Maybe Your ‘Pile Of Shame’ Is A Problem

Maybe Your ‘Pile Of Shame’ Is A Problem
Illustration: Angelica Alzona

Because everything has gone to shit and very few new games are coming out — look at you, you’re all playing Outriders for God’s sake — we’re going to be spending the month looking at backlogs, aka the games we own but haven’t played. And I would like to start that month by saying that anyone using the closely-related term “pile of shame” has a problem.

Welcome To Backlog Month

April’s pretty thin as far as new game releases go. So we at Kotaku are taking the moment to focus on something shared among every gamer: a backlog. You could call it a month…about backlogs…surely there’s some sort of cutesy phrase we could use? Aha! Backlog Month!

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We are not squirrels hoarding nuts for the winter. We are human beings, an advanced species that given our history — man on the moon, instantaneous global communications, etc etc — should be capable of doing the basic maths required to work out how many hours a game can be played for and how many hours are available to each of us in a day. But we can’t. We just fuck that one up, again and again, and we do it all the time.

It’s as though we’ve become more interested in the rituals involved in buying a game than we are in actually playing them. We get caught up in the hype, in heated online discussions, in a game’s glowing (or slightly-less-than-glowing) reception, and that’s the shit we’re living for. Pulling the trigger and hitting “purchase” on a screen is now a source of its own entertainment, because video game marketing (and the effect it has had on video game communities) has destroyed everyone’s brains.

As has consumerism in general. We’re obsessed with discounts, and so when things like Steam’s seasonal sales come around folks will go bananas buying games, whether they’ve got the time to play them or not. A $6 classic here, the 2015 GOTY for $15 there. It doesn’t matter if that’s $16 you were never going to spend, there’s a button being pressed inside our brains that says hey, this is a lot cheaper than it used to be, get it, because you’re saving and saving is smart. Not like those idiots who paid full price at release. Buy it.

A backlog shouldn’t need to be unpacked like this. If you’re still playing a game, and liking the game, and you already have another 1-2 sitting there unplayed, maybe…don’t go buying any more? I know that’s a radical suggestion, but you’ll be OK. You’ll get through this. We live in a digital world. Those games are going to go on sale again, and they’re never going to run out of stock. Enjoy the games you’ve got and are still playing!

Games exist to serve one purpose: to be played. If you’re buying them and not playing them, maybe you’re doing it wrong.


  • I agree, but find the existence of this article on the same website that regularly posts articles titled “add to your pile of shame” to be terribly hypocritical.

    • Man, hypocrisy really is the go-to criticism nowadays isn’t it. It couples so well with the assumption that every article on a website must present as if written by a borg-like computer that never changes its opinion, equivocates, expresses any nuance or thinks any more deeply about issues than a quick headline.

      Well, I guess that at least lacking self-awareness and cheap, smug, anonymous point scoring by riffing off a headline without actually reading the article itself is hardly new to the internet, so there’s at least some consistency about that, eh?

    • They aren’t part of a hive mind and it’s not hypocritical to rethink your own views or have different views to others.

  • 100% agree with this article… but, but… I think the motivation at least is partially that sometimes discounts don’t actually come back.

    We had a rush of AAA Humble Bundles for a while for stupid low dollars, for example, but that market has dropped out now and some of those have never been back for another spin. Factorio and Rimworld were both cheaper in 2018 than they have ever been since, and both could have been Kickstarted for even less than that a couple years earlier again.

    In the end though, there’s a collector mentality partially at work here. There’s bragging rights for having the largest Steam collection, and there’s something reassuring about having a bit of a backlog in the event of unexpected unemployment, pandemic or a zombie apocalypse.

    But most definitely, if you’re buying a game at preorder or launch day prices and then don’t get around to playing for three years then you’re doing it wrong.

    The moral of this story is never buy a game unless you plan to play it that very second, because even paying full price for a game that you could have got on sale a week ago is cheaper than buying five games on sale that you never end up getting around to play.

    Right, having got that off my chest I’m off to maniacally laugh while gloating about my mostly unplayed 3386 game Steam library. Suckers.

  • Like this as a great opnion piece. Although I don’t agree (just being in denial really..) it’s well written.

    Don’t really understand all the negativity around something that brings joy to people? If the ritual of buying brings happiness, who are we to say people shouldn’t do that.. Unless of course the money for games that’s used should be used for necessitates.

    I don’t ˆneedˆ to buy a coffee out every day, cheaper to make it at home, don’t need another pair of shoes and I don’t need to have dinner out.. but I do..? Most of us do or have some sort of guilty pleasure.

    • If buying games make you happy then sure, go for it
      But I think the article is more, if you are buying games with the intent to play them, then don’t play them, it’s not about need but waste.

