As I stated in my article back in April, I’m a pretty big fan of Stardew Valley. I’ve sunk about 65 hours into it, only eight of which I refuse to count, because I literally fell asleep playing it. When I first started playing Stardew, I couldn’t go a day without it. I was obsessed. But since the beginning of June, I haven’t touched it — I started playing other games instead, and Stardew became yet another addition to my gaming backlog.

Like most gamers, I have what I would consider a “healthy” backlog — 30 to 40 games that I own but haven’t yet finished, because… insert applicable reason here. I swear that I’ll get around to them eventually, but I almost never do. In fact, I almost never finish the games I start, even the ones I really like. But I’m willing to bet that you don’t either. Why? Because 91% of gamers don’t finish games. Why’s that? So glad you asked.

1. You’re really busy adulting.

"Mary, if you use that blue shell I swear to God I'm filing for a divorce."

“Mary, if you use that blue shell I swear to God I’m filing for a divorce.” “Too late, NERD!”

Studies show that the average age of gamers is on the rise — two years ago, your average player was 31. Now, according to the Entertainment Software Association, the average age is 35. Either someone’s been messing with the Flux Capacitor, or our community is rapidly aging… and not in the cool Rip Van Winkle sort of way.

Although many of us have been gaming since we were children, middle age isn’t quite as rife with free time as our college days were. Most of us now have full-time employment to contest with, and many of us have long-term partnerships, social and familial obligations, and the parenting of tiny humans to consider. When your gaming hours are restricted to ‘kids-are-asleep o’clock’ to ‘got-work-in-the-morning thirty’ every night, it’s no surprise that many of us struggle to game as consistently as we did in the past.

Plus, chugging through a game to the very end can feel like a real slog when you rarely get time to yourself. You’re more likely to set aside an experience that feels like a chore, because, let’s face it, you’re an adult. If you wanted to do chores, you could just do your dishes, or vacuum, or take the trash out. (Which, honestly, is probably exactly what you should be doing instead of trying to finish some dumb game — but me and my pile of dirty shame-dishes are not here to judge.)

Not to mention, if you haven’t been able to play a game often or for very long at any one time, you might struggle to accrue skills and knowledge needed to complete later sections. Logically speaking, the longer you’ve been playing a game, the less you’ll remember from its early stages, and for games with branching narratives or complex mechanics, this might mean that you find yourself several months into a playthrough with absolutely no idea what’s going on. Which brings me to my next point:

2. Games are just way too long for your puny attention span.

In a world full of distractions, you can't really blame us for being distracted by this picture of a man with a fishbowl for a head.

In a world full of distractions, you can’t really blame us for being distracted by this picture of a man with a fishbowl for a head.

Once upon a time, cartridge space used to place pretty austere limitations on how long games could be. Nowadays, cartridge space is a relic of a bygone era. Modern games can easily have single player campaigns of over 10 hours, and I can tell you from experience: any campaign under 10 hours seems as freakishly short as Donald Drumpf’s baby carrot fingers. Most campaigns are closer to 20 or 30 hours long and occasionally they’re much, much, much, much, much, much longer. (I’m looking at you, Bethesda.)

But as much as gamers freak out when a shorter single player campaign is released into the wild, we have a tendency to bite off more than we can chew. The fact of the matter is that a 10, 20, or 30 hour commitment to complete a game is often more than a lot of us can afford. If it’s a game you know and love, it’s easy to spend that much time with it, and more — but if you’re only just getting acquainted with a game, dedicating 30 hours of your life to it can be a little much. I’d struggle to dedicate 30 hours to most of my closest friends, and I know I like them.

The same lengthy campaigns gamers ask for become the same lengthy campaigns gamers struggle to actually finish. That’s no coincidence. Most of the games I’ve managed to liberate from my backlog have been either episodic, or short enough to complete in just a few sittings. I don’t usually have the time or patience to finish anything much longer than that.

Even with games I love, ones I’ve sunk tons of time into — like Stardew Valley — I’ve had to accept the fact that before I ever get around to finishing them…

3. Something new will come along.

The game you're playing is like the Raider Armor in Fallout 4 -- you're definitely going to ditch it the second you find something better.

The game you’re playing is like the Raider Armor in Fallout 4 — you’re definitely going to ditch it the second you find something better.

