The Book/Movie Backlog

My video game backlog project has worked out pretty great for its intended purpose: Pushing me to try new games instead of revisiting old favorites over and over again, replaying them about as soon as I stop being completely sick of them. The problem I’d identified long ago is that every time I wanted to play a video game for a while, it almost always meant I was kind of tired and unfocused and needed to recharge, which means I was in no state to scroll through a list of 500+ video games in my Steam library and pick out something new. I’d play a spate of new games about once a year or so when I’d give myself a goal to play through a specific category, like every Star Wars game in my library, or every Metroidvania. This would work for a while, but after a few weeks I’d get sick of that category and drift back to playing whatever.

During my Star Wars kick after this year’s May the Fourth sale, I felt my interest in the project ebbing, noticed the pattern, and decided to solve it by creating a list of every video game I wanted to play. The broader subject matter means that, when I got tired of one category, I would switch to a different one, not replaying old favorites yet again. And it worked: My Star Wars playthrough has been on hiatus for months, but once I’m in the mood again, I’ll pick up where I left off, rather than feeling like the project is abandoned and starting a new one. Anyone following the blog will remember that I’ve mentioned exorcising Ubisoft from my soul, getting closure on their series and then moving away from them, and while that project has successfully carried me through to the end of the Assassin’s Creed series and into Far Cry, I’ve intermixed tons of other games with it. The “make peace with the fact that Ubisoft sucks and maybe always did” project tends to dominate my chunky, 20+ hour playthroughs, but since I’m also playing lots of 5-10 hour games, I’m not getting burnt out on it the way I have in the past.

But also, video games have completely taken over my hobbies. It used to be, when I needed to recharge, I would scroll over Steam and Netflix and my Kindle library until something popped out at me. Video games were always a plurality if not majority, but I’d also watch movies/shows and read books semi-regularly. Now, the process of finding a new game is much easier, which means I gravitate towards that. The solution, plainly, is to create similar backlogs for books and movies. The problem is, that’s going to be much harder.

The creation of my video game backlog has a lot of prerequisites. The backlog was over 180 games long at start and new games are added on a monthly basis. I didn’t just pluck out a half-dozen games that I’d never gotten around to, and that was the point: By being really huge, it’s easy for me to pass over a game that I don’t feel like playing right now and come back to it later. But in order to build that huge list, I needed to have 500+ games sitting in my Steam library, a list that I cut down to less than 200 by going through game by game and asking myself if I really cared if I never played this video game.

The reason why I had 500+ Steam games in my library was because of 10 years of accumulation from Steam wishlist/sales, Humble Bundles, and Humble Choices. Each of these sent new games past me on a more-or-less monthly basis for something like $5. Steam sends me a steady stream of recommendations based on what I’m already playing, and I’ll wishlist anything that looks interesting. During major sales, I’ll grab a few games if they’re heavily discounted enough. Humble Bundles regularly serve up packages of games that usually include one or two headline titles along with a dozen or so others, and while most of the other dozen never make it to my Steam library, some catch my eye and I give them a shot. The Humble Choice works the same way, except that the games aren’t even grouped by publisher or category, which is how games like Yes, Your Grace and Crypt of the Necrodancer find their way into my library.

And this is what books and movies/shows are missing. If I’d embarked on this project five years ago, Netflix probably could’ve served me on the movies/shows angle, if only minimally. Their recommendations and new releases would’ve served a similar role to Steam, and being a one-stop shop for all audio-visual media meant that once I paid my monthly subscription, everything was free. This means I don’t have to decide whether I want to risk money on a show I might like or might not – anything that looks interesting goes on the list (the video game equivalent being a combination of Steam wishlist and games from Humble bundles that I was already buying for other titles in the bundle). Unfortunately, the Balkanization of streaming services means that nobody has access to the data they need to offer me recommendations that are more hit than miss, and nothing like Humble Bundles – a package deal that includes several more obscure titles alongside one or two attention getting big ones – has ever existed.

Books are even worse. While Amazon certainly has an algorithm, it doesn’t seem to be very good at its job, and I still have to pay for every single title I take a chance on. I’ve tried using Amazon/Audible the way I use Steam, and the end result is that I spent a lot of time on books I abandoned halfway through because they were bad. Humble Bundle has book bundles, but they’re usuall either graphic novels or non-fiction, and the rare occasion on which I’ve tried one of their book bundles, I found its quality was abysmal. It has a lot of short story collections, which I have learned tend to be two or three short stories from really good writers to draw people in and fifteen from the publisher’s poker buddies. Instead of Yes, Your Grace, I get Shipwrecks Above. That collection also had the phenomenal Coldest Girl In Coldtown, but the only reason I realized that story was good and read it is because someone told me about it, and I doublechecked the one book of vampire short stories I had lying around to see if it included that one. There’s probably one or two other good stories in there, but I’d have to sift through a bunch of junk to find them. My video game backlog isn’t like that. September had 4 Regrets to 6 Complete, and I considered that a bad month for Regrets, plagued by technical difficulties!

The recommendation for Coldest Girl In Coldtown worked out great, so that presents a potential solution: Get recommendations. The problem is, if you ask a random individual for their favorite books/TV shows, you will mostly get an inventory of things they read when they were fifteen or which remind them of things they read when they were fifteen. If you ask a broad group for their favorites, you will get things that have broad appeal, with nary a trace of any Yes, Your Graces or even Crypts of the Necrodancer. People who can give reliable recommendations do exist (the guy who recommended me Coldest Girl In Coldtown has a really good track record), but they’re rare. I can’t easily find a group of 50 of them, ask them for recommendations, and assemble a 100+ entry list from each of them giving me 2 or 3 recs each.

I’ve begun assembling book and game backlogs in text files. It took ten years to build up my video game backlog, so even if the tools are not ideal, getting started on the book and movie backlogs right away seems prudent. So far they’ve all got a single digit number of entries, though, and I’m not sure how to open myself up to the steady stream of recommendations that would allow them to expand.

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