Diary of a year of not buying video games (or books): Conclusion

About 9 months ago, I stopped buying games because I had a huge pile of unplayed ones already, like most gamers. I told myself I won’t be buying any more games for a year, to finish what I already have, and so I can decide what I don’t even want to play. 9 months in I broke my vow when prices for used Playstation 3 stuff hit their lowest point yet and something told me that missing this opportunity wouldn’t be wise, so I stopped my challenge and bought a PS3 with piles of games to last me years. You can read all the details month-by-month here.

In numbers, I’ve played somewhere around 40 games, finishing about a dozen and discarding or shelving the rest. But I also added 43 new games to my wishlist. In the old days, these 43 games would have been immediately purchased and added to my existing queue of 100-something titles. Horrible to think of that now. Instead, I have a physical pile of PS3 games that goes up to my hip to worry about. Much better!

I learned a lot, and I believe I can condense it into a few paragraphs of hints for those addicted to game purchases. And I’m saying game purchases, not necessarily playing. Some of these games sat for ages in my library until I finally stopped buying new ones and actually played them. Is it the same for you? Then read on.

Disappointed by games you buy? Yes, they mostly are crap

I discovered that the disappointment I feel almost every time I buy a new game was well-founded: many games really aren’t as good as they seem, and I don’t like them as much as I thought.

By far most of the games I bought were not great, even though they had good reviews. Reviews can only go so far to tell me if I would enjoy something. Some games turn into work after a dozen hours and never recover (Pillars of Eternity did that for me), others just don’t have the magic that’s needed to pull you through from start to finish. I don’t know what to do about this, since it’s not easy to tell whether a game will do that, but I vow to be more careful. Thus:

Spend time finding out what makes a good purchase

Stopping new purchases makes you consider the next one more thoroughly. For me this meant finding out what I actually want to play and what just seems like a sort-of-good-but-not-great title. This brought back a giddy childlike joy, imagining to be playing some title that is out now, but that I won’t buy until 12 months later. Greets, /r/patientgamers, by the way.

It also made me research a title from multiple angles during the wait period. I managed to drop some games before even buying them. Just like in the good old days when one title every two or three months was the maximum I could afford (remember, SNES games cost between €80 and €90 a pop back then, big titles like FFIII went for €100).

Viewing lots of let’s plays and reading reviews, even if it costs me two hours per game, is still better than buying the game and abandoning it after half an hour. That’s a price paid in time, money and disappointment.

Go for feelings of closure, not of rushing

Around May 2016 I noticed that my list of Steam games to finish was down to 15 titles. That was the first time in years when that list fit on a single screen, no scrolling. Behold this wonderful moment:

Screenshot_2016-05-02_20-11-41

This made a big difference. Before, I always felt like I was out at sea and swimming towards an invisible shore. So many games to play! So many things to finish! Seeing the shore for the first time in years was delicious, I no longer felt like I had to rush through a game to get to the next one. But the next point is equally important for this feeling:

Don’t read gaming news or reviews

I used to read several gaming news sites, hoping that I won’t miss anything. Not anymore. I reduced it to just /r/linux_gaming and a hand-picked list of reviewers (Mack from Worth A Buy, The Linux Gamer, Jakejw93, Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation, MetalJesus and Classic Game Room). With barely any news of new titles or ports coming in, much pressure was reduced.

But Steam has a habit of annoying you with news about specials and sales every time you start it. It also by default launches into the Steam Store. I disabled those notifications and made it start directly to my library instead. That’s in Settings – Interface – Favorite window, and there’s a checkbox “Notify me about…” in the same dialog.

Life felt much quieter after this.

Incentivize not breaking your promises

Tie breaking your promise to something tangible. Something that doesn’t benefit you, but someone else, for example. For every game you buy, you take an extra turn cleaning the toilet or something. I said I’d donate 5 times the purchase price of anything to charity. So after my roughly CHF 300 PS3 collection-buying spree, I had to donate CHF 375 each to WaterAid and Water.org and another CHF 750 to GiveDirectly.

After all, we’re fussing about video games here while some people spend half their days shitting their internal organs right out their rectums due to drinking contaminated water, or getting lung diseases from indoor cooking on an open fire. Those charities can do something against that.

