The Gamification of Gaming Part 2: Shelves of Shame


In video gaming there is the backlog, and in tabletop gaming there is the shelf of shame. The idea is the same: you own games that should be played, but haven’t been. As a result, playing the games becomes a thing that must be done, a type of work.

In video games, the rise of digital platforms and hyper-discounting have created a situation where it is easy to go into a Steam sale, spend $30, and walk out with a ton of games. As bundles have gained popularity it’s easy to find oneself naturally accumulating games you aren’t interested in simply because they’re bundled with games you do want. So in the video game world, the backlog is a bit more benign than it is in the tabletop world. The joke is we all have hundreds of unplayed games in our Steam library, and while they do add up, many were purchased for very little or gotten for free, and not all of them were intended to be played. Still, gamers struggle with the concept of the backlog and the idea that they must consume these games. The game purchased, but unplayed, weights heavily on a significant sector of the gaming community.

In tabletop gaming the shelf of shame becomes a more sinister thing because tabletop games tend to be much more expensive. FOMO can put gamers in serious financial peril as Kickstarter deluxe editions continue to rise in quantity and price. For board gaming the backlog is amplified, because not only do you have a pile of games you bought but haven’t played, they were probably expensive, and unlike digital downloads, they take up space. There is a physical reminder in your home, a towering wall. This understandably causes stress for some.

I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon a lot since I started to feel some conflicting emotions about my board game collection this summer. Virtually all my games were purchased secondhand at a discounted price using Mad Money (in my case, money from programming commissions), yet I still felt conflicted about owning them. As a soloist I’m able play a lot more than most players, usually at least once a day, but I still felt like that somehow wasn’t enough. I did start to look at my library in terms of what I ‘should’ play rather than what I wanted to play. So I’ve thought a lot about why the cabinet in the corner, which should ideally be a source of positivity, began to feel like a weight and a burden.

I don’t quite have the answer to that. I think it ties into the fact that I came to this hobby from video gaming, where my digital collection was tucked away on a hard drive rather than sitting in my living room, and personal struggles I have with consumerism, and feeling uncomfortable with consumerism in a capitalistic society. It’s interesting that even though I’m not driven by FOMO–I’m practically anti-FOMO, I prefer to allow the community to vet games and I play older games almost exclusively–I’m still affected by an issue that tends to be defined as a FOMO problem.

It seems at some point we stop playing the games, and the games start playing us. Why is this?