A Quest to Defeat My Steam Pile of Shame (Part 1)

If insanity really is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then my Steam purchase history would surely serve as enough justification to have me locked up in any number of fine mental institutions. Hi, my name is Matt Byrd and I have a Steam buying problem. It’s a disease that causes me to buy an exorbitant number of Steam games as soon as they undergo a significant enough price drop. Whether I actually really wanted these games is a non-issue. I simply must own them.

As you might imagine, this reaches a point where my Steam library is clogged with games that I have never even installed much less played. If 8 year old me could see this pile of intentionally unplayed video games, he would break me faster than a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pizza shooter.

If there is one comfort to be found in this affliction, it’s that I’m not alone. Many users suffer from this same problem, to the point where the backlog is jokingly referred to as the “Steam Pile of Shame.” It’s accepted that nearly every PC gamer has one. Some even point to the ability to own so many games so cheaply as a benefit of the platform.

Maybe that’s true, but personally I couldn’t take it anymore. I could no longer boot up Steam and say I’ll get around to those untouched games one day. I had to take action.

I had to defeat my pile of shame.

First, I needed to decide what exactly that entailed. While ideally it means beating every game in my library, realistically I needed to come up with some specific perimeters if I was actually going to accomplish this within the borders of living a life. Here are the rules I came up with:

1. If possible, beat the game.

2. If I cannot beat the game, or the game cannot be beaten, in 10 hours (a timeframe I feel justifies the average purchase) then I will consider the game completed in terms of the challenge.

3. If a game was installed previously and not played for the full 10 hours, and not beaten, then I have to play it until either occurs.
I will be approaching the games old school style. That means I install one and play it until I hit the 10 hour mark, or beat it.

4. With those rules in place I determined that there are 44 games in my library that qualified for the challenge. Maybe not as many as others, but enough to put me in the fetal position for a good week while contemplating the implications of it.

Eventually I replaced that momentary moment of weakness with a good bottle of whiskey, and set off.

The Journey Begins:
My quest started with Bioshock Infinite which my fiscal stubbornness wouldn’t allow me to play until there was a sale on it. Fortunately these last winter sales saw the game drop into my “cheap enough” range, and I’m very glad it did. Infinite is an amazing work that I was able to finish in two dedicated sittings, as I was simply riveted by everything happening on screen. It’s greatness made me feel very good about this idea.

Then Max Payne 3 made me feel very bad about it again. As a huge fan of the original Max Payne games, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by how this third game just missed the feel of those classics. It was enjoyable enough (and easy to beat before the 10 hour mark), but the various little touches Remedy filled the first two games with just weren’t present here. Also, had I known the majority of it was cut-scenes. I would have saved it for later on when this challenge began turning my brain into mush.

With Remedy still on my mind, I finally decided to give Alan Wake a go. While the game suffers from some serious pacing issues that ruin the middle of the game, in the end I’m glad I stuck it out as Alan Wake turned out to be a masterpiece of storytelling and world design. The follow-up (American Nightmare) was less thrilling from a plot point of view, but did feature several key gameplay overhauls that made it more fun to play.

Overall I enjoyed both games, and did ponder the fact that if I weren’t forcing myself to adhere to my rules, my frustration may have led me to never finishing them, meaning I would have missed out on some experiences I now believe are essential. Yay Steam challenge?

Yay indeed, as it next led me to Risk of Rain, which is one of those games I bought because everyone wouldn’t shut up about it. Turns out they had a very good reason, as it is one of the finest action games I’ve played in years. It’s addictiveness made it very hard to give up at the 10 hour mark, but I’m glad I did so in favor of Shadow Warrior.

What a game. It’s the type of game that doesn’t care about any video game higher calling, and just wants to provide a good time. I was shocked when I hit the 10 hour mark without beating it as the modern shooter usually caps out well before that, but I guarantee you it will be the first game I go back and finish when this is over.

Fatigue Sets In:

I found myself less enthralled by that game’s free pack-in bonus; Viscera Cleanup Detail: Shadow Warrior. For those unaware, it’s a game which sees you play a janitor tasked with cleaning up one of the Shadow Warrior levels after all of the action has happened. Mostly, that involves first-person mopping, or FPM as the kids say.

Its concept is amusing for five minutes or so, but immediately reveals itself as a mere curiosity at best beyond that. It’s the exact type of game that I would have never touched if it weren’t for this challenge. In this case that would have been a good thing, but I’ve found that’s not universally true regarding all my blind purchases.

Take the next game, Typing of the Dead Overkill, for example. I only knew the series as a Dreamcast cult classic, and bought it as a donation of sorts towards diverse game design. Overall it was a very fun game. However, the repetition of the experience, combined with my own desire to move on, made the later parts of it a real drag. Had I played it in bursts here and there I probably would have enjoyed it more, but as it is I can mark the game as the start of my mental fatigue.

Something similar could be said regarding the biggest unplayed game on my list, Portal 2. If it weren’t for the undeniably brilliant game design, the pile of games still left before me might have ruined my time with this one. My mind weighed equally between solving the puzzles, and the larger task at hand. That mental divide slightly tarnished what should have been an unquestionable masterpiece, I’m ashamed to say.

However, it’s The Swapper that stands as the biggest early casualty of the challenge. It reminded me of a Stanley Kubrick movie. Genius in nearly all aspects of it’s design, but useless to anyone not in the right state of mind to view it. The methodical methods of the game did not gel with my driven mindset, and left me feeling weary about the whole thing

It may sound odd to be affected by these games so soon, but it’s been a while since I viewed any game as a pure obligation. Booting up Steam each time and seeing your library as a chore list can really play hell with your outlook.

