The Stack

It's been a long day and an even longer week. Nine grueling hours under life-sapping florescent lights, listening to dumb customers figuring out which mouse button to click by process of elimination, and dumber coworkers prattling on about current events and reality TV. An hour spent on a crowded bus moving down the congested highway at speeds that make snails look impatient, sitting next to a large woman in purple spandex whose cell phone conversation is so important that everyone on the bus must hear her side of the story. Five minutes spent searching for the keys, thirty seconds fumbling with the lock, and you're on the couch with my feet on the coffee table and your purpose clear: it's time to play a game.

But even as you stare at the stack of unopened and unplayed games by the television, you have no idea what to play.

Every gamer with a job knows the song: you finally find a free moment to yourself, some precious time to spend on your hobby, and you're overwhelmed by the options. Being a grownup means you can finally afford to spend money on all those shiny games your friends are playing, possibly some rare gem that escaped your notice the first time around. The rent's paid, after all, and there are groceries (read: beer) in the fridge. So you follow your instincts – consume, be fruitful, multiply – and come home with the Dead Risings and the Psychonauts, shiny in their unmolested shrink-wrap. "Why not preorder Defcon?" you ask yourself. "It's only $10 and it's sure to be fun." Slowly but surely, you find yourself building a tower of time-consuming possibilities, a stack of games you know you'd enjoy if you could only find the opportunity to experience them.

One day, that moment comes. Obligations be damned, you're going to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor. There are no family commitments; the wife is with her friends, the kids are in bed. Opportunity is knocking, and it's time for you to answer.

The question becomes, what do you play? There are factors to consider, after all. If you want to stay up-to-date, you have to pick a newer title. Sorry, Beyond Good & Evil, but you'll have to wait until retro comes back in style. Want to justify that $400 Xbox 360 purchase? Guess you won't be playing Sly Cooper, or Mario Kart. Mulitplayer games are a bad choice; you can't risk wasting your free time on a Dire Maul run that never gets off the ground. You think you're whittling The Stack down until you find a suitable choice, but The Stack doesn't get smaller. It just changes shape.

Eventually you decide to just put something in and play, hoping that the game will sweep you up in the experience. Fifteen minutes spent wandering the countryside in Oblivion convinces you that you want something more action-packed. Twenty minutes defending the flag in Unreal Tournament makes you yearn for a compelling story. Five minutes here, ten minutes there, you're sorting through the pile at a frantic pace, hoping to find something that will salvage the evening, a game that makes your decision for you. A game that demands to be played. But everything you start falls short of your hopes, and as quickly as it comes, your golden opportunity goes away. It's late, you have to get up early to brave the traffic and make it to the office, and your free time is up.

As you lay in bed, staring at the ceiling while waiting for sleep to come, you reflect on the situation. Is it possible that adulthood has robbed you of the ability to spend quality time with your games? Can it be that you have too many titles to choose from, that variety is not the spice of life after all? You think ahead to the next time, when the curtains of responsibility part for that brief moment and you can allow yourself to escape from the world. You make a promise to yourself that you won't buy anything else until you reach the bottom of the pile, but you know you're kidding yourself. Something new will come along, and you'll think of all the possibilities it will bring. You'll bring your shiny new toy home and add it to the others, and The Stack will continue to grow.

Comments

I have discovered the joy of been "one step behind". I am a PC gamer, don't own any consoles (well only a N64 I got as a gift and is unused) and all the times I have been tempted to get one the same reason comes over me, I have no time to play all the games I want in my PC, so why should I get a console?

And there are really a lot of games for the PC, you just have to look a bit back in time. The last games that I have played in this year are:

Incubation, Far Cry, Civilization 4, Jagged Alliance 2, Xpand Rally, Silent Storm

The great thing about not playing the latest games is that is has a lot of benefits, you get games patched perfectly, with great mods fully developed, no need for an expensive computer, communities that are still alive, cheaper that newer games...

It is true that sometimes you don't find the right game for the right time, but just keep on trying, and remember sometimes is good to look back.

My stack is literally hundreds of items (and I only have PC and PS2) and I currently vowed to not buy anything new in the next few months. And I actually have a great time slogging through the pile. SimGolf, System Shock 2 (again), Defcon, Metal Gear Solid 3, Dragon Quest 8. Still, the only stack that gets visibly reduced is the GBA/DS stuff - I just spend much more time on the road, usually playing my DS. As The Beatles used to sing back in their heyday: "DS I Love You".

