Nothing to it but to do it
When you're a kid, there's no such thing as a video game backlog. You get a few new games a year as birthday or holiday gifts, and you have all the time in the world to play them courtesy of summer vacation. But you and I are adults now, and backlogs are a very real, ever-present part of our continuously growing game libraries. Disposable income and awesome year-round sales give us the means to buy tons of worthwhile games, but real-world responsibilities have robbed us of the time we need to actually play them all.
But I'm vowing to put a dent in my overwhelmingly giant backlog (which you're about to see some selections from) over the next 12 months - and judging by the responses to GR+'s 2015 gaming resolutions, it seems like a lot of you are in the same boat. Of course, saying you're going to conquer your Steam library or the stack of unopened games on your shelf is quite different from actually accomplishing it. If you're determined to finally beat your backlog this year, I've got some sensible tips to help make it happen for the both of us (fingers crossed).
Keep an annual list of the games you've beaten
I started doing this in 2013, and it's amazing how much it's helped me to chip away at my backlog. Make the list wherever you like - Google Docs, various game-tracking websites like The Backloggery, a piece of scratch paper, whatever. But being able to look at just how many games you've plowed through, all catalogued in one place, is strangely empowering. Suddenly, it becomes that much more exciting to finally complete a game, so you can add it to the list and move right along to next one. Whittling away titles from your backlog feels so much more meaningful when you've made a record of their completion, rather than letting the experience fade into the aether of your gaming memories.
Abandon your backlog mainstays
There's always that game that you'll totally start playing... tomorrow. Time and again, you notice it, smile at the thought of diving into it one day, then return to the game you were actually looking forward to playing. It's time to stop kidding yourself. I've been meaning to play The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion since the Game of the Year Edition in 2007, but you know what? I'm never going to make the time to do so, and I need to be at peace with that. It's not the end of the world to have bought a game but never play it. Instead of thinking of it as wasted money, treat it like a constant reminder to be more deliberate with future purchases. In other words...
Don't buy games you won't immediately play
It's so tempting to snatch up the new hotness, isn't it? There's always the fear that if you don't, you risk missing out on the latest zeitgeist or having secrets spoiled for you by random dopes on the Internet. But too often, we buy games at full price and only find the time to play them when they're being sold at a ludicrous discount. I've talked at length about the many advantages of being late to the party, but I'll trumpet it again: good things come to those who wait. In the long run, staving off the impulse to pre-order or buy AAA releases on day one without the express intent of playing them immediately will keep games out of your backlog and money in your wallet.
Pace yourself by game length
If you think you're going to happily crank through every Final Fantasy or Grand Theft Auto game in order, then you're setting yourself up for failure. Playing multiple RPGs or open-world games back-to-back can be exhausting no matter how enjoyable they are, because the breadth of content will start to feel like a neverending grind. Instead, alternate between the bigger games on your backlog and shorter, bitesized experiences. I recommend using the excellent site HowLongToBeat to figure out which of your backlog games will take the most time, making sure that you don't stack all the biggies and burn yourself out in the process.
Define the terms of completion
Speaking of calculating the time it takes to beat a game, it's best that you set some guidelines for yourself when taking on your backlog. My recommendation? Stick to the main campaign and forget about 100 percent completion or DLC missions, even if you already own them. It's totally fine to make an exception for the games you're really loving - but if you're determined to attain every hidden collectible, perfect mission score, and challenge mode to get the most bang for your buck, you're going to end up hating yourself. Forget those fleeting leaderboard positions and ultimately pointless achievements - this is about beating your backlog.
Turn your backlog into a friendly competition
Remember how I talked about making a list of the games you beat? Well, why not do what I seem to do subconsciously in all aspects of life: turn it into a competition! There's a good chance that you and your buddies skipped many of the same games, so why not egg each other on to see who can strike them from the backlog list first? Once you get going, you'll be breezing through your stockpile just to one-up your friends. Yes, you might get accused of padding your list with short indie games (like yours truly) - but you know what? Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet wasn't going to beat itself.
Focus on a limited subset of games
Of course you can't play through all your backlog games at once - that's absurd. But if you think you can just bounce back and forth between them, you're just going to distract yourself to the point of inaction. Instead of trying to inch your way through a bunch of games simultaneously, pick one or two to commit to, and don't allow yourself to play the rest until they're complete. It takes discipline, but when you refuse to let yourself get sidetracked, you'll end up reaching your goal that much quicker.
If you're not enjoying yourself, just bail
There are some games that people feel like they need to play for reference, be it a timeless classic like Earthbound, a continuously popular release like Skyrim, or a touchstone of gaming culture like BioShock. But if you boot up the game and just aren't feeling it after a handful of hours, my recommendation is that you just move on. Yes, some games only 'get good' after a dozen hours of investment - but that's time you could spend playing through backlog games that you enjoy every second of. Unless you think you're going to regret your decision on your deathbed, don't force yourself to play through something just to say you did. And hey, that game will always be there if you change your mind.
