Rebecca Fay’s Purposeful Gaming Challenge – 2020 Edition

Greetings, travelers! Happy 2020 and welcome to the second annual Purposeful Gaming Challenge!

Whether you are a veteran of the challenge from last year and looking to come back for round two or just now joining us, know I’m happy to have you with us. Community makes all the difference for challenges of any size. We were lucky to have a core group of people working together last year, sharing successes and sorrows alike, and all keeping one another going during the hardest weeks. I learned a lot from how the challenge was approached and tackled, and have made some needed adjustments to the rules this year to make it more flexible and provide greater opportunity for customizing it for a wider audience. 

Before we get started properly, I want to give a very special shoutout to two very awesome people in the Greetings From community who made it all the way with us: Boots (@JGtotheMAX) and Aethom (@theapthomas). The Greetings From team also assembled our thoughts on the challenge from last year: Rebecca | Olivia | Tyler

What is it?

The Purposeful Gaming Challenge (PGC) is a twist on the traditional 52 Week challenges that tend to pop up as part of new year resolutions. You may have even already participated in something like this, whether it was watching 52 movies or reading 52 books. The “purposeful” part is what we at Greetings From strive to make a key aspect of our relationship with video games, and have each approached this idea differently during our first year with the challenge. Ideally, we like to use the challenge to help ourselves and others accomplish a few important goals:

  • Basic practical knowledge of more games. For those aspiring to be developers, artists, writers, and so on–there is no better way to learn the craft than to purposefully consume and study it.
  • A dent in your backlog (or forelog). We’re all guilty of long backlogs or lots of plans to balance all the new games coming out every year. The PGC provides an opportunity to plan out your year of gaming and ensure you have time to see everything you want to see. 
  • A better understanding of your own interests. Do you keep picking up the same kinds of games, playing them until you’re tired of them, and never really learning anything from it? Don’t do that anymore! Learn what really appeals to you and hone your ability to meaningfully critique the kinds of games you can’t get enough of.

How does it work?

I refined the rules in 2020 to remove some of the confusion that came about last year. In particular, I wanted to refocus the framing of the challenge itself to widen the scope for Purposeful Gaming and provide more opportunity and inspiration for customizing the challenge to fit your unique 2020 goals. 

  • Your goal is to play 52 different games in 2020. That’s one game per week for each week of the year. You can play more if you would like to, and there is no penalty for playing fewer. Fifty-two is merely an easily trackable number that will allow you to see a good variety of games throughout the year. This is not an easy feat, however; I do call it a challenge for a reason!
  • Any game counts. Phone games, big long commercial games, small team games, demos, DLC, old games, even board games! The choice is totally up to you as to what you want to play, because you should always be playing what you want to.  
  • Make decisions about your games. At the end of each week, I’d like to challenge you to reflect on the game that you played, and place it into one of our suggested categories:
    • Finished – Whether you saw to the end of the main story or hit a crisp 100%, you feel comfortable having seen everything the game has to offer. 
    • Unfinished/Will Complete – It’s not always easy to finish a whole game in a single week, so this category is for games you enjoy and want to keep playing. 
    • Unfinished/Won’t