If there’s an upside to the UK’s current social restrictions, it’s that some of us gaming shut-ins are finally living the dream. Sunshine and lollipops are all well and good, but we’re now all faced with what is likely to be several months of staying indoors, with only the raw beauty of games consoles and PCs keeping things bearable.
It tempts one's thought towards the pile of shame. We've all got one, because in a medium like video games it would be impossible not to: the quality and quantity of material is overwhelming. The pile of shame is the kind of thing you tease your mates about. So-and-so hasn’t played Half-Life 2, someone else has never tried Bloodborne, and this joker’s never played a Mario Kart game (true story).
No time like the present, eh? Team Kotaku UK has been discussing how we plan to use this self-isolation bonanza to attack our video game backlogs, as well as chewing over exactly what puts a game in the pile of shame.
Rich Stanton: I’ve got some real blind spots from recent years, games I feel terrible about missing out on, though I’ve played a little bit of them. The one I’ll get trounced for, rightly, is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I started it on PS4 years ago and couldn’t get over the loosey-goosey combat system, so gave up after a couple of hours and never looked back. I’ve played standalone Gwent much more than the game it comes from. I don't doubt that this is an all-timer, so that’s probably my most glaring pile o’ shamer.
For me the pile is not just games I’ve never touched. They’re the games I kind of bounced off, where I know they’re meant to be brilliant but after half an hour or so it isn’t showing and I just… never went back. I’ve played Hollow Knight, What Remains of Edith Finch, Persona 5, Mutant Year Zero, and Dishonored 2, but haven’t really played them. There are games I haven’t touched that should be on there, like Celeste or Batman: Arkham City, but the ones that niggle are those where I’ve had a little taste.
Or even a big one: I’m eyeing up Monster Hunter World on PC, though I rinsed the game on PS4. I could never face re-starting it on PC, but the Iceborne expansion recently hit the platform and lets you race through the early stuff, so I can probably justify sinking in the time. After Geralt of course *cough*
Do you think that counts? Or am I just looking for an excuse to play Monster Hunter.
Kim Snaith: I’m not sure it’s exactly ‘pile of shame’ material when you’ve already played the crap out of it on another format. But on the other hand you don’t need an excuse to play more Monster Hunter. It’s a game that needs no excuse.
I'm not going to lie, my pile of shame is incomprehensible. It's as vast as the universe itself. It spans space and time, defies logic and belief, and... okay, I'm getting a bit carried away. But it's huge. If it was a physical pile of physical games, it'd have toppled over years ago.
How do I even begin to pick out the most pressing games from my pile of shame? Are they games I want to play, but have not yet got around to yet? Are they games that I feel I should play, because they're seminal to the industry? Perhaps both – as someone who spends her days working on video game and tech sites I feel like I have an obligation to 'keep up with the Joneses.' But I'm also a huge video game fan by nature - and the sheer amount of games that get released every week, every month, means that, with the best will in the world, I'll never get around to many of them.
I'll start with a recent-ish release I had every intention of playing, but other stuff came out around the same time so I Just never got around to it. Borderlands 3. I played the shit out of Borderlands 2 in the pre-apocalyptic halcyon days of the early 2010s on my PS3. My boyfriend and I must've poured a couple of hundred hours into co-op, both online and offline. We'd play together on my TV at the weekends. We'd jump online together and continue where we left off in the days before we lived together. Even way before it was announced, I was beyond excited about the idea of another entry into the franchise. Yet when it did arrive, life got in the way. I'm still not convinced that even the lockdown will give me the time I need to sink into it. This girl's still gotta work, after all.
As for those 'influential' games I probably should have played to, you know, earn my REAL G8MER iron-on patch, none come to mind more than the Dark Souls series. It's not even that I haven't got round to playing them yet, so much as I'm not sure I want to. Sorry, Rich. Sorry, gamers all over the world. I’ll always feel a bit bad for not having played them; I'm sure they're great, just not sure they're for me. Maybe one day but who am I kidding: something else always comes along.
Another that I really-definitely-ought-to-have-played-by-now is Grand Theft Auto 5. I love open world games. I'd probably list them as my favourite genre. But I just can't get into GTA5. I've tried multiple times on various formats, so I've played the first 5-10 hours of the game a handful of times. It just doesn't grab me, and I'm not sure why. Maybe I will give it another go, because it has everything I should like in a game. Maybe Trevor's just too annoying to ever overcome.
Rich Stanton: Funnily enough I was discussing GTAV last night with an online mate. We both love it but just can’t stand the loading screens for GTA Online, which are obscenely long and really break up sessions in a bad way. Thing is, it’s definitely one of the best multiplayer experiences on the planet: it just takes so long to get into a session, nevermind organising the missions. For what it’s worth I preferred GTAIV’s Liberty City, but that’s mainly because I really enjoyed the grittier atmosphere.
Yeah Monster Hunter doesn’t count. One of the things about video games and 'piles of shame' is that there are a lot of historically important games that, through no fault of their own, don’t stand up too well today. I wrote a book several years ago and as part of the process I went through a huge number of seminal games from before my time: I’m talking mostly 70s / 80s material. Something like Colossal Cave Adventure survives reasonably well, being purely text-based, but then Warren Robinett’s hugely influential Adventure, a top-down proto-RPG which riffs on this source, now seems so rudimentary it’s hard to appreciate its importance and contextual quality.
