Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Why the hell are you not playing it?

It is meant to be the hardest decision I could possibly make. I am supposed to agonise over it, because I know that it will have far-reaching consequences. And, had I faced it a few years back, then maybe I would have felt the full gravity of it.

But, today? I just look at it from the point of view of one who not only knows that it is coming, but also that I can maximise my hopes for an achievement depending on my choice. So, I decided to save Ashley, mainly because my impatience means I blew it with Liara, and leave Kaidan to fend for himself. I don't feel any of the agony I was supposed to, and I probably don't feel anything that I should be. But then, it isn't the surprise to me that it might have been had I played Mass Effect when it was first released.

The reason I am currently playing Mass Effect is because of the fuss over the recently released third instalment in the series. It would be fair to say that this proves the old chestnut that "There is no such thing as bad publicity", except that I didn't buy Mass Effect as a result of it. I actually bought Mass Effect because another old chestnut, which is "If you sell games for cheaper then more people will buy them" is also true. I picked it up when the second game in the trilogy was available in GameStation for £5, and I not only took advantage of this but purchased it along with the original game for half the price that either title was originally available for.

This was about a year or so ago.

Think about the magnitude of that statement for a minute. I bought two games a year ago, and I am only just playing one of them now. Admittedly, the furore over the ending has helped, but another reason is that as funds are so low at the moment, I am not in a position to buy all the new games that I want to. So, no Operation Raccoon City with friends. No Street Fighter X Tekken. And no Binary Domain, as much as that one is intriguing me.

The thing is, though, Mass Effect is but one of the titles in my collection that I have not finished. Worse, Mass Effect 2 is not even the only title I have bought and not played at all yet. That one sits alongside Assassin's Creed Brotherhood and Bioshock 2, whereas the list of games I am some way through without completing amounts to more than there are hours in the day to play them! Vanquish, Uncharted 2, Skyrim, CoD BlOps, Assassin's Creed II, Deus Ex Human Revolution, and plenty of others. (So long is the list that I can't even recall what they all are.)

By contrast, I can only think of one book that I am actively in the midst of reading that is sitting there unfinished. I have gone through entire DVD boxsets of TV series in the space of a couple of days more times than I care to count, as well. So why do games, the pastime THAT I LIKE BEST, continue to be the only interest of mine that I don't try to squeeze full value from?

It turns out that I am not alone in this. The standard terminology for it is the 'backlog', although some refer to it as the 'Pile of shame' instead. In most cases, the list goes back a long way. Ask any of us who play as many games we can do, and we could all name at least 10 titles that we have put aside and not gone back to, although we do plan to at some indeterminate future point. (One of these days, I WILL get round to finishing Ocarina of Time, I swear!)

There is even a website set up to encourage gamers who find themselves in this position, which is pretty much all of us, to get on with the job of FINISHING THE DAMN GAMES WE SPENT A SMALL FORTUNE ON.

Why do I do it? Why, even though I know there are at least 30 games in my possession right now that I could play and enjoy, do I still want to go out and buy the Devil May Cry HD Collection? (DMC3? Yep, that is on my list. As is 2, but actually with good reason.) It isn't due to any kind of inability to commit on my part, as the save files for any generation of Pokemon bear testament. I generally break the 200-hour mark on those, and I once played Quake 3 for 25 hours straight.

The only thing I can think of as reason for my behaviour, and that of most gamers, is that the entire marketing system itself has now gotten a bit too good at its job, which is to instil desire into us to buy more stuff. This machine that wants us to spend our money before the product exists, and then gives the product a matter of days before moving on to the next must-have to push us into buying. It works, because most publishers now completely rely on launch week sales and barely give anything any chance of developing a genuine word-of-mouth following. It can still happen, as with genuine cult hits like Deadly Premonition, but these are rare events indeed. In fact, it has now gotten to a point where marketing is non-existent for anything that isn't a guaranteed week one huge hitter. Remember those brilliant Binary Domain ads? No, you don't, because there weren't any.

Effectively, at least in my case, it seems that I have been made to want to own games more than I do want to actually play them. I don't like this, because whilst it means that somebody is doing a good job, ultimately it will affect the industry. Sooner or later, we reach the tipping point where gamers look at their collection and think "I've got too many games on the go, I'll not buy that one yet", and then they never buy it because there is something else new and shiny that they want instead when they eventually can afford it.

But then, I don't really know why I even care about it. Right now I am enjoying taking Shepard around the galaxy, and it isn't even marred by my knowledge that it won't end particularly well. (At least, that is the impression I get, because by and large the internet has done a pretty sterling job of keeping what actually happens in that ending they hate behind spoilers.) Even better, the current situation is that by merely waiting a few weeks, I am able to buy Mass Effect 3 for about the price that I have been saying for years should be the RRP for all new games. And I conceivably have at least one game that I can play which is new to me regardless of the mood I am in.

In short, I think the time has come to step aside from the "Must get it day one!" mentality, and instead plunge fully into the territory marked "Just chill out, man, it's meant to be enjoyable" that I have been skirting the periphery of. To pull the cord to stop the hype train and say "Know what? You go ahead, I'll get off here."

Join me. Leave the Rat Race, where it is all about buying THAT game TODAY, and instead allow yourself to stroll through your collection at your own leisure. You will save money, you will fill your time more wisely, and if enough of us do it we may well even save the entire industry from itself.

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