You finish a single-player game, roll credits, and find something new to play. That's how it normally goes, right? As we sit on a conveyor belt of constant new releases, it's sometimes tempting to flit to and from games without ever sitting back to look at the experiences you've previously had. In fact, keeping track of your gaming history is a phenomenon conspicuously under-discussed within the community. Cinema has Letterboxd, books have Goodreads, but what is the gaming equivalent?
I've always loved keeping track of the media I consume. It's an odd quirk I sometimes take to extreme lengths, but juggling archives of the films, shows, books, and other media I've consumed is something I relish doing; a chance to look back at old favourites and relive the briefest spark of the memories they evoke. It's part of the reason that I simply love single-player games: not much thrills me quite like checking off a game that's long sat in the backlog, finally able to participate in the discussion around it. Do you know how difficult it was to avoid Resident Evil Village spoilers when I was still playing catch-up, forcing my way through Jake's campaign in RE6? Dear reader, they were tough times.
But it seems like this level of tracking previously completed games isn't quite as ubiquitous as in other media forms. That's why I decided to look into it a bit deeper, not only evaluating the (admittedly clunky) way I keep track of my gaming history but seeing what other members of the Gfinity team do as well.
The Spreadsheet Method
So how do I keep track of the games I've completed? Well, my method is decidedly unsexy, but entirely befitting my lack of creative prowess. Rather than using nice visually-minded websites or extensive databases, I chuck everything into a pithy Google Sheet and hope for the best. It's on the up though, because a few months ago my entire gaming history was housed in my phone's Notes app.
What follows is a ream of white background and an ill-fitting grid that's home to all the treasured memories I've enjoyed. You've of course got the title of each game, followed by an increasingly messy look at which platform I've played it on. The days of ubiquitous backwards compatibility and re-releases have made this something of a mess, necessitating a 'b.c.' suffix to denote that I didn't play something on its native console. Did EA sneakily release a next-gen version of Battlefield: Hardline? No, I just finally plucked up the motivation to get through it half a decade after first purchasing.
Following that is a brief column detailing how many times I've played each game - which, I must say, is one of my favourite inclusions. Sometimes replaying an old favourite can feel like treading water, not chopping down the ever-growing branches of the backlog tree, but chalking off another replay feels less unproductive when I can chart it on my handy old spreadsheet.
Of course, the main problem is how visually unappealing a sheer block of text is - especially when box art is such a beautiful thing. The behemoth of logging your cinematic excursions is undoubtedly Letterboxd, and its foregrounding of a film's poster is one of the most appealing features. Without any doubt, an elongated spreadsheet doesn't have that same charm, which is where some of the other options come into play.
Arguably the most popular, Letterboxd-style games tracking resource is GG, a site that lets you log your completed games, current escapades, and the all-important backlog that'll perpetually need chopping down. Everything that my lowly spreadsheet lacks, GG seems to have the answer: lovely grids of game art, different sections based on whether you've finished the story or 100% completed, and a near-endless archive of pretty much every game ever. If you truly care about keeping track of your games, the chances are you've used the site at some point - and however fleetingly, some of our own staff have given it a go too. Its one downfall, in my humble opinion? You can't log a game as replayed. I want people to know how many times I've played Batman: Arkham City, damn it!
There's also Backlogged, an Android app that arguably has even more features than GG. On top of the different shelves and box art, you can also see the average completion time for each game — a feature spearheaded and mastered by HowLongToBeat — as well as choose the platform you played it on. Those sweet platforms! There's something immensely satisfying about being able to see which console you played a game on, so doing so through Backlogged is a handy feature. The only downside is that the only platforms featured are PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Fingers crossed we get some PS2 representation in a future update.
However, you'll probably find that most people aren't too fussed about obsessively tracking each time they've rolled credits on a game. In the same way that not everybody goes straight to Rate Your Music after finishing that new Harry Styles album, it's also perfectly reasonable to finish a game, process it, and move on. For many I spoke to at Gfinity, there's more utility, and purpose, in keeping track of games you want to play, rather than those which have come before.
That's where the beauty of the old reliable online marketplace comes in handy. From Steam to the PlayStation Store to the hardy Nintendo eShop, all of these places give you plenty of opportunity to formulate your own wishlist. Best of all, if you've had something lingering in your list for a while, you'll be delighted to receive a notification when it goes on sale. Every time I see 2016's ill-fated multiplayer shooter Umbrella Corps chopped down to £3, the temptation to purchase becomes slightly stronger. Then I watch ten seconds of gameplay and pretend it never came out.
But having your wishlist all compiled together, on the same portal where you can purchase a game, is a really handy feature. For those less concerned about remembering what has come before but instead preferring to look ahead, they're the best way to stay on top of upcoming releases and future purchases, safe in the knowledge that they aren't going anywhere. If you don't bother tracking games you've played before, the chances are you do keep tabs on what's on your radar. Just don't pre-order every single game you've expressed an interest in, then wait until reviews land before cancelling or sticking with it. That's what a team member's relative does, and it's a recipe for disaster.
With so many options out there, it doesn't seem like there will ever be one singular way that gamers keep track of their backlogs and archives. Some apps have carved a niche among purists, while other prehistoric relics like myself will continue updating their spreadsheets until the dystopian day when Google shuts down its servers. While not everyone looks back on their gaming history in the same way, it's about the journey, not the destination - right?