That’s been a problem with several iconic games for me, I left it too late. The original Deus Ex was a gap so I played it a few years ago. I’d read a tonne about why this game is amazing, I’d watched videos, I was so ready to be blown away… but it just didn’t land. Not the game’s fault, more my spoiled modern mind being too used to the slickness of the contemporary FPS.
So there are all these seminal games that one has to mostly admire from the outside, because everything is of its time and this industry evolves at breakneck speed. I’ve never played Ultima VII, supposedly one of the greatest RPGs ever made, and I never will: but it’s not you, it’s me.
I reckon the most important thing about a pile of shame is the intention: whether you just feel bad about not playing it, or seriously intend to rectify that. So I’m determined to finally get into The Witcher 3, and that's on there, whereas with Final Fantasy XV I noped out after an hour or two and will probably never go back.
Ali Jones: I’ve got no shame when it comes to older stuff. In part, that’s thanks to my relative youth: Ultima VII, to borrow Rich’s example, is two years older than I am, so I don’t have any qualms about that particular one missing from my personal back catalogue. There’s also a lot of those ‘must-play’ games that just don’t hold up for me when you look at them in the light of today’s releases. I bashed my head against Half-Life 2 a few years ago, and I just didn’t enjoy it very much. I’m sure it was great when it came out, but that was more than a decade ago even when I got round to it, and with Doom Eternal and even Half-Life: Alyx on offer now, I can’t imagine why I’d ever go back.
I think Rich’s idea of intention is an important one, though. I’m in the habit of hoovering up free games wherever I can, so my Steam, Epic, and even Twitch accounts are full of stuff that I might play one day, but feel no real obligation to boot up. From Mass Effect to Crusader Kings II, they’re games that I know I might like (assuming I can carve out time to play them) but that I won’t feel bad if I never get back to.
We all have different mindsets about stuff like this: I know that as long as I have a well-meaning crack at a game, that can be enough. I’ve bounced off plenty of things that are held in high regard in recent years - Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Prey feel like they should both have been personal slam dunks, particularly as a massive fan of the Dishonored series. But I tried them out, gave them a decent chunk of my time, and never felt a desire to return beyond that point. I wouldn’t abandon a full-price purchase after just a couple of hours, but they’re supposed to be fun, and if I feel like I’ve got a decent return on my investment, I’m prepared to move on.
The games I feel worst about are the smaller ones. Scanning quickly through my library I see This War of Mine, Her Story, FTL, Tacoma - all of them acclaimed titles, many of them from studios whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past, and none of them 80-hour timesinks. I could have polished a whole bunch of them off this past weekend, and I just...didn’t. I carried on slamming through Divinity: Original Sin II and playing League of Legends with my friends. Because unfortunately for all of these games, my FOMO is so severe that as soon as I’m given the opportunity, I’ll drop whatever single-player game I’m enjoying, and join the party elsewhere.
Rich Stanton: Argh Prey! That is definitely one I’m going to do. Thematically it’s right up my street, it looks amazing… I’m gonna have to. Prey and Switcher.
Yeah know what you mean about the regular rotation. I have a small bunch of online mates and, whenever one of them’s on which is fairly often, we end up playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or Rocket League or Starcraft II or whatever. The comfort blankets! I’m about six hours into Disco Elysium, loving it, but haven’t played more because I’m constantly abandoning it to hop into something like Warzone.
But I’m determined to do Prey. I’m going to start that tonight. What about you two, are you going to finally get one of these monkies off your back? Or is the pile of shame simply too omnipresent and all-encompassing to ever be confronted?
Kim Snaith: Prey is good. You won’t be disappointed (hopefully). For me, a lot of the big games I do end up missing out on are the online games. Unless it’s a co-op game I can play with my other half, I don’t play well with others online. It’s not so much FOMO as FOJI - Fear of Joining In! I’m much happier in a single-player bubble, so while the rest of the world is enjoying Warzone or Fortnite or PUBG or another massive game I’ll never step foot in myself, I do get to hoover up those smaller games. Ali do make time for This War of Mine, Her Story, and Tacoma. Divinity Shmivinity!
Hopefully in the next month or so I’ll get to try and tackle something that’s wobbling atop the pile. Borderlands 3 remains a priority because that doesn’t require much thought; disengage brain and shoot. But it won’t be in the immediate present because we’ve got the likes of Resident Evil 3 and Final Fantasy VII Remake in the next week or so. And I’m having trouble pulling myself away from Animal Crossing: New Horizons at the minute, too. That’s the thing; it’s a never-ending race because, just when you think you might be catching up, something else comes along. Even when there is a gap in the release schedule I find myself wandering back to something I’ve already sank countless hours into (more often than not, Diablo III). I think I’d need to be holed-up for years with no work and no new games coming out to make any noticeable dent in that backlog. And even this situation isn't quite that extreme. It’s just a part of my life now, and I’m OK with that.
Ali Jones: If there’s one thing I'm going to take another pass at, it’s Disco Elysium. It’s genuinely one of the best things I’ve played in ages, but I hit a barrier with it where it was so good I couldn’t bring myself to play it unless I knew I could genuinely devote several hours to it at once. I think I’ll probably have to start again, but at least I know I’m already in for a treat.
For the most part though, I’m at peace with my pile, so I don’t think I’m going to dive into many particularly big names. The strategy titles, aging AAA RPGs, and puzzle games I know I’m terrible at will sit in my library until Steam’s dying day. I’m far too invested in my Divinity gang to leave them by the wayside now, and my Animal Crossing island is soaking up the hours. I've at least held off on buying Doom Eternal until I’ve cleared a few other games off the backlog: I’ll take the victories where I can get them.