We’ve all had that moment: you’ve put almost countless hours in to reach the lengthy campaign’s third and final Act. You’re enjoying yourself, although the game has, admittedly, lost much of its novelty. The end is in sight. You know it’s just a matter of sitting down and playing a little longer to get there. Then something new gets released — you buy it. You swear you’ll come back to the game you were playing just as soon as you’re finished with this new one. And off Game #1 goes, up onto your shelf of Broken Promises, never to be heard from again. That is, until it’s Game #2’s turn to head up to the shelf, because Game #3 has appeared in your library — and the cycle continues, with no end in sight.

Stardew Valley isn’t the only game of mine this has happened to, after all. After sinking 60 some-odd hours into Delriko Farm, I was successfully distracted by Fallout 4 — after trekking the Commonwealth for 80 some-odd hours, I was successfully distracted by Overwatch, where I currently reside — for now. Inevitably I’ll eventually be distracted again by something new, flighty and fickle as a cat with a house key. Heck, Stardew Valley successfully distracted me from Sunset. Like many gamers, I’ve been ditching my main squeeze for a new obsession since time immemorial.

Some people put a stop to this endless shame spiral by refusing to buy any new games before they complete their previous purchase. But for those of us constantly seeking to stuff our money into the wallets of anyone providing that new-game high, this may just be a reality worth accepting.

4. Sometimes, multiplayer is way more fun.

Unless everyone on the opposing team picks D.Va, in which case multiplayer games are awful and should be taken into the street and BURNED.

Unless everyone on the opposing team picks D.Va, in which case multiplayer games are awful and should be taken into the street and BURNED.

Speaking of realities worth accepting, it’s time to admit to ourselves and one another that, as we get older, busier, and tired-er, sometimes all we want from a game is a quick, pleasant experience that we don’t have to invest hours in to fully enjoy.

For many gamers, multiplayer functionality is a must, because they just don’t have the time or energy for much else. And, as a narrative-obsessed nerd myself, I’m willing to admit that sometimes I just want to jump into a game for twenty minutes and shoot some pixels. Though multiplayer games — especially the big AAA shooters — catch a ton of flack for their lack of structure, it’s actually somewhat responsible for their mass appeal; they’ve done away with many of the things that cause players to struggle to complete single player games. By sparing players from anything but the most simplistic of narratives (team red vs team blue), multiplayer games often demand very little from their participants, which is great for gamers without much time or energy to invest. They’re fast-paced, freeform, and fun, which means that — even if you’re doing very poorly — you probably won’t see the game as a chore. They also don’t usually have a definitive end; endless replayability is a tenet of most multiplayer games, which means you technically can’t finish them.

And so the cycle continues. Your backlog keeps getting bigger — your Shame Shelf continues to accrue new residents. But maybe that’s okay, because in the end, when it comes to a game you haven’t finished…

5. You maybe kind of don’t really want to finish it.

Has anyone forgiven this game's ending yet? Yeah, we thought not.

Has anyone forgiven this game’s ending yet? Yeah, we thought not.

Full disclosure: I personally don’t really like finishing games. The more I like the game, the more I hate finishing it. When I love a game, I never want it to end.

And this habit isn’t exclusive to games — I will never watch the final seasons of my favorite shows. I don’t like the endings of most of my favorite books, or my favorite movies. I really don’t like it when things end. And in video games, I have the rare opportunity to control whether or not my experience ever does.

I know I’m not the only person like this. Part of it comes from how monumentally disappointing most video game endings are. Remember Red Dead Redemption? Fable 2? Mass Effect 3? I’ve been hurt before. You can’t blame me for not wanting to dig right into a developer’s endgame mudpie; I saw The Help. I know how badly that can go.

And sentiment isn’t the only reason I’ve refused to finish a game. Sometimes, a game’s difficulty gets cranked up to 11 at the last minute. Sometimes, a repugnant narrative twist forces me to set a game aside. Sometimes, I just get tired of a game for one reason or another — maybe it’s become frustrating, repetitive, or boring. Maybe I just don’t want to spend any more time with it.

So, maybe it’s time to reframe the backlog — not as something shameful, but as something normal. Maybe instead of thinking of these as games we haven’t finished, we should think of them as games we’re finished with.

Maybe it’s one we’re finished with just for the moment maybe it’s one we’re not yet ready to part with. The shelf can stay, but maybe it’s time for the shame to be on it’s way.

Or maybe we just need to collectively get our act together. Could be either one.

