How does this happen? How can we have gone from writing a letter to Santa to top up our two-games-a-year allowance to causally splashing out the cash on new games every other day?
Whether it was the allure of cheap-as-chips Steam sales, the bite-sized pricing of attractive indies, or the ever-growing library of PS Plus free games and Xbox Live Gold subscription titles, it’s not unheard of for gamers to have dozens of games they’ve never even played, let alone finished.
And so the so-called ‘Gaming Pile of Shame’ was christened online – that stack of guilt-inducing games that seem like a great purchase at the time that now stare back pleadingly at you from your shelf every time your finger hovers over that ‘buy’ button.
So, with most of the world in isolation, has there ever been a better time to tackle that pile? To vanquish the last boss on the road to gaming redemption? To allow you to buy a brand new game with the clear conscience of a fully defeated library?
Let’s face it – it’s now or never. Here’s our top tips to beat your gaming pile of shame.
Gaming Pile of Shame: how to knock it down to size
Step 1: Stop buying new games!
It’s the obvious first step. Just stop. Put that wallet away and cleanse your mind of your credit card numbers. Your gaming pile of shame will just keep growing if you keep adding more titles to it, and you’ll be even worse than when it started.
If a sale kicks off, ask yourself: do I really want this game, and might it become even cheaper by the time I get around to playing it anyway? You may save yourself some money in the long run, though exceptions can be made in the case of games that may be heavily spoiler-filled. As a compromise, work a ‘one-in, one-out’ operation – you can’t buy a new game unless you finish an old one first.
Step 2: Use HowLongToBeat.com
This is a great resource if you’re not sure where to start with that pile. HowLongToBeat.com is a crowd-sourced list of game lengths – players submit their completion times on ‘main story’ playthroughs, ‘main story + extras’ and ‘completionist’ runs, as well as giving an average on them all. It’ll give you an idea of what to expect on the length of a game before you start, though of course it’s not an exact art – everyone plays a game slightly differently. You can import your Steam PC gaming library list to automatically get a rundown on your entire catalogue, and there’s an unofficial mobile app for the site, too.
Step 3. Start on the shorter ones
Once you’ve been through HowLongToBeat and assessed your library, we’d recommend picking out a few of the shorter ones and hitting them first. There’s a sense of achievement knocking out a game like Firewatch or To The Moon in a few hours. You’ll be ticking a few easy ones off the list if you keep to walking simulators and the like, and you’ll be able to get some momentum going.
Step 4. Dial back the multiplayer matches
For many, the Gaming Pile of Shame refers to single-player games with campaign or story modes. Multiplayer-focused titles can be mastered, but never really finished, so they’re OK to dip in and out of without too much guilt attached. If you’re trying to get through that guilt pile, dial back your multiplayer allowance – as you’ve only got a finite amount of play time to work with, and a good multiplayer game will always be there to revisit when the pile of shame has been worked through.
Step 5. Recruit a co-op buddy
Playing a game with a co-op campaign mode? If it’s felt like a bit of a slog in single-player, why not recruit a friend who also has the game? You’ll feel some comradeship, crack some jokes, and feel obligated to help them reach the end too. Everything’s always more fun with a pal.
Step 6. Kill your darlings
You bought it. You played it for five minutes. You didn’t like it. Yes, it got 5-star reviews from all your favorite gaming publications. Yes, it’s the latest entry into a series you’ve long loved. Yes, your friends herald it as the second coming. But if it isn’t for you, don’t force it – there’s no shame in admitting that you just didn’t like a game, rather than suffering through it. Get through your other games, then swap it for something you might like instead. That’s another one off the list, too.
Step 7. Don’t fear the ‘Easy’ option
Unless you’re a Dark Souls masochist, most games have some sort of easy difficulty level option. If you’re struggling with a tough part of a game, or are looking forward to a title solely for its storytelling, consider dialling the difficulty level down. It’s better to see all a game has to offer at a more leisurely pace than getting stuck in the first few hours of it.
Step 8. Give up on achievement chasing
100% beating a game is a rare and wondrous achievement. But many games’ achievement lists are ludicrous. Beat a game on every difficulty level? Pull off 100,000 perfect dodges? Blow up a million zombies with your bare hands? Don’t bother – just do the bits of the game you enjoy, get to the end credits, and tick it off your list.
Step 9. Commit to two titles (and an on-the-go game)
Committing to games on your list is the key to finishing them. Jumping between two dozen won’t see you beating any of them. But variety is the spice of life, and different games can suit many different moods, scenarios and play session lengths. Rather than burning yourself out on just one game, pick two from very different genres that you can jump between as respite from the other, and a portable or mobile game for when you’re in bed or on-the-go. You’ll have a game for all seasons then.
Step 10. Have fun!
It goes without saying, this one, but you play games for fun! Don’t look down upon your pile of shame like some mountain to be conquered, but a box of chocolates to be enjoyed. This is one of those rare occasions where the saying “it’s the taking part that counts” isn’t just an empty platitude. Whether you beat your pile or just give up entirely, that stack of discs and downloads will have hours of great memories waiting to be unlocked. Get stuck in!
Get daily insight, inspiration and deals in your inbox
Get the hottest deals available in your inbox plus news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more from the TechRadar team.
Gerald is Editor-in-Chief of iMore.com. Previously he was the Executive Editor for TechRadar, taking care of the site's home cinema, gaming, smart home, entertainment and audio output. He loves gaming, but don't expect him to play with you unless your console is hooked up to a 4K HDR screen and a 7.1 surround system. Before TechRadar, Gerald was Editor of Gizmodo UK. He is also the author of 'Get Technology: Upgrade Your Future', published by Aurum Press.