As anyone who’s ever stood staring at a condom machine in a pub toilet knows, option paralysis is a real thing. It’s the same when you look at the pile of games you’ve accumulated and wonder what one to play. Do you go for the XL experience of a sprawling RPG, enjoy the featherlite touch that the bullet hell shooter requires, or go for that indie game that’s likely to burst forth with fresh ideas?
It’s an issue that some smart-arse always likes to refer to as a ‘first-world problem’, implying that to be so rich as to find yourself in the situation of not knowing what game to play suggests you have no real problems at all. These days, however, you don’t need lots of money to have lots of games. In recent years, games have regularly plummeted in price shortly after release and others, that not long ago would have been full price titles, are released as ‘indie games’ for around the £10 mark. Games have managed to defy inflation and stick to that £40-£50 price tag, making what was a prohibitive number in the 90s much more acceptable today. Without wanting to get into a huge discussion about pricing, I’ve always found games to offer good value for money and as time passes and the cost of living goes up, the price of a game buys you less and less in the real world. When I was 20 that £40 might have been two or three decent nights out. Now it might still be two or three nights out but that’s because I’m older, drink about a third of what I used to, go to cheaper places and usually leave before closing in disgust at the fact that things have changed without me being consulted.
My point, then, is that it’s not as hard as it used to be to find yourself with more games than you’ve realistically got time to play. Part of that is age and work and responsibility, all of which diminish your free time, or at least your perception of it. The solution would seem obvious – just buy a game you want to play when you want to play it, but we all know that’s ridiculous. It’s the kind of bullshit sense-making logic a non-gamer would come out with. We all know we have to buy the major release that got 10/10 on ‘day one’ so that we can join in the delivery status updates and walk up and down the hall ensuring we’re within audible range of the doorbell (perhaps even testing it a couple of times) before finally, the postman arrives. Usually he goes unnoticed, sometimes a figure of disdain, but on these days he’s a hero. You open the package and hold it in your hands, it looks momentarily unreal, that box art you first saw online six months ago and now here it is. You place it on top of the pile of games in the corner and make a coffee before browsing the internet for a few hours, perhaps reading about the game that’s just arrived, and decide you’ll play it later when you’re in the optimum frame of mind and have more time, despite having taken the day off work exclusively to play it. After procrastinating for the whole afternoon you finally put the game on but by now you’re a bit tired and not really in the mood. You give it a quick look, decide that it does seem pretty good and add it to the list of games that you must make an effort to get through at some point.
This is the point where the guilt starts to come in. Gamer’s guilt, I would guess, is an adults-only phenomenon. You’ve spent £40 of your grown-up adult money on what some part of you still thinks is a childish pursuit, a toy of sorts. Despite the 18-rated gore-fest of interactive sex and violence that awaits you, part of you knows it’s just another Mario game and that perhaps you should have outgrown all of this by now. This feeling is always fleeting and usually it’s easy to defend your choice of entertainment; gaming is for everyone these days and only the ignorant would think otherwise. What’s harder to defend is why you keep buying all these games and then never get round to playing them. Part of that, I believe, comes from a need to fulfil a debt to our younger selves. If you played games as a kid, as I suspect most of us did, then you can remember dreaming of being able to get the latest games and consoles whenever you wanted. Maybe you even planned it out – when I’m earning my own money I’ll buy this and that and have all the best stuff. Now you’re in that position and feel that you should try to realise that dream as all your others have been crushed. Owning the latest games and consoles isn’t that expensive compared to a lot of other things, it’s at least realistically obtainable if you’re suitably unrealistic about your priorities.
Here you are then, with your console/s of choice and an ever growing stack of games that you add to each month in a token gesture of hope: something to throw a bit of money at to make you feel like you’re doing all that life and work bullshit for a reason, to make it feel like you’re getting something out of it that’s just for you. Then it turns on you. It starts to stress you out. Actual, real, genuine stress. When are you going to find time to get good at Street Fighter? When will you get the chance to develop the reflexes needed to get a decent score in that shooter? When are you going to go back to that RPG and can you remember what the buttons do? You’ve only got so many years left to live and it suddenly becomes very apparent that you’re not going to be able to fit all of this stuff in. The thought takes you over as you sit there staring at the pile, not knowing what game to play first. You decide to leave it for now and make a coffee before looking at videos of that upcoming release on the internet.
None of this used to matter, not to me anyway. I hardly ever finished games as a kid and never really thought about it. I’d play them a lot but I was never very good and the lack of saves and checkpoints meant I normally just saw the first few levels hundreds of times before trading it in and doing the same again. I certainly didn’t feel any pressure to get my money’s worth in a time when games were hard to come by for me, so why do I now? It seems the wrong way round. Perhaps it’s the residual guilt of the child’s hobby again. Maybe getting your money’s worth makes it feel more grown up somehow. Like watching a film, you’re experiencing a form of entertainment and to not stay to the end makes it feel like a waste of time in a way that never used to matter when you were a kid and you could throw time up in the air and roll around in it on your bed, lighting the cigarettes you stole with huge wads of the stuff.
Have games just become work now? Are they a chore that must be ticked off? You get home from work, do the washing up, put the dinner on and get your stuff ready for the next day and, oh yeah, you’ve got that fucking princess to save. Better get to it. If games are work, they’re that mythical job you might enjoy, the one you might carry on doing even if you won the lottery. Not all of them though, some are very obviously tedious, dull repetitive jobs. Some are Ubisoft games. This feeling that I’m just completing chores when playing games has only occurred to me fairly recently and not in the way you might expect. I was playing Mario 3D World on the Wii U and as I progressed through the world map I found I was excited to see more levels pop up, two paths rather than one, more things to do. I realised that I wanted more of the game, I wanted it to last because I was enjoying playing it. It sounds ridiculous but so often in games I want to get things over with, there’s so much bullshit and padding and it’s often so obvious. Mario 3D World didn’t do this, it gave me a run and a jump button and loads and loads of incredible levels to throw myself into. So many times I’ve been sat there, thinking I was near the end of a game and then another huge area opens up and I get a sinking feeling as I realise I’ve still got loads more to get through. That cannot be right can it? It took 3D World to make me realise though, in that game I felt the opposite. As more of it opened up I felt relieved to know I still had more to go, more fun ahead of me. Those that know me will be sick of me banging on about this game but it really is the best game for over 20 years no matter what anyone says. More importantly, it made me realise why I’m here, it’s to have fun, not to worry about completion percentages and to tick things off from a list of chores.
What’s the solution then? What is the metaphorical haemorrhoid cream for these piles of shame? Well, it’s to stop worrying and just have fun first of all. I’ve started to just pick one game and stick at it until I’m satisfied that I’ve got what I want out of it. I’m not one for side quests and extras unless I really love a game but I’m currently trying to get all the coins in New Super Mario Bros U, having done everything there is to do in 3D World. I finished Fire Emblem recently and powered through Wind Waker HD, skipping all but the essential content as I’d already seen that on the GameCube. (Wind Waker is a game that’s full of tedious bullshit and padding, which becomes all the more apparent if you’ve played it before). I’ve still got a few on my pile to get through, but I’m enjoying it again. Part of that is down to getting rid of the games I wasn’t playing because I didn’t really like them. So often we buy stuff that we hear is good without really considering whether or not we’d like it ourselves. Now I just have a pile I genuinely like and I’m taking them on, one at a time. I’m almost enjoying it.