How to let go of your gaming backlog, for your own sake

How to let go of your gaming backlog, for your own sake
Images via Pexels

Written by 

Joshua Boyles

Last updated 

31st Dec 2023 12:30

What a year, huh? If you’d have told me at the start of 2023 that there’d be so many quality video game releases this year that Starfield wouldn’t even get a look-in at a game of the year award, I’d tell you you’re positively barmy.

Well, look at us now! Another twelve months have passed us by, and following a few quiet years as the industry catches up with the lost time caused by COVID-19, it’s been an absolutely stacked slate of incredible games to play.

With so many excellent titles launched, I’m sure many will be suffering the inevitable choice paralysis. Heck, there are still games from 2019 I want to play, never mind this July!

We’re approaching the Christmas period, when most folks will likely make a bit of a dent in their gaming backlog, However, in recent months I’ve found a great deal of catharsis in taking full control of my endless list of unplayed titles. While it’s meant that I’ve had to become picky about what I do and don’t play, I’ve found myself far happier for it.

So, if you find yourself in a similar situation this Christmas, here are a few steps you can take towards helping you take control of your gaming backlog, as well as how to free yourself from it.

Categorize, and be picky

Josh's Gaming Backlog in his iPhone notes page
Click to enlarge

I realise that this sounds counter-productive given we’re supposed to be letting go of our gaming backlogs here, but taking a moment to list everything out is especially useful in the long run. Either in your phone's notes app or in something more hardcore like Notion, listing out every game that you think you want to play is a great starting point for taking back control.

Once you’ve made a list of everything, now is the time to go through it with a fine-toothed comb and weed out anything that’s unnecessary. Everyone’s criteria of ‘necessary’ will be different, but here are a few rules I go by:

  • Have I played this before?
  • Am I just playing this to say I’ve played it rather than for enjoyment?
  • Have I enjoyed other games in the same genre, or is this only on here for fear of missing out?
  • Do I realistically think I’ll be able to fit playing this game into my daily routine?

If any games don’t meet those criteria above, then they will get binned off my list. A perfect example is World of Warcraft, a game that I’ve been wanting to break into for years. I love fantasy games, and attending BlizzCon 2023 this year gave me a newfound appreciation for its community.

However, I’ve never managed to bond with other MMO gameplay systems, and the busy life of a games journalist means I only ever have room for one live service title at the most. As such, it’s unlikely I’m going to find 100+ hours to grind a character in WoW.

Once I’ve listed out all the games I want to play, I’ll then jot down how long each game is expected to take to complete from HLTB. This lets me categorise games into short, medium, and longer titles.

Especially when our lives are as busy as they are, it often makes sense to match games to the amount of spare time we have at that moment. As such, you can now use your backlog to find a game that fits your current needs, rather than getting frustrated at trying to finish a mammoth title when you’ve only got an hour or so free on the weekends.

You don’t have to finish everything

Jedi Survivor Platinum Trophy
Click to enlarge

Another good habit to get into is remembering that you don’t need to finish absolutely every game that you start, and being ok with that. Statistically, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to love every single game that you pick up. I’m all for trying new things, but if you’re a fair chunk through a game and it’s not sparking joy in quite the right way, you’d likely feel better for letting that one go than for pushing through until the end.

The sunk cost fallacy is rife with video games, especially given that they’re so expensive. We can often feel like we need to justify our purchases by ensuring we get the most out of them. Endless trophies and achievement lists don’t help our cause here, either.

However, if we truly want to take control of our backlogs rather than them taking control of us, we need to get more comfortable with the idea of not finishing everything we start. Otherwise, there’s no way we’ll ever play everything we want to.

Take advantage of those spare 10 minutes

Super Mario Wonder
Click to enlarge

Half the battle of getting through a gaming backlog is finding the time for it, but you’d be surprised at how much extra time you can find in between your day-to-day activities. I know I’m certainly guilty of not even bothering to pick up a game because I think I’ll not be able to make any progress in the ten minutes between finishing work and needing to leave for an evening errand.

I think most people would be quite surprised at how far you can progress in a game in such a short space of time. Even in some RPGs, side quests can be as short as five to ten minutes. You can smash through three stages of Super Mario Wonder in the time it takes to make a brew and drink it. It all adds up when you start to put in smaller shifts throughout the week.

This is where handhelds especially can be your best friend. Loading up your PC, PlayStation or Xbox can be another barrier to getting those extra ten minutes in, even with features like quick resume. However, devices like the Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck truly take this to the next level, letting you pick up your games from basically wherever.

These portable devices also mean you don’t have to put your games on pause while on the go, or while trying to spend a bit more time with family. Of course, we don’t recommend that you ignore your partners while trying to take down Diablo bosses in the middle of date night. But if you’re both a fan of quiet nights while doing different hobbies in the same room, the Switch and Deck can be lifesavers.

Remember that life always gets in the way

Ada Wong in Resident Evil 4 Remake
Click to enlarge

What’s perhaps the most important thing to remember is that gaming is meant to be fun, and if an overwhelming backlog is sapping the enjoyment from the hobby, then it’s perfectly ok to take a bit of a break.

Life is usually always only a few steps away from something inconvenient throwing a spanner in the works of your routine. Whether it be family affairs, relationships, or personal goals, your priorities are unlikely to remain the same forever. It’s up to you to decide what’s most important for your well-being, and if that means putting off finishing Resident Evil 4 for another week or so, that’s fine. 

It’s also worth remembering that there will always be more games to play. Even if you somehow manage to get to the very bottom of your gaming backlog, you’ll always manage to find something to pique your interest, whether it be a new release, an indie, or a legacy title.

And do you know what? That’s ok too. The polar opposite of choice paralysis is having nothing to choose from at all - and I know which alternative I prefer.

Joshua is the Guides Editor at GGRecon. After graduating with a BA (Hons) degree in Broadcast Journalism, he previously wrote for publications such as FragHero and GameByte. You can often find him diving deep into fantasy RPGs such as Skyrim and The Witcher, or tearing it up in Call of Duty and Battlefield. He's also often spotted hiking in the wilderness, usually blasting Arctic Monkeys.

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