Dust to dust

The plight of the unplayed game and its many abandoned friends...

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"Waste not, want not". Wasn't that our parent's mantra, drummed into them by their World War II-scarred parents, humbled into appreciation by the years of rationing and hardship following years of strife? What would they have thought of our criminally wasteful ways of bulging shelves and unfinished, often entirely unplayed games? At the very least we'd be called ungrateful sods. We can only imagine the tutting and rattling of false teeth at our profligate 21st Century ways.

Now, before you pelt the author with rocks for being the lucky sod with the cushy job in games journalism, take a look at your own shelves. Look closely. Spot any shrink-wrapped games you definitely will get around to playing some day? Maybe a few 'Sold Out' specials you got in that 'Three for a Tenner' sale, or that overlooked classic that you ordered of the net? They're all there, wide-eyed, blinking at you expectantly, awaiting your attention, oh Master. What about those you played the first couple of levels of and never came back to? They deserve your love. Just buying them is no good.

As for your correspondent, years before ever getting into this job there were a multitude of purchasing sins lurking on those shelves. Look at that EA Classics range: Theme Park, System Shock, Bioforge, Little Big Adventure. Check out that array of full price titles: Blade Runner, The Curse Of Monkey Island, The Eleventh Hour, Screamer 2, Alone In The Dark 3. All picked up for a song, all still, six, seven, eight years on waiting for their turn to be played for more than their allotted hour or two. "One day," he says. "One day these will be played - I mean it!". But we all know, the plight of the committed gamer is to be a wasteful git.

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Journos, mind you, get to play way way more games than they could ever have dreamed of in their enthusiast's life of the odd spare hour in the evenings or at weekends. But yet, still, despite reviewing over 100 games a year, there still remain a bunch of titles either unfinished or - worse still - just in that "to play" pile. Let's have a look at this writer's personal 'to play' pile: MGS: The Twin Snakes, Super Mario Sunshine, Knights of the Old Republic, Full Spectrum Warrior, True Crime, Deus Ex 2. 'Unfinished': The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Metroid Prime. That's just the top of the pile. We won't even mention the others - we'd need another screen.

Your significant other moves into view with a snack and a piece of helpful advice: "Never mind those games. What about all of the books you've never read; films you've never watched, CDs you've barely listened to?! There aren't enough hours in the day!" The argument clangs around the walls of your abode: "What about spending time with significant others?" Yeah, indeed, this crushing, unarguable retort inevitably brings the avid gamer crashing back down to Earth to counter balance these priorities. You've heard the abuse. "Games before me?! How dare you!" Then you realise there's that footy match to watch, family to keep sweet, friends to catch up with, and - if you're older - kids to look after, chores to do...

Y'see this is a situation not only problematic because of the time-based elements of consumption, but more so a conundrum of how to juggle the things we want to include in our social time. For that, the argument goes that it's not necessarily gameplay versus a relationship, more that we are becoming more and more hungry for what's new, the things we're missing out on; the new releases, the Next Big Thing. The things we have to have. We can't bear to possibly compromise on those experiences. But we do. We always do, and we always will. Until we shuffle off The Mortal Coil, we'll surround ourselves with guff that comforts us, but yet a worrying proportion of what we willingly part cash for we'll never ever get out of the wrapping, or at best we'll take a glance at and vow to return to once we've got all the other things out of the way first. How bizarre is that, and how utterly wasteful is that? It's just plain wrong, and it applied just as much as when we were on the dole for two years as it does now, before you come armed with comments about being a games journo again.

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Indeed, it's true that curtailing our buying habits would be a good thing. But the fact that it seems to happen to practically everyone we know, and everyone we've ever known, suggests a wider problem. What if we're just like that? What if there's sod all we can do to change our genetically pre-programmed desire to have everything. To collect everything, like we collect Eggs and Orbs in Jak & Daxter, like Cigarette packets in The Chronicles Of Riddick? We're a breed of kleptomaniacs. Incapable of resisting our urge to stockpile, like we're about to hibernate and enter some sort of nuclear bunker anytime soon and need as much digital entertainment as we can feasibly surround ourselves with.

The solution to our madness? Maybe, and this has been discussed before at length, games could be shorter. Make them film-length experiences at budget prices. An evening in with a game. Three hours, bang, done. Entertained. Thank you very much Mr. Publisher. If you like it a lot you might play it again and again, just like you'll re-watch your favourite movies. You'll find out all the secrets. You'll play it at harder settings once you're done. You'll buy the next in the series. And so on. That way, we get to see things through, feel like you've got your money's worth and can feel like we're at least in position to talk knowledgably about them. How often do hear an argument about how bad a game is from someone who's never even played it, or just played the demo or the first level? All the time. People constantly prematurely judge. They can't help themselves, but it's no more useful than someone telling you their review of a CD having heard half of the first track.

What else can we do to stem the flood of shrink-wrapped invaders? For a start, stop buying so many of them. Yes, that's right. Be discerning. Stop believing that every half-decent, over-hyped me-too sludge is the next best thing. The chances are, (and we write from fortunate/unfortunate experience, depending on how you look at it) that the vast majority of them aren't worth a fraction of their full asking price (but that's entirely another issue that we'll discuss another time). Not everything's great, and we're never afraid to admit this. Most people in this business want you to believe it is, because they're perpetuating the cycle of always needing the latest thing - and sometimes they're absolutely right, and we reward them for that. Other times, they're so painfully wrong that it literally hurts our faces.

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Just ask yourselves: how many games on your own shelves have you ignored over the years? How many got used for trade-ins? How many are still there, struggling under the misapprehension that one day you'll be able to free-up enough time to get round to playing them? You know it doesn't work like that. You can't just put on most modern games like you do an old CD or DVD. They demand an entire weekend, most often, and in some cases an entire non-socialising week, or for the time deficient, months on end. And as for indulging in an old retro-fest; do us a favour. We tell ourselves every month we'll get around to properly playing some random 8-bit game, but it very rarely happens. The new stuff just seems so much more exciting. Usually because it actually is.

Games. We love them. We could fill about 47 lifetimes playing them. But we hate them too. Most are overblown, bloated, and chaotic in their design. If they were movies, most of the footage would be on the cutting room floor. Few games designers seem to know how to edit, and weigh down the production process in the belief that we need bigger games. Really, we donít. Cut the padding, trim the fat and free us from inflated, time consuming epics that a tiny fraction of the audience ever have time to indulge in. In the end, life wins out, and only the very best burst out of the shrink-wrapping, and only the very best of the best are seen through to the end. God bless the Riddicks, Sands of Times, and ICOs of this world. Be damned the drudge of monster sized opuses that life never seems to grant us the time to play. You know who you are.

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