No Pile

The One Game Challenge

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


I rarely finish games. I have to get swept up in the game's story, the mechanics, or something to make me get to the end credits.

This idea resonates with me, even as I sit here staring at 222 games in Steam, and I have a bunch of XBLA and XBox 360 games that I haven't counted nor finished.

One 'til done? Or one 'til the pain? I can dig it.

I usually get the opposite problem. I have a serious case of one-game-itis. I like to inhabit games, build mental houses in them and hang out even when they're old. I've put 1200+ hours into Civ V, and counting since I'm playing it again in anticipation of Brave New World. I got 4 characters in Borderlands 2, constituting 6 playthroughs (2 playthroughs on 2, 1 on each of the other two), and 5 characters in Mass Effect 2, each one a unique playthrough established "the hard way."

I think only BadKen's put more hours than me into Amalur, and that's only because I can't transfer my saves to my new PC (stupid Origin).

It's not that I can't afford new games, or that I don't have a pile. I absolutely do. It's just that faced with the new systems of even excellent games like Mark of the Ninja, I prefer to go back to games I know I've mastered and can play with the satisfaction of "doing it perfectly." I know. I have OC issues.

Is it really so, so wrong to want to craft a militant Shinto nation fielding mountains of troops through Holy Warrior Beliefs powered by Stonehenge, Divine Inspiration and Stone Circles?

Or to engineer the perfect slingshot to Civil Service so my Germany can flood the map with Landsknecht when everyone is still using stone axes?

I don't get permanent, eternal perfection in real life. I only get it in games, and it is so, so sweet.

OMG. Help me!

mateo wrote:

All of the MMOs have a level cap which could serve as a signal to move on, unless the endgame is really important to you. And if the MMO has one.

I don't think that's particularly true when it comes to GW2. Sure, there's a level 80 cap, but you can hit it pretty easily and fairly quickly. The real challenge comes afterwards: getting 100% map completion, striving for that one armor set you've been eyeing, completing all jumping puzzles, finding all 37 dive sites, completing all dungeons... You name it.

And of course, there's one thing that never ends, it's the interactions with the wonderful goodjer community.

This thread inspired me to try being at least Steam monogameous. It resulted in me finally(!) finishing Bioshock Infinite, and I actually feel pretty good about trying to work my way through my pile this way. Being able to hide all of my games except the current one using Steam categories is very helpful. Interestingly, it also forced me to decide whether I was done with certain games, thus causing the creation of my 'Finished' and 'Entertainment complete' categories; the latter being for games that I haven't seen through to the end-game, but have played as much of them as I wish to.

Coldstream wrote:

It resulted in me finally(!) finishing Bioshock Infinite, and I actually feel pretty good about trying to work my way through my pile this way.


Excellent article, and very inspiring! These are the true articles that i can only find in GWJ, and are really usefull!

So, when's the next Steam summer sale?

End of June? Early July? Not sure, I plan to unplug my router when the solstice rolls around.

The concept behind this article is admirable, noble even.

It's also complete lunacy!

I'm a game designer with late onset ADHD and diminishing free time. We live in a very different world now. If I can rotate attention between 3 games - and that's not including mobile, browser-only or Facebook games - that is very impressive feat indeed.

I also re-picked up my Super Stardust HD gauntlet a few days ago, trying to break into the top 100,000. I'm amazed at how quickly I increased my previous top score of like 4 million to my new top score of 13 million. Now there's only 25,000 people ahead of me.

I am limited to what my five year old desktop computer will allow (Dell Inspiron 530 Intel 2.2 gig WinXP)

A few months ago, I upgraded the Power Supply, the graphics card from the OEM to further this computer life for the business and whatever "extracurricular stuff" this is used for. Although it will play some of the newer games (if only lower end) there are plenty of older quality games it will support, My gaming "tastes" are pretty eclectic (FPS, RPG, SP, Action/Adventure et.c.) Presently, Planescape Torment, The Witcher, Bethesda's Morrowing/Oblivon/Fallout 3 GOTY among others. I have a small collection of PC games that will find their way into my machine when time allows.

