready to play within the hour. For a PC gamer, this is about as fast as it gets when purchasing a new game.

Digital distribution isn’t the cause of this anxiety though. It simply makes the whole problem expand exponentially. It’s the sheer number of games available on the cheap at any given time. Even ignoring the mobile market, there are hundreds of games on the market right now sitting under $10 on one platform or another. So, if you combine the availability of funds for the average consumer with their typical lack of free time and add in the ever-increasing number of cheap games out there in the void that is the Internet, that comes out to creating a Pile of Shame for anyone who considers themselves a gamer. It’s almost inevitable.

The Pile itself isn’t the biggest issue involved here. It’s that feeling of anxiety that comes with having so many games that it’s just an almost overwhelming task to even pick one. An overload of choices with no structure to speak of can be frustrating. It’s like being back in school where you were told to write about whatever you wanted versus when you were given a more focused prompt; sometimes the limitations make our decisions easier.

Admission is the first step to recovery though, right? My name is James and I own too many games.

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