When I was younger I didn’t have a lot of games to choose from. I often looked forward to birthdays and Christmas because that was my chance to add a new game to my collection. There were many times that the game I put on my Christmas wish list had come out in the summer or fall months, but it was the quickest shot I’d have at playing it. Things improved a bit when I was old enough to do yard work in summer, fall, and winter months in our neighborhood. Even then, though, that was only a few hundred bucks a year at best, and with the cost of games, new systems, and batteries, it was hardly enough to fund my habit. It was these circumstances that forced me to spend more time with my smaller game library than I would have if things were different. I sometimes minded and probably would have minded much more if I didn’t mostly play RPGs, but I’m just going to come out and say it: I miss those days so damn much sometimes.
I still remember the first job I had that had optional overtime. At first I wasn’t a fan and tried to avoid it, but then I realized I could turn my take home bi-weekly pay from $700 into $1,200 by just cranking out some extra hours. Now, keep in mind that this was when I had almost no bills. I was living with my now brother-in-law in a house with a couple of his friends, and so my contribution for rent and utilities wasn’t very high. I was able to afford to take my now wife on dates, buy games, and do whatever we wanted really, and it was fantastic. I hadn’t realized the downside yet, but I did after a few months. It is my belief that every gamer goes through this phase. See, when we’re younger we can’t afford games but have all the time in the world to play them. We tell ourselves, “If only I could afford more games! Then I could beat so many more games!” But we don’t realize the trade-off yet. We were young, simple, and naive, and had no idea that in order to get said money we would need to sacrifice that time we used to use to run across Hyrule Field for hours on end.
I spent a few years going through this battle before I sat down and decided to come up with a system. I already have bad anxiety so a pile of games staring at me really didn’t help too much. There are many different ways to optimize your gaming time so you can actually play and complete games; this is just my system, and I encourage you to tweak it or do whatever works for you. After all, we all love games here and I want everyone to be able to enjoy as many of them, and as often, as possible.
1. Never buy a game impulsively, unless it’s on sale or you REALLY want it!
Okay, so this one is tricky because I’m telling you not to do something that you no doubt love doing, but hear me out on this one. The easiest way to ensure we complete the games we are currently playing and already own is to not add fuel to the raging fire. I’m not suggesting you never buy games, but rather suggesting that you create a few rules to help keep your buying habits in check so that you don’t just add to your problem. I have a few rules that I always follow, and so far they have worked wonders for how I play games, so hopefully they help you as well.
Think about it. You already have games to play. You don’t need any new ones. You may want some new games. Who doesn’t want new games? However, if you want to keep your backlog in check, then make sure to only buy games on impulse if they’re on sale. If they’re not on sale then wait. What’s the worst that could happen? Here, I’ll just tell you. The games will get cheaper. Yeah, you heard me right—you can always buy that game later and it will cost less money. You may even be able to score a Game of the Year edition or, in today’s age, have a more stable game with free content. Now there some minor exceptions to this rule that will surely ease the pain, so keep the pitchforks down.
If it’s a multiplayer game that you want to play with friends or random people online, then go for it! Not only does it make sense to jump head first into a world designed to enjoy with others, but multiplayer games are also meant to be enjoyed over time and not just completed before moving on to another game. The other exception is if it’s something you have been waiting for and anticipating for months or maybe even years. You need to be careful with this one though; this doesn’t apply to every game that looks cool. Again, you can always play games you miss later, but if it’s something you’ve been looking forward to for a while, then go for it! I personally pick a few big ones every year that I get right away. I want to add something to this as well though so I don’t sound like a buzzkill. I’m not saying you can’t play the other games that release that year, I’m just saying that they can wait until a bit later in some cases. For example, I didn’t play Batman by Telltale Games yet but I intend to. I’m going to play it a bit later this year after I finish some other games. It’s still going to be fun and I’m going to love it just the same. I’m just busy with other games right now.
If you follow this tip, you’ll not only save some money, but you’ll also be able to focus on the games you’re currently trying to complete. They’re much easier to complete this way with fewer distractions and you’ll likely enjoy it more as a result.