  • I can’t remember ever not finishing a game. I’m not a completionist; far from it: I just have a good sense for when art is a worthwhile endeavor or not. It’s a skill worth honing in a world so full of art.

    Fortunately, the lion’s share of video games are not worthwhile. For whatever reason, they are mostly universally very, very bad art. It may be so many people have such long “backlogs” because they are playing for all of the wrong reasons. (Depression is a topic that seems to always comes up. I wonder sometime if people who play games are not all clinically depressed. It comes up so often, and it seems like a very strange pastime to me; but that’s just my own prejudices.)

    Most of the good video games came from bygone eras when companies had standards, but the products they were producing were still simplistic, even more so than what amateurs produce today. Because they were big companies, and had things like console-manufacturers staring over their shoulder, protecting their own image (their seal of approvals), their output was more polished. It will take a renaissance to get back there. Still most games are interesting only for esthetic reasons, that I think most people cannot really verbalize, or may not even be conscious of. They may even think they like this or that for a different reason than they really do. There’s never really been such a thing as a video game with good writing, or anything like that. Except for a small window in computer games in the 90s, where actual seasoned writers were for a brief moment curious about the new medium. Nowadays there is no budget for writing or anything that actually matters at all. I occasionally buy the games that were the talk of the town, when I see them for 10 or 15 dollars in the grocery store. They are horrible, miserable experiences, across the board. Almost without exception. Especially for the last 10 years.

    • Foxwarrior

      Perhaps you should try giving up on more games if you find them horrible after half an hour or so. It might give you more time to search for new games you’d actually like.

      • OH I do … or rather don’t, play them. It’s such a strange inversion of when I was a kid. But it’s the ones that I don’t drop in 15 minutes flat (or some it could take a few hours if they are slow burns) that I do see through to the end, and gladly. It’s being able to make that judgement as soon as possible that’s important; just as you say.

        IOW: It’s not my schedule or patience or anything that is the factor: It’s the quality of the product. And possibly also that there is not an abundance of quality products! Especially not these days (IMO.)

        • MM

          same here as a kid, I’d play anything I could lay my hands on.. not sure if a consequence of being poor in a 3rd world country but, the stuff was kinda rare.
          Nowadays I barely play anything, even the stuff I’d like (invariably much older titles) and then not for long. Usually try to invest such little time into the things that may have some beneficial brain training effects.

          • There were a lot of disposable games from that era, as with anything, but they were generally obvious knockoffs and insincere attempts. The games were just infinitely higher quality products then. Nowadays the video games are their “graphics” and everything else languishes. But yes, adults I think do discard most class video game genres, just as you don’t see many adults on the equipment in a playground.

            Graphics are paper thin and generally harried. Indie offerings don’t yet rise to the level of the old corporate classics. You have to be ignorant of video games’ history to think they’re doing anything important. There isn’t a lot to play, and the truly interesting things happening I don’t think get aired anywhere. (These are mostly people reverse-engineering the old corporate formats and using/developing “maker” style tools that are treated with contempt and as obscure compared to people making games with the new corporate sponsored tools that have yet to produce compelling results.)

            This website leans far too heavily on this approved niche corner of the modern video game landscape. You can see it very plainly in this year’s “I’m still talking about” series running right now. There’s a definite echo-chamber effect that people writing about video games are either completely oblivious too or not courageous enough to distinguish themself by exploring more of the landscape and history.

          • MM

            (btw, I edited my post while you wrote, hopefully you didn’t miss anything 🙂

            Precisely as I was a kid, thank goodness!

            Reminded me of something I discovered recently, people hacked/reverse-engineered (or maybe just ripped the graphics, dunno) from Master of Magic (an old time favorite) and added a whole lot of stuff, including manga graphics (which I believe you also like?), but gameplay also .. quite amazing.

            I see the first paragraph on the feed but never read it (unless it really catches my attention). I’m relying on you, dear Stormbringer, to bring me enlightenment! Quite a responsibility! : ) [didn’t disappoint yet, btw ^_^]

          • Sorry, I don’t completely follow you? But please try to keep comments on-topic! (I like all manga graphics; just kidding.)

          • MM

            Sry, I replied by paragraph? Anyway, I didn’t mean as sarcasm, I do like your thoughts on this topic. Thanks.
            True, manga has lots of styles. Must be nice to see all the diversity in Japan. : )