The pile of shame: an unconquerable mountain

Choice. That's one thing a PC gamer is never short of, thanks to cheap games, seasonal sales, and pay-what-you-want bundles. Over the years my Steam library has grown into a vast, overwhelming thing, bursting with games I've never, or barely, played.

This should be a good thing. I genuinely can't remember the last time I was bored. But as I sit here, scrolling up and down my games list, I feel like I'm drowning in choice. I have one free evening to play a game, and hundreds to choose from. What am I in the mood for? What if I waste my precious free time on something rubbish?

When games were a rare commodity, and I could only afford one, maybe two, a month, I'd bleed them dry—even if they weren't very good. I'd squeeze every possible morsel of enjoyment out of those big cardboard boxes until I got my money's worth.

But now I play a game for ten minutes, then feel guilty about not finishing the last one. I promise myself I'll go back to it, and rarely do. Looking at the 'time played' of my Steam friends, it seems I'm not alone: 0.4 hours played, 0.2 hours played, 1.2 hours played . This isn't because these are bad games. Far from it. It's because of the buffet effect: having one small plate and whole table of amazing-looking food to squeeze onto it.

A Kotaku poll of 1,400 gamers revealed that the average person bought between 11 and 25 games in a year, and played just 40% of them. 30% said they had over 50 unplayed games in their collections. I'd be very surprised if every person who reads this doesn't have at least one unplayed game festering in their own library.

Some people have tried inventing methods to tackle their piles of shame. I know people who've gone through their libraries alphabetically. Some write lists of games and score them off as they finish them. Me, I tried deleting every game in my library but one, telling myself I'd only install another once I'd finished it. I lasted about a week.

Mood is a big factor in the accumulation of a shame pile. When I decide to watch a film on Netflix, I'll spend ages browsing, none of them feeling quite right for the very specific, seemingly implacable mood I happen to be in—and it's the same on Steam. This is how I justify buying new games. I think to myself that, one day, I'll be in the mood to play this. But those moments don't come around as often as I think they will.

When you buy a game in a sale for a stupidly low price, you feel like it's a victory. It tickles the pleasure receptors in your brain. But, ultimately, all you're doing is adding another floor to your already towering skyscraper of shame. As the years pass, your office block of shame becomes an Empire State Building of shame, then a Burj Khalifa of shame. When will it end? As long as PC games keep being so damn affordable, probably never.

My own personal pile of shame consists of—and this is just a tiny, random selection—Dark Souls II, Costume Quest, Banished, Transistor, Deadly Premonition, Crusader Kings II, Gods Will Be Watching, FRACT OSC, Hotline Miami, Divinity: Original Sin, Mark of the Ninja, Rogue Legacy, and… well, you get the idea. It's a good thing this isn't feudal Japan, because I would have definitely committed seppuku by now.

This isn't a real problem, of course. It's the kind people invent to make up for having relatively easy, coddled lives. That guy cracking rocks in a North Korean labour camp isn't worrying about the fact he hasn't started The Banner Saga yet, and I doubt many people in Gaza are fretting over having only played five minutes of Spelunky.

But still. If you have any strategies for dealing with your pile of shame, do share them in the comments.

Andy Kelly

If it’s set in space, Andy will probably write about it. He loves sci-fi, adventure games, taking screenshots, Twin Peaks, weird sims, Alien: Isolation, and anything with a good story.