      You don’t need a coffee each day but you want it. A pile of shame is more like buying that coffee, watching it be made, having it be delivered to your table then leaving to go back to work without drinking it because you were out of break time

      • I think it’s more like deciding to drink two cups of coffee a day to justify the overly elaborate coffee machine you brought. The mistake was already made. Forcing yourself to drink two cups a day to beat the system on a spreadsheet is just digging yourself deeper.

        I get that the article is more about FOMO at the register than anything and that’s fair enough, but the tone makes it hard not to read it as something that eventually reaches it’s logical conclusion with ‘games are dumb. Stop wasting your time/money on them. Go get a job to make some money instead of spending it’.

  • Haha, can you imagine the hand-wringing about the financial apocalypse that would befall the games industry if people only bought games they were going to play right now and to completion?

    • Excellent point. I mean, this really is the game industry’s business model. Indeed, it’s up front and explicit when it comes to such things as preordering a game months if not sometimes years in advance.

  • Basically all of my backlog is games Ive played and liked, but didn’t play non stop till I finished. This is a pretty average take, or at least averagely written.

    • Not sure where you got the part about every game having to be played “non stop till finished”. The article is about games not being played at all, and since all of your backlog is games you’ve actually played, you’re hardly the intended audience here, eh? This comment is a pretty average take, or at least averagely written.

        • No, it really does just apply to completely unplayed games.

          If you have any doubt about the broader definition, however, let’s just use the way the phrase is defined in the actual article that we are commenting on, which is to say, “aka the games we own but haven’t played” and, again, “aka a huge stack of games you’ve bought but never played”.

          If you are using the phrase to mean something else you’re the one who is using it wrong.

  • I’ve never bought a game I haven’t wanted to play. I have bought games I’ve wanted to play less than other games I already own.
    But as an adult, with a full time job & limited gaming time, who’s to say what I’ll feel like playing when that time arrives? A AAA open world questathon? A small indy puzzler or card battler? A driver/racer, or RTS? Or just grinding a f2p shooter? And who’s to say how long I’ll feel like playing it for? These games aren’t like movies, or books/GNs where you invest a set amount of time to experience them. Am I “proud” of my pile of shame? No. Am I glad that when I’ve got “game time” I’ve got a wide choice of how to spend it? Yes, very much.

  • Gaming isn’t the only hobby that has this kind of thing. When I’m not gaming, I knit, and the knitting world is full of people talking about their yarn stash – how much or little they have, whether or not they feel guilty about buying more yarn when they’ve already got yarn etc etc. There’s even the acronym of SABLE: Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy (ie you have more yarn than you’ll be able to knit for the rest of your life).

    Both hobbies have one thing in common: it takes almost no time at all to buy new games/yarn and a much longer time to play those games/knit that yarn. Buying new stuff is fun, and doing your hobby is also fun. It’s just that the ratio between buying and doing is out of whack. It makes me sad to see guilt language being used in both hobbies, though. As someone upthread said, if buying a new game makes you happy, what’s the problem? As long as you’re not spending your food/rent money on games, do what makes you happy

    At least games don’t take up quite as much physical space as yarn does!

    • Guilt language is used because the people talking about it feel guilty, not because anyone is trying to make them feel guilty.

      Even moreso with wool. People are quite well aware that their purchase is somewhat compulsive and irrational and would prefer to save their money for something else. They’re regretting having been carried away with the look and feel of the wool and the short term endorphin rush of the credit card purchase.

      In the end, there’s no particular project they’re planning to knit, and if they did ever want to actually do something with all that yarn they’ll likely have either too little or too much, and there’ll never be any way for them to match the dye batch if they do end up needing one more skein. Furthermore, there’s also a bunch of other sexy wool looking to be bought right then and there, it’s not as if there’s likely to be a worldwide knitting yarn shortage, ever.

      Buying wool without a project to make out of it is literally just spending money for the sake of spending money, and it’s not actually their hobby either. The hobby is knitting, not wool collecting. Just like what we’re talking about here in this article is not computer game collectors, it’s computer game players who swear when they buy a game that it’s one they’re actually intending to play one day.

  • Im in a weird position. I still buy games like i did from around 2009-2016, but i just cant play them like i used to.
    And unlike others who simply dont have the free time, i just dont have the headspace to play games like i used to due to depression, until i am, which comes in waves.
    Last year i played and completed 7-8 games in the space of 2 months. Then i just stopped until about 2 weeks ago when i decided to pick smash bros up again to train some amiibos, and ive been just playing through the spirit board for a few hours a day and a few of the other mini games.
    So as far as the unplayed games go, my list only grows, especially when alot of the ps4 games that i have unplayed, im waiting to play them on the ps5 for that free graphical/frame rate upgrade, and seeing as how i cant get a ps5 and probably wont get one until 2022, it will only go up as well.
    But seeing as how ps5 games have gone up in price, im pretty sure ill stop buying games at launch now and just wait til its cheaper later on when i can be bothered to play it.

