Digital stores like Steam have turned gaming into a chore. For years, I bought more games than I could possibly play, which fundamentally changes how I play. Instead of really enjoying the game in front of me, I'd plow through to the end as fast as I could, in order to check another game off my list and move on to the next one.
Talk about sucking the fun out of gaming.
It took a while, but I've finally shifted myself out of this mentality. It took a conscious effort to reassess my backlog, focus my attention, and admit that some titles will get more of my attention than others. If your library is taunting you with unplayed games, here's how to make things more manageable—and fun again.
Tag and Hide Games Relentlessly
First things first: Let's make that list a bit less menacing. With the plethora of different game stores out there, I recommend consolidating your library using a tool like GOG Galaxy. It'll pull in all your games from Steam, Origin, Epic, Uplay, and even Xbox and PlayStation accounts, so you can see every game you own, for every platform, in one place. There are even third-party integrations for indie stores like Itch.io, and you can add games you own on disc if you're still riding the physical media train.
Once you have your entire library in front of you, it's time to start separating things into categories. I like to use GOG's tagging system, though you could also use Steam's Collections feature to do something similar: Just right-click on a game, click Assign Tags (in GOG Galaxy) or Add To (in Steam), and create yourself a new tag or collection.
I have four: Currently Playing, Unplayed, Played, and VR. Currently Playing encompasses anything I'm playing now, play occasionally, or want to play soon, but you can alter this to your own playstyle. For example, you could have separate categories for ongoing multiplayer games, games you want to play next, or games you don't plan on playing at all. (I just keep those as uncategorized, though you could also right-click them to hide them from your library entirely, so they're out of sight.)
When you're done, you can click the settings icon in GOG's toolbar—or the dropdown at the top of Steam's sidebar—and group your library by tag. Your Currently Playing tag will appear at the top of the list, with everything else relegated to the secondary categories below.
Stop Buying Games: They'll Only Get Cheaper
Now that your backlog is a bit more organized, the hard part begins: Stop buying so many games. Many of us buy games at a faster pace than we can play them, which is just ridiculous—games are not bitcoin; their value only goes down over time. So even if you're stocking up during a sale, just buy the games you'll actually have time to play in the next couple months. Because in eight weeks, there'll certainly be another sale, and the other games you want will likely be the same price (or cheaper). You don't want to buy a game on sale for $30 only to find it's $10 by the time you're actually ready to play it next year. (I don't even browse game sales anymore. I just track a few games on IsThereAnyDeal.com with notifications off, and visit my wish list when I'm getting close to the end of my "play next" list.)
There is one potential exception to this rule: free games. With stores like Epic offering free games every single week, I'm willing to buy something I may not play for six months—it'll never get cheaper than free, and it may not be free again anytime soon. Still, if you think that's going to gnaw at you, maybe put a bit more thought into which free games are actually worth adding to your library. Though if you've implemented the tagging system mentioned above, you can always hide certain games too.
Play More Games on Easy Mode
I don't have as many hours to devote to games as I once did. Between a demanding job, two kids, and other hobbies, I can't practice enough to "git gud" and then play through a game. So when a game is hard enough to frustrate me, I put it on easy mode.
This may seem obvious, but if you're anything like me, you still feel a twinge of shame every time you consider knocking down the difficulty. There's no logical reason for this—it's not like normal difficulty is something worth bragging about—but let me officially vindicate you. It's OK to play on easy mode, and if you have an overflowing backlog, I wholeheartedly encourage it. Some games are worth experiencing for the story or ambiance alone, even if it doesn't give you a challenge. Heck, if it's a mostly story-driven game, particularly in a genre you don't love, you could always watch a playthrough on YouTube or Twitch. It'd probably be faster than playing it yourself, and it allows you to eat lunch or fold laundry while watching.
Tackle Short Games First
When deciding what to play next, you probably gravitate toward the highest-rated games, or games everyone's talking about, or maybe even the games Steam recommends in its personalized "Play Next" section. And I earnestly recommend those methods—but if you're feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of games in your library, it may be worth taking an alternative approach.
In personal finance circles, there's a concept called the "debt snowball," where some recommend you pay off your smallest debts first instead of the higher-interest ones. You might not come out ahead in the long run, but the satisfaction of knocking out multiple debts early on will motivate you to push forward, leading to a higher chance of success. I think you can apply this to a gaming backlog too: Knock out the shortest games first, then move onto longer ones.
If you aren't sure how long a game will take, check out the appropriately named HowLongToBeat.com. You can plug in any game and get an estimate of how many hours it'll take to play through—that allows you to start with those short four- to six-hour games before diving into a 50-hour epic. HowLongToBeat will also estimate the time it'll take to 100-percent the game, which is worth looking at if you're a completionist. Some games, like Skyrim, have more enjoyable side quests than main quests, but others may be repetitive or grind-y, and hunting for every collectible isn't worth your time. So be discerning about which games you really dig into and which ones you can main-quest your way through.
Plan to Quit Some Games in the Middle
Games aren't always like books. You don't have to play through the main story from start to finish to appreciate the work. I probably won't play through the entire Grand Theft Auto V campaign, for example, but I do want to play some of it just for giggles. (After all, half the fun of GTA is stealing cars and ramming into things just for the thrill of maximum destruction.) If I tell myself ahead of time that I don't plan on playing the whole game, I'll feel a lot less pressured to check it off my list.
In other cases, you may decide while playing that a game just isn't for you. Some games don't hook you in like others, or you jump in and find the gameplay is different than you expected. If you feel like you're slogging through a game you don't like, just quit playing and move on. Video games are supposed to be fun, not a bragging contest about how many you've finished—if you can keep that in mind, you'll worry less about grinding through every game and more about actually enjoying yourself.