Adopting a Change of Pace:

Still I was determined to not get beaten too early, and decided to switch to lighter, more arcade style games. That led me to Sacred Citadel which I snagged during a Humble Bundle, and easily looked over every time I was browsing my library. It’s an RPG beat-em-up that falls short of the River City Ransom images that conjures, but is still entertaining enough in it’s own right. Plus I could complete it in about four hours, which worked well for me.

It also convinced me to go on a mini-tear of arcade like games I thought could be beaten quickly. Unfortunately I didn’t know that Burnout Paradise was, in fact, loaded with content and didn’t quite qualify. Fortunately the game itself turned out to be one of the best racing games I’ve played in years, and couldn’t even be ruined by a lack of controller support. Though I didn’t beat it, I did find myself addicted enough to go past the 10 hour mark.

Mark of the Ninja on the other hand did match my “get-it-done” mindset nicely, with its five hour playtime. It also didn’t hurt it was a near flawless experience that tipped me off to the fact that when doing a marathon session through games, what I really appreciate are games overflowing with little touches. It’s these games with personality that are winning me over.

Which is actually a pretty good lead in to The Stanley Parable. I understand the trepidation surrounding this title and it’s classification as a “game” to some, but taken in the midst of marathon hell I found myself in, its open deviation from all of gaming’s norms really made the brilliance of the experience that much more obvious. It’s kind of like going back in time and hearing Elvis’ radio debut. Love it or hate it, taking into account what came before you just had to recognize it as something significantly different.

The Stanley Parable is the first game I believe was enhanced by the experience of the challenge.

Still, after such a passive experience I was craving a bit of the old ultra-violence. That means finally finding an excuse to finish Hotline Miami. Oddly its inherently frustrating nature really didn’t turn me off, as there was something pleasantly refreshing about its upfront and brash nature. Is this why girls fall in love with assholes?

Dammit, I’m starting to lose it again…

A Quick Game of Poker Before the Real Work Begins:
Luckily I had just the game ready for this situation. Poker Night 2 may just be a poker game, but it’s chock full of that personality that I was talking about. It could have been just another card game, but TellTale was smart enough to make it witty and clever at every turn, giving the game an impressive longevity that makes it one of the better non-candy related $0.99 purchases I’ve ever made. The fact I technically “beat it” by my standards in over an hour, was also nice.

Poker Night put me back in the mood to get down to some of those more intense experiences that I was dreading initially. ARMA II is a game that I bought for DayZ alone, and would have happily never played and still gotten my money worth if it weren’t for this awful challenge.

I found the game itself to be an oddly broken experience. The sluggish pace didn’t bother me, but the terrible production elements and oddly fractured level design did. There were moments of inspiring gameplay, and things got better as the campaigns went along, but I don’t see myself diving back into either this game, or the follow up Operation Arrowhead, anytime soon, even if I hadn’t beaten the campaigns of both games already.

When looking for my next game to play, I spotted a curious anomaly in Dark Souls. Though I’d played the game on PS3, I never beat it and decided to buy the PC version once upon a time, in the hopes experiencing the game on my preferred platform would lend me that extra incentive.

Unfortunately I’d forgotten about the control and graphical issues of that port. Fortunately I was only a 360 controller and a graphical mod away from giving it a go.

Needless to say, I hit the 10 hour mark before actually completing Dark Souls, but I do think I’ll be going back to finish it. Much like Hotline Miami or The Stanley Parable, it’s the type of game that’s actually easier to appreciate when comparing it to an immediate pile of its peers. Not just because it’s different, but because it commits to providing something pure that remains entertaining even when it beats you down, or makes you question just what the hell you are doing.

The feeling Dark Souls lent encouraged me to try another internet darling in Civilization V. I was up till 3 A.M playing the demo one night, but never installed the purchased game. My experience with it was much the same, as I ended up finishing all 10 hours in one shameful sitting with the help of booze and delivery food. Of course, since this was the type of game that was meant for marathon play-through sessions, my gluttonous consumption of the title hurt my lower back more than it did my enjoyment of the experience.

Still you can only command legions of warriors for so long before wanting to jump into the fray yourself. Path of Exile proved to be a great follow up game in that regard. It’s an unabashed Diablo clone, but absolutely nails the can’t put it down gameplay that made that series so infamous. At around the half-way mark of this challenge, I can’t say what a relief it is to find games that you simply can’t stop playing. Say what you will about video game addiction, but when you’ve taken on an absurd and unhealthy task such as this, these experiences really help get you through another day.

Thoughts at the Halfway Point:

long journey
There are worse things in the world than playing video games in your free time, but since one of them is doing the same thing over and over again with your free time, I found myself going a bit stir crazy.

It’s hard to make any definitive statements on the challenge at only the halfway point, but I can fairly say that I have purchased more games than I technically need. Looking at my Steam library before-hand, I saw a collection of games that I justified purchasing by saying “I’ll get around to them someday.”

Actually getting around to them revealed the fallacy of that mindset. There’s always going to be games I want and, based on my normal buying and playing habits, no way to play all of them in a reasonable fashion. Instead doing so required me to arduously plow through them in one large effort, which isn’t how somebody should approach any purchase meant for pleasure.

In fact at this point I’d compare the challenge to eating an entire pizza, or drinking a whole case of beer in one sitting. You realized pretty early in that it’s something not meant to be done, but feel compelled to see it through anyway.

That being said, I’m glad to be doing this. I’ve never really appreciated the fact that whole new worlds of gaming experiences were right there on my computer just waiting for me. Sure my perception of some of them may be altered by the drive to best my collection, but the fact I’ll soon no longer have to go to bed with an untouched gaming catalog on my mind is enough incentive to push on.

Wait, I still have both Risen games, Mirror’s Edge, and Medal of Honor to get through?

Oh god…what have I done?

To Be Continued