    • I feel like this is an underappreciated aspect of the discussion. There’s things you believe you’ll want to play when you have the mental/emotional bandwidth to do so, and that’s an aspirational activity – much like feeling motivated to cook all your meals for the week and buying a bunch of fresh vegetables that wilt and rot in the crisper over the next month. Except when it comes to games, there isn’t as much of a shelf-life (unless the game’s main draw is its visual appeal, which can date it badly. Gaming history is full of lacklustre games which relied purely on their fancy then-new graphics to sell and don’t hold up today).

      • Very true.
        Theres been a few games i wanted to play straight up, that it just didnt work out that way, and now i look at them and go “….eeeeeh…..” Farcry 5/ND & Borderlands 3 are a prime example.

  • With games getting so massive though I often need to take breaks from them so I don’t burn out. I enjoy persona 5 but iv put 90 hours into it and from what I can tell I’m only 2/3 through it and given my lifestyle I cant commit to multiple hour sessions at a time that don’t feel like im getting much further, I’ll probably be playing it in bits for another few months… and I have afew similar games depending on how I am feeling at the moment. Some days though I just want to play through something I can finish so I need to play something else for that. Then there’s the big “stop everything” games. For example when re8 comes out I will be playing that through before moving on… and this kind of thing seems to happen every couple of months, so everything else is technically backlogged for however long that takes

  • I don’t have any games I’ve NEVER played, I don’t think I know anyone who does, tbh. Games I haven’t completed? Sure plenty of em. This is what I’ve always considered the “Pile of Shame” and this guy’s definition of it seems rather odd to me.
    Aside from that, who the F_ck is this clown to tell me what I can and can’t do with things I’ve purchased? None of his damn business. If I choose to buy 50 copies of Outriders to make an insanely exxy and useless windchime, that’s my right to as a consumer.

    • Nice managing to hold off until the second paragraph before frothing at the mouth. Your therapist will no doubt be very proud.

      But look, just in case you’re now feeling a bit better I am pleased to advise that no, Luke Plunkett is not going to come around to your house, check your personal game library and make you do anything at all.

      That aside, to deal with your slightly more sane first paragraph, the article is essentially about a PC gamer thing. Piles of shame aren’t really a thing on consoles.

      PC gamers tend to accumulate literally hundreds of games over time as extras in bundles and Humble Choice, Epic Game Store freebies, and random throwaways when you bought three at 90% off during a Steam sale at $2 each and then never got around to the second and third in the batch.

      It’s largely a comment on how many games there to sift through on PC, and how damn cheap they can be. You should get one.

      Oops. No, I didn’t really mean that I will come around to your house and make you get one, it’s just a suggestion, just in case you were wondering.

  • I blame “Bundles”. Where the bundle is so cheap I get my moneys worth out of playing one game immediately to completion ($1 = 1 hr is a fair metric of value imo), then the other 3-6 games I may play… eventually.

    The other I blame is free games too.

    For the price of a full AAA game with DLC season pass… I could buy nearly 100 games, play 20 of them, enjoy a 100 hours of game play and still feel happy about it… the shame only comes when I scroll down the library. (Or see the games I refuse to play in hidden)

    My Steam Library of games sitting at 461 games, 332 DLCs on Steam alone is long.

    Shame is the 2000 plus hours sunk into MMOs that were cancelled, or that my most played game after those is a Sudoku puzzle (which cost me $1.50).

    Or the shame that Steam keeps recommending hentai games cause I played Cyberpunk 2077

  • so I would have four different piles of shame (1. most shame – 4. least shame)

    1. played and loved games which I still haven’t been finished
    such as Ghost of Tsushima

    2. Installed games which I should play but don’t and I haven’t uninstalled them yet
    such as Watch Dogs Legion and The Outer Worlds
    also another example is Infamous First Light (I did uninstall this one recently after not playing for a few years)

    3. games which I wanted to buy and play but cannot be bothered
    I brought three copies of Dragon Dogma (and received it for free(PSPlus)) and still cannot be bothered playing it.
    also Dishonored 2 (I brought it twice for PS4 and PC)

    4. games that I didn’t particularly wanted to buy but they were in bundles.
    (insane number of this type)

    • I just remember another one in the number 1 list
      Middle-Earth Shadow of Mordor on PC
      I had completely left it alone(Installed) for a year (sorry two years!!!)
      based on Achievements
      Beyond Hope – Save Lithariel’s life. awarded on 22 Jul 2015
      The Tower Crumbles – Kill The Tower. awarded on 17 Apr 2017 @ 12:05am
      The Hand is Severed – Kill The Black Hand. awarded on 17 Apr 2017 @ 12:23am

      and it turns out that I only had a 30-60 minutes left of gameplay

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