2. Decide what you’re playing and stick to it!
This one was the next hardest rule to accept because I love games and have a terribly short attention span. However, once I started following this rule things got a lot easier for me and I started enjoying games a lot more. I would often start playing something and get a few hours in before starting another game and telling myself I was playing both of the games. Now this can obviously happen with a few games, but it wasn’t too long before I was “playing” 10 different games, and I’d justify it by convincing myself that I was playing them. But let’s be honest, you can only play and enjoy so many games at once.
This one was easier to do when we were kids, and that’s of course when many of us began gaming and created our now bad habits of time management. As a result, we end up setting an expectation for ourselves that we can’t meet as an adult. When I was younger I would be able to actually play Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped and enjoy them both fully while making serious, consistent progress in each game. However, I had more time back then. This is something we need to constantly be aware of as an adult, because I can assure you that if you spend 10 minutes each on 20 games, you’ll only end up frustrated. You’ll also never have the satisfaction of completing games and making progress in them. In the long run this actually limits your gaming time and impacts how many you’ll actually complete over time. This is why I always pick what I’m playing and stick with it. You’ll need to find what works with your playstyle and how much time you have to enjoy games. If you get a new game because it’s on sale and want to check it out for an hour, then go for it, but just know that it needs to quickly be shelved so you can focus on what you’re already playing.
3. When choosing what to play, pick games that fit different amounts of time and situations.
This one may be tricky for you to decide on, but I’m confident my rule will work well once you figure it out. How many times have you had some time to game but were discouraged because you didn’t feel like getting your ass kicked in Bloodborne, or because you didn’t have enough time to have a satisfying session of Fallout 4? This is something that used to cause a lot of frustration for me, but ever since I developed these rules, I haven’t looked back. We’re busy people and it can be hard to predict what we’re in the mood for or how much time we will have. If you’re all about Fallout 4, then that’s great, but if you’ve only got 30 minutes to kill before you have to leave for work, then you’re not going to enjoy playing Fallout 4. This is something that leads a lot of people to believe they can only play games on the weekend. This is simply not true though. Our gaming habits just need to evolve with the times and with our schedules. My solution to this was to pick what I call a “short game” and a “long game” on two different platforms. I’ll get to the second platform explanation in just a second. I first want to focus on the definition and need for a “short game” and a “long game.” If you have a game that can be enjoyed for 10 minutes or 45 minutes and a game that you just cover up the clock and dive in, then you’re going to have not only a more balanced gaming diet, but also spend more time having fun. These definitions work for time and mental investment. That is to say that you’re not going to have fun playing Bloodborne for 15 minutes, just like you’re not going to enjoy Fallout 4 for the same allotment of time. Be conscious of these things when you pick your games. For a short game, I like to split it up between two platforms—one for PC/console and one for handheld/mobile—because you never know how much time you’ll have or what you’re in the mood for, whether you’re at home or on the go.
To summarize, you’ll want to pick a PC/console game that requires 1-3+ hours to fully enjoy, or something that requires a bigger emotional investment due to story or difficulty. This could be anything from The Legend of Zelda, to Fallout 4, to Dark Souls III. And trust me, you’re going to enjoy them so much more if you dedicate a slot to focus on them! You’ll want to pick a shorter PC/console game that can have a ton of enjoyment even if you only play for 15 minutes, as well. This could be anything from Super Mario 3D World, to Sonic Mania, to Lego Lord of the Rings. Ideally, these games will be a bit more condensed, level based, or just have frequent natural stopping points. Now, for your handheld or mobile device, you’re going to follow the same system, but here, you’re still sharing two slots to maximize enjoyment and minimize frustration. You’ll pick a longer game—like Majora’s Mask 3D—because you may be somewhere and have an hour and a half to kill, and then a short game—like Good Pizza, Great Pizza—in case you’ve got 10 minutes to kill. That way whether you’re at home or on the go, you always have something optimized for the amount of time (or patience) that you currently have available.