I like to call the corallary of this "hobby guilt." I sit there in my basement, and not only do I face the stack problem, but the "other" problem. My telescope is sitting all set up in the garage, and it's going to be a beautiful night. I should be out there. I finally got the new prop for my RC airplane, and the winds calm, so I should head out to the field before dinner and get some laps in. Of course, it's such a nice evening I should really just get on my bike...

Or, my wife is on the couch and I know she'd love me to death if I made her a margarita. Guess what, that almost always wins.

Funny, since I've had kids my "disposable income" for game purchasing seems to have dwindled...

Never been much into consoles, we have a Gamecube but my 9-yr-old mostly plays on it. I just can't get my head wrapped around a game if I don't have a keyboard and mouse in front of me.

That said, my stack is still pretty small. I have some old favorites, and the games that I keep up with for the sake of LAN parties (BF2, CS:S) but having an obsession with WoW is a blessing in disguise. I don't have to waste time figuring out which game to pick to occupy what little free time I have, and I don't spend money on the latest and greatest games. (Actually, that's what my LAN party buddies are for, they test drive the newer games and let me know if any are good enough to add to the stable for the next weekend frag-fest.)

This is, of course, offset by the monthly WoW fees.

dongyrn wrote:

This is, of course, offset by the monthly WoW fees.

I added up how much WOW has saved me in the last year.... $420 bucks... [i]I used to buy a game every month... thats 50X12 (600) 15X12 -
180. 600-180 - $420. I see no end in site for WOW playing for me. I also don't have a "stack". I doubt I'll have a stack for at least a year or 2, and I'm ok with that.

Demiurge wrote:

Fifteen minutes spent wandering the countryside in Oblivion convinces you that you want something more action-packed. Twenty minutes defending the flag in Unreal Tournament makes you yearn for a compelling story. Five minutes here, ten minutes there, you're sorting through the pile at a frantic pace, hoping to find something that will salvage the evening, a game that makes your decision for you. A game that demands to be played.

That's why I have Dwarf Fortress. It solves that problem in the same way that WoW does. And its free!

But, overall, great article, Demi. I know what you mean.

I'm glad I don't have "The Stack" since I feel I would have wasted all that money that could have gone to my tuition, car payments, mob hits, et cetra. Instead I have been graced with the skill to only have a maximum of about three games that have not be beaten/played to death, and I will be playing those games constantly until it is accomplished. If I had a stack I think I would be tempted to sell off all the games so it wouldn't be all a loss... but then again, I sell my games off when they get to a huge quantity since I know I won't play certain ones ever again (and up until a few years ago I had no income to buy shiny new things).

Nice article. Yeah i have this problem too. I own a PC, PS2, Gamecube and DS/GBA. Recently though i've found that i have more enjoyment browsing through the tech and game news than actually being able to sit down and play a game. I was a little worried that i'd lost the flame of game love but i concluded that it's the lack of consecutive time to play games.

Increasingly i find myself unable to spend the amount of time to envelop myself in the game world and really get into the game. I don't have much money - but then i don't have any draining apart from living expenses so although i have a "Stack" it's not that big as i limit the games i buy to "the must-haves". However, i do have a virtual stack; a list of games as long as this article that are on my radar and (if i happen upon them in a state of price nudity) ready to be picked up.

I've found that i don't really work through my stack though... instead i end up playing old favourites. Games i know and love. At the moment i'm playing UFO:Aftermath.... but i secretly want to play a shooter of some description but i've recently dropped FarCry as i've completed the fun part. Might go back and play Specforce...

My stack is all A) Christmas '05 gifts and B) used games bought at the flea market or el cheapo section of EB. So I don't feel too guilty about putting them off.

Okay, a little guilty. Stupid Dwarf Fortress! Release your unholy grip upon my soul.

The article nails it for me as well - which is why the "open and play" mentality of Nintendo DS appeals to me more as of late. And of not so late.

anyone wrote:

I have discovered the joy of been "one step behind".... The great thing about not playing the latest games is that is has a lot of benefits, you get games patched perfectly, with great mods fully developed, no need for an expensive computer, communities that are still alive, cheaper that newer games.