Be realistic about your mid-game saves
Before you jump back into a backlog game that you started but never finished, really think about what that might mean. Will you remember the mechanics and controls that got you to your most recent save point, or be able to pick them back up fairly quickly? Did you retain the crucial plot beats up to that point, enough to feel the impact of any twists or revelations that might lie ahead? Do you remember what made you stop playing in the first place, and are you ready to overcome it this time around? If you're unsure about these three questions, then there's a hard choice you have to make: either start the game over from scratch, or just nix it from your backlog completely. Sometimes, it's probably best to stick with the latter.
Clear all that hard drive clutter
Looking at a hard drive full of unplayed games can paralyze even the bravest would-be backlog conqueror. When you have so many games just staring you in the face, all of them waiting to be played, it can induce the same anxiety as a stack of unopened bills or those 200 pages of War and Peace you need to read by this Friday. Instead of downloading your digital library in bulk and trying to trudge your way through it, only install the games you plan on playing right now. Unless the Steam/Xbox Live/PSN servers all explode overnight, you'll be able to download your other games at any time - and it's so much easier to complete a task when you divide it up into manageable chunks instead of one monstrous burden.
Account for time sinks
I'm not saying you should stop playing Destiny, League of Legends, World of Warcraft, or whatever happens to be your online drug of choice. But you have to realize that every moment you spend grinding for gear or climbing the online ladder is time that could go towards your backlog - something that actually has a tangible end point. If you're serious about clearing that stack of pressed-on-disc shame, maybe you don't need to run that raid for the seventh time in the hopes of a lucky drop. If you're hopelessly hooked, then by all means, enjoy it - just manage your expectations about the amount of backlog you can burn through.
Give yourself some Easy mode leeway
This one may be frowned upon by some, but I'm not ashamed to say that I've done it, and will continue to do so. If you're playing a game to experience the story, or explore its rich world, there's nothing wrong with dropping the difficulty down to Easy. Sure, you might not experience the same memorable roadblocks as other players - but when you think about it, is it really so terrible to miss out on an unpleasant shared experience? Easy ensures that you'll cruise through the story at a brisk, constantly engaging pace, without any slogs through grueling sections to discourage you from reaching your goal.
Forego food, sleep, and bathroom breaks
So, think the aforementioned tips won't help? That means it's time to go nuclear. For instance, what if you could add 10 or so hours to your day? All you have to do is buy two of those IV drip chambers they use in hospitals, then fill one with saline solution and the other with Mountain Dew. Once you're all stocked up on adult diapers, you can lock yourself in a room with your backlog and refuse to come back to the known world until you've conquered your entire game library. Be sure to adjust your eyes to natural light slowly, lest you go blind in an instant.
Pay someone else to play these games for you
With all that money you saved picking up games on sale, you've got some chump change to throw around. So why not hire a surrogate who can just play through your backlog for you? You can take naps, spend time with friends, or be there for your kids, all while someone else goes through the trouble of playing your games to completion for minimum wage. Once they're finished, ask them to compile the CliffsNotes version of each game, so you can get the same experience in a fraction of the time.
Throw your backlog to the wind
Gather your backlog of games, cases and all, into a sturdy knapsack, then begin the harrowing trek up the tallest mountain you can find. Once you've reached its rocky summit, breathe deeply to fill your lungs with cool, calming air. Raise the sack of games above your head, then with all your might, literally hurl your backlog off a cliff and watch as it tumbles into the unseen wilderness. Who knows - perhaps a game-savvy camper will stumble upon it someday, and your backlog can become theirs. As for all those digital games you own, just commit multiple counts of credit card fraud and your account's as good as suspended! [Editor's note: Do not actually do this.]
Done and dusted
I can't guarantee that these tips will eradicate your backlog in one fell swoop - but let's you and I give it our all this year! Do you have any other insightful tips for keeping an ever-expanding backlog at bay? Which games will you be prioritizing on your to-do list? Tell me all about it in the comments section below. Oh, and just FYI, the games you've just seen from my backlog are Fire Emblem: Awakening, The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Saints Row The Third, Final Fantasy 7, GTA 4: The Ballad of Gay Tony, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (donezo!), The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Earthbound, Etrian Odyssey 4, The Witcher 2, Knights of the Old Republic, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, Fallout: New Vegas, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, and Uncharted 3 - a mere fraction of what I have to get through before I die. And truth be told, I've already beaten Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, pictured above - I tossed it in here for Lorenzo's sake, and because it looks so cool.
And if you're looking for more, check out 7 normal, everyday things that are impossible to explain to non-gamers and 13 hardcore challenges invented by players.