But then I am a Gamer Mom who began playing Nintendo console games with my children when they were younger. Now that they have grown, it still keeps me "connected" with them as we have similar interests.

Very interesting discussion. I especially want to thank the couple of you who promote brain expansion. I'll read that paper and watch the Ted talk shortly. Prior background: cognitive psychology.

In honor of this excellent article, I am currently creating a new folder in my Steam library called "The Pile", which...possibly...means I'll be even less likely to ever try any game not currently installed.

Challenge accepted! 100hrs in Skyrim and never even got close to finishing the main story. So dl'd a bunch of amazing mods, started a new char, and off I go.

This reality pains me so much. I wish I could partake in the challenge, but I'm currently in the process of reversing my previous habits of not gaming at all, and there's just too much I have left undone. Plus, that dang Xbox Live Ultimate Sale just happened and Crysis, Bulletstorm, Prey, and R* Table Tennis now own my life...and Mass Effect 2. Still, this is a great idea for people with more money than time.

I need to take counterpoint. Let me get on my rickety podium, here. I won't be long.

If the game isn't good enough to hold your interest, move on.

I am ashamed to say I never completed Ultima 4 on my Apple IIe, back in the early eighties. I earned the money slowly, $3 per week, and had great fun, but didn't finish. My Witcher is stuck somewhere in a swamp. I hate swamps like Indy hates snakes. I ground to a halt of boredom on the new XCom - with the endgame "in sight". Knowing I could do it, I didn't. I could go on.

I have played, and finished, more campaigns of Rome: TW, MechWarrior2, X-Wing, JA2, Ghost Recon and The Lost Admiral than I can recall. I could go on here, too. I spend much time gaming.

If the game isn't good enough to hold my interest, I move on. Or back to a classic.

Perhaps I misunderstand the premise of the article, but I have bought games I played 30 minutes, and realized my time was more valuable than $100/hr, and moved on. I won't circle back. I don't feel guilt.

wickbroke wrote:

Let me get on my rickety podium, here.

I have played, and finished, more campaigns of Rome: TW, MechWarrior2, X-Wing, JA2, Ghost Recon and The Lost Admiral than I can recall.

I...realized my time was more valuable than $100/hr, and moved on.

Actually, your gaming habits suggest your statement should be: if I like the game, my time is worth a meager figure. Not liking a game is then for you not tied to value.

Jonman wrote:

Say I pick GRID 2 (which I'm currently playing and enjoying) as my til-credits-do-us-part game. What do I do during those times when I'm not in the mood for a frenetic, high-focus game? When I was to kick back and relax?

If I limit myself to the one game, then the answer is that I would do something else. That's not necessarily a bad thing but it does defeat the thing that makes gaming such a good hobby for me. It's versatile, and offers many options to suit my many moods.

Not surprisingly (:)), I'm could do a limited form of poly-game-y. One shooter, one racer, one RPG, one turn-based something.

sr_malo wrote:

This is what I was thinking as well. The mood I'm in determines what I'm going to feel like playing at that moment. Right now I have three games on my "Favorites" list and those are the only ones I'm focusing on.

That being said, reading this reminded me I am a gamehorder. I plan to play everything I buy, I just can't exactly say when I'm going to play it.

My sentiments exactly. I find if I only have one of each type of game or one that fits a particular mood I tend to find myself in, it limits the paralysis while still giving me choices.

The only problem is during these sales things get out of hand. Last night for example, I couldn't decide what I felt like playing so I went looking into other peoples wishlists for ideas about gifts and found a few more games I had forgotten about that I want to either buy or install. The new shiny distraction, if you will.

For a long time I was becoming bored with gaming. I couldn't seem to play one game for more than a few minutes without getting bored and starting a new game. I was a PC gamer with a ton of games in my steam account and I only ever played half of them. A few months back I sold my PC and started playing console games. I also decided that I would try to concentrate on one or two games at a time. That has really made gaming fun again for me. To play one game at a time like I used to as a kid and playing through it until the end is a great experience. This is a great article and I highly recommend trying this "One game challenge."