Another nice side effect from this is that you’ll constantly feel rejuvenated and satisfied from constantly completing games. See, if you’re only playing huge games on your days off, then you’re going to spend months completing a game or two, but if you’re playing two short games at the same time, then you’ll complete a few of those within the same span of time. Good Pizza, Great Pizza may not be comparable to Fallout 4 for you, but play that for 15 minutes once or twice a day and try telling me that you’re not having fun. Okay, now are you done lying, because that game’s awesome and your day will be better with it sprinkled between tasks. A game or two that never ends won’t hurt either, like your favorite multiplayer shooter, The Sims, or even something more simple (yet still addicting) like Tetris!
I can personally attest to how much this will increase your enjoyment of gaming. I play and complete way more games right now, and I don’t envy those that play and complete a few games a year because they’re busy. Look, I’m busy too, but I love playing games, so I hit start whenever I can!
4. If you don’t like a game after a few hours, then just play something else.
This may sound simple, but it needs to be said. I’ve talked to so many gamers who will mention that they’re not enjoying the game they’re playing but are still playing for one reason or another. I hear all kinds of different reasons, but the most common range from “I’m sure it’ll get good at some point” to “It’s a classic game that everyone likes. I have to beat it.” Look—if you don’t enjoy playing Contra, then don’t play it. Plain and simple. And there’s nothing more to it. You’re presumably already limited on time, so don’t waste it playing something you don’t even enjoy.
No matter what the game is, you should have a good idea of whether you like it after a few hours. If you’re suspicious and think it truly will get better, then I’d recommend looking it up online to see whats others have to say. Maybe the first 10 hours are a drag, but the rest is great. Or maybe it just isn’t for you. I’m not going to waste my time dropping a dozen hours on Final Fantasy XIII-2 with the promise of “Oh it gets better at the 15-hour mark, I promise!” I’m an adult. I have stuff to do, and none of those things include playing games I don’t enjoy.
5. Replay games that you love, on occasion.
Are you between games or just not really sure what to play next? Hey, no problem! Pick a game you love that you haven’t played in a few years. There’s nothing wrong with playing something you’ve beaten before. Just like rewatching a movie that you love, you can find enjoyment in a game you’ve beaten 3 or 10 times. I even have a few games that I try to replay at least every two years, and it’s a lot of fun. You can discover new things that you might not have noticed before, or focus on different aspects of the game’s design. And hey, as a nice bonus, you’re having fun the whole time, too!
There are even some things you can do to twist the familiar formula up, too. Something I try to do is look for fun achievements/trophies that I’d enjoy getting but might have missed, if it’s a 360/PS3 game. If it’s an older game, then I may play on a harder difficulty or even an easier difficulty to absorb more of the other content. It’s also a lot of fun to write about your journey or discuss it with a spouse or friends. I just replayed Bioshock for an editorial series that we’re about to launch here on Bagogames, and I took notes throughout the entire game and noticed so many things that I hadn’t before. Keep in mind that this is a game I have replayed numerous times and is on my list of games I try to replay at least once every two years—and I still noticed a few new things! Keep your favorites handy because it’s always fun revisiting them, no matter the reason. Don’t believe me? Think about how much fun you had replaying your favorite games when you were eight and had nothing else to play.
There are so many ways to get caught up with life and have no time to enjoy gaming as much as we’d like to. I follow these tips and even utilize Google Drive, Evernote, and Cozi to make sure that my time is utilized well in every facet of my life. And that includes my video game hab . . . er . . . hobby! I’d love to hear tips on how you work games into your busy schedule. You might even know of an efficient tactic or have an idea that I haven’t thought of yet, and you are more than welcome to help me learn! If these tips help you at all, feel free to let me know on Twitter by contacting me @mrjoshnichols! If the new feature series we’re starting soon sounds interesting, then make sure to follow us on Twitter to see it right when it launches! Hope these tips help you fit more gaming into your life and, until next time, game smarter not harder! Happy Gaming!