If you go the charity route, make sure  you don’t donate to some foolish sleazy organization that doesn’t get anything done, check charity rating sites like GiveWell to find out which projects and charities are actually effective.

Discover new genres

Around July 2016 I was on new game withdrawal, but I solved that by installing lots of games from my collection that I’d never played before. I discovered that I don’t hate all tower defense games, just some of them. Revenge of the Titans was excellent. And I don’t detest all puzzle games, some are really good. I like Escape Goat. Come on, it has a goat made of pixels in it.

I would have left all these games unplayed had I not done this time of abstinence.

Discover hidden gems

It was Metal Jesus who made me realize that I owned a lot of systems where I hadn’t actually played some great hidden gems. Check out his videos for the various consoles:

Another brilliant old-school reviewer on YouTube is Mark from Classic Game Room, and Game Sack deserves to be mentioned, not least because of their excessively high production quality.

What’ great about these old titles is that some of them I alrady had, some can be downloaded as ISOs, others can be found cheaply in the used games market. And Sony released many great old PS1 and PS2 titles for the PS3/PS4 via the PSN store. Sometimes they even had Dreamcast stuff ported over specifically for the Playstation Network. Kudos.

I didn’t know there was so much interesting stuff there. It feels as if a whole new branch of gaming just opened up for me.

Buy games like a whale surfaces for air

Whales dive for a very long time and surface for air only now and then. You can do that with gaming. Set a budget, buy a batch of games and then no games at all for several months. Vow to actually play every single title before you buy any new ones. Won’t cure your addiction, but it compresses it into small, ,more controllable chunks spread through the year.

Buy games only for dead or dying platforms

The anxiety of having to track what new stuff is coming out is a big part of my problem. With systems that are dead or dying, this is not a problem. You can go through the entire catalog of every single thing that was released and decide in peace what you might want to play. You don’t risk being faced with new games coming out, you only have to check out old reviews, and sometimes hindsight is useful when that shiny new game of 2002 turns out to be quite a stinker compared to what’s available in 2016.

If you time all this correctly, you can score extremely cheap titles from digital store sales or from the used games market for consoles. When the PS3 was slowly dying and the PS4 came into full bloom, used PS3 games were often under €10. Sometimes those were trilogies and collections. Three games with 20 hours play time each for €5, who would complain?

Personally, I also noticed I like third person action games and platformers more than I remembered. These are mostly on consoles, and I hadn’t been paying attention to the console market enough.

Buy games on a physical medium

You’ll get nice packaging, you will not be able to make use of digital store sales, and you will have to make room for your new purchases. You get visual feedback for how much you’re buying and how much you still have to play.

Use the newly found time

I always complained (to my own inner self, not to other people) that I never have time to watch series or read books. Turns out that if you stop compulsively reading gaming news, you suddenly have time.

I also rediscovered the comics scene. My old favorite Édika seems alive and well and to still be published by Fluide Glacial, and it looks like the last 15 years brought a complete remodeling to the U.S. comics scene. Less cheesy superheroes, more character, more story, more depth, really breathtaking art.

There’s stuff with depth or socio-criticism like The Tomorrows or Bitch Planet, Velvet, Mirror or Saga. I had no clue all this was going on and I’m checking it out now.

See if you have any other addictions

For me it was alcohol. Some gears in my brain clicked and I managed to attack both game buying addiction and alcohol addiction at the same time. When I started not giving in to my game buying urges, it became easier to not drink alcohol every evening either.

Meanwhile I can go entire months without a drop of alcohol, but I think I’d still struggle a bit not to continue drinking all night long if I have two or three beers in a row. My issue always was that one drink never seemed like enough, just like buying one game didn’t quite satisfy. I was on to buying the next game even before finishing what I’d just bought.

Conclusion

Do I feel cured? Mostly. But the best thing here is that I can enjoy games again. I used to, but this got lost somewhere, maybe in the excesses of hundreds of games coming out in bundles costing almost nothing a piece. Games that I hadn’t even researched, wasn’t sure I would like but now felt compelled to play. The bundle spit the game out for free, so only a fool wouldn’t play it, right?

This exercise brought back my positive attitude towards the gaming industry, which feels super-great. I can recommend trying this to anyone. If you have some hints of your own you want to share, please comment.

Enjoyed this? Read the other posts in this series.

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