I'm totally with you there. I'm about 2 years behind on new PC games (just installed fully patched and modded Far Cry!). I like playing patched games (especially Baldur's Gate 2!!), but I just got into consoles 2 years ago and now have competeting stacks of backlog, and yes, it is paralyzing.

Ahh, the stack. That's when the beauty of working at a bank and getting those all important holidays like Columbus Day (a.k.a. Monday) off..

Dead rising, Saints Row, Virtua Fighter 4, Table Tennis, Burnout Revenge, I just might finish you on Monday.. assuming I don't pull the shrinkwrap off God of War, Destroy all Humans, Freedom Fighters, Chibi Robo.. *sighs* Thank god gamefly has come to rescue me from my impulse purchasing!

Of course, deep down I know the truth; I'll be spending all my time in Defcon and Company of Heroes.

I guess I'm "lucky" my budget doesn't let me get far enough ahead to have a stack sitting there. I've only got one ahead of me right now. I have to get it done before FFXII shows up.

Well said Demi! I've periodically built, then sold my "stack" many times over the years....lately, with World of Warcraft, I've found myself coming out of BestBuy (or Amazon) with less and less. UT2004 and HL1/HL2 have enough mods so I don't have to go chasing every title anymore, and slammed up against the time sinking juggernaut of World of Warcraft, it has to be pretty special to get me thinking of adding it to the pile.

But then I see all these Guitar Hero and PS2 threads....

But then I see all these Guitar Hero and PS2 threads....

One of us! One of us!

mateo wrote:

Well said Demi! I've periodically built, then sold my "stack" many times over the years....

anyone wrote:

....... all the times I have been tempted to get xxxx the same reason comes over me, I have no time to play all the games I want on my xxxxxx (system,) so why should I get xxxxx (game or system?)

That's me. IT starts out with the bottom quote. But over time my 'exceptions' to that quote pile up and hence the top quote.

I did have a good system going for awhile where I was able to buy, try and sell games for pretty much break-even. I think I need like a Sports Center for videogames. TAke that 20 hr game and shrink it down to about 3 hours of playable highlights.

I used to get this, prior to my fixation on multiplayer-only titles. Best thing about a multiplayer title? You never finish it. You just jump in, have fun, and leave when you need to stop. Chances are you won't play enough to get bored, so you unless you you play very, very rarely it's tough to feel like you've wasted money.

I recently realized that when this happens to me, it's because I'm depressed due to other problems in life. Basically, it's when I'm gaming to distract myself or escape. When I'm gaming because I specifically want to game, I have a fairly good idea of what game or what kind of game I want to play.

I finally went back and beat DQVIII yesterday, so I'm happy with myself

I'm slowly working my way through. I think it's pretty futile to buy anything new until after I get the Wii. I have plenty to occupy me until then, and if I get bored of that, hopefully some of the prices will have dropped for other things.

What a great article. My stack is probably over a hundred games, going back at least two generations of hardware. I still look lovingly at Panzer Dragoon Saga, Vagrant Story, etc. It is rare that I open a game the day I buy it. In fact, it is an average of nine months after purchase that I even consider opening it. Which is why I really don't play multiplayer games; by the time I get around to playing, the community is on something else.

My current playlist is Company of Heroes, World of Warcraft, NCAA football, Culdcept, and Shadow of the Colossus.

Oh, and my other 'stack' is easily books. I have probably 250+ books that I haven't read yet, and I buy books at about the same rate I finish them (one every few days) so I don't see that stack going down either.

I like to add my 'great article' 2bits. I had this problem for a long time, till just recently (i.e. in the last year), something came over me and I have stopped buying the new, best thing (may have to do with not having as much disposable income as I did:>). Now I really think it thru. Discuss it in length with a hardcore bud who buys them, the usually let it pass. Sometimes, as in Company of Heroes, I see a great deal, know I will eventually want to play it, so go for it. But usually that is not the case. That and not playing WoW for a few months and almost cancelling my sub to it, I've all of a sudden got back into it with a vengence. (PvP is my new 'shiny' thing:>).

This problem used to be even bigger with me when I downloaded games illegally: my desktop was cluttered with icons of shiny new games, but I never played any of them to a great extent. Now I actually pay for all of them, I make a bit more effort to enjoy them.

Alas, I'm also a Collector, which means I often buy games because I want to own them. And maybe, someday, play them too.