The halcyon days of my youth contained few games. Oh, they contained plenty of gaming, but not so many games. I, like many people, could only score one or two games a year, and maybe a third if I spent my summer lawn mowing money on a game instead of some other tawdry bauble.
Naturally, I wore these few games out. I would ride each game like a rented mule. I managed to squeeze every last juicy morsel, each easter egg and shiny sparkle in the corner out of every game in my collection.
And then I'd do it again.
My old carts attest to this: every save slot filled with a 100% clear game. Or, if a game lacked save slots, then I would have been happy to invite you over and show how I can clear the game in one sitting without even using a continue. Even the old PC adventure games on which I was weaned saw many, many (did I mention many?) runs, to the point where I could solve the once-impenetrable puzzles in a laughably short time.
Money was tight. Time was plentiful.
Nowadays the shoe is on the other foot. Maybe I don't have as much spare cash laying around as I'd like, but compared to my eight-year-old self I am Bill Gates. Time, on the other hand, is a very precious commodity. What little is left after work, house maintenance, family time, and occasional social calls is a tiny fraction of my former self's idle hours. Thanks to more available funds and the ludicrous discounting strategy of digital game purveyors, particularly Steam, I have an embarrassing surfeit of games at my disposal. The problem is now that I sit down to play a game and experience analysis paralysis. Badly.
I can boot up Steam and see something north of 200 games at first glance, and that's just the unplayed stuff. I have wasted as much as a half hour of maybe an hour's free time simply deciding what to sample. I imagine I am not the only one who has experienced this particular mental quandary.
The other problem this creates is a very low buy-in on those games that I do manage to start up. Let's face it, every game has a few sections that take a bit more persistence to conquer than others. So when I realize that I probably played less than $5 for this game and that there are hundreds of other games accessible in under a minute, I don't have a lot of incentive to push through the boring bits. Not only does it take me a long time to decide what to play, I have the equivalent attention span of a smartphone-wielding Bieber fan. Contrast this to my youthful self (he says with a small amount of pathos), where I played games through to completion (and even more completion) because if I wanted to play a game, it was the only choice I had.
Admittedly, we aren't breaking any new ground at this point. However, this weekend I had a breakthrough. I managed to play a game … [pause for dramatic effect] … all the way through to the end. I know, right? Please, hold your applause; there will be time for that at the end of the show. What's more, this was a game that I had previously abandoned partway through for something shinier, despite the fact that I was enjoying myself at the time.
How did I accomplish this amazing feat? I developed a plan. Now I present it to you in the form of a challenge. If you're like me (and I know from several threads that a great many of you are), I encourage you to try this at least for a week or two and see how far you get. I call it:
The One Game Challenge.
The One Game Challenge is quite simple at its heart. All you have to do is put yourself back in your eight-year-old shoes, to fool yourself into thinking you only own one game. This is easier than it sounds. For Steam gamers, it's just a matter of choosing your target game and uninstalling every other game in your library.
That's right. Every one of them. C'mon, you can re-download them in no time at all. What do you think this is, 1992? It ain't CompuServe, bucko.
Once you've done that, move every game aside from your target game into a collapsible folder. If you want, have fun with it and call the folder "TOTALLY NO GAMES IN THIS FOLDER AT ALL" or "Pandora's Folder" or something. Then, make sure (if you haven't already) that Steam launches directly into the Library pane*. No need to be tempted by all those tantalizing sales on those shiny new games on the front page. You wouldn't play them for three years anyway, right? C'mon, check your library right now. How many games did you buy on sale three years ago that you still haven't played?
It's okay. I know it's a big number. You can share here. It's a safe place.
That's it. You now only "own" one game. In the mood to play something else? Too bad! You only own one game! So play it. To the end, even! Or at least until you hit a legitimate extraction point where it is no longer fun. I think you will find that it is much, much easier to focus on the game at hand, as opposed to being distracted like a caffeinated hummingbird on Twitter.
When you beat your game, put it into a new folder. Title this folder "I am so awesome, and here's why" or "BOOM! Winning" or "Look ma, I finished something! And you said I'd never amount to anything." Proudly display it at the top of your Steam library to remind you of your success. Then install a new game. JUST ONE. No cheating. We're all on the honor system here.
Console gamers, you may have it even easier. Especially if you have physical games. Pick the one you want to keep, and throw the others in a box. Keep it somewhere difficult to access quickly, like at work or in the yard where your neighbor's underfed dog with the overbite sleeps. Digital games can be handled the same way as the PC gamers: delete, delete, delete. Congratulations, you are once again a poor child on a tiny allowance! Enjoy your game.
The whole exercise exists to keep other games out of sight, out of mind, and to make it more difficult to just boot them up and play them if you get distracted or bored with what you're currently playing. I know this sounds a bit silly, and maybe it is, but it worked for me, and it makes logical sense from the little I know of human psychology.
As to my success this weekend: Without any other options, I managed to push through the rut of Gemini Rue and see the ending. Turns out, it was totally worth it! It wound up being a complex and existentialist narrative that went places I never expected, and the last couple hours (the ones on the other side of the hump) had me on the edge of my seat. I call that a win.
*Settings/Preferences, Interface tab, "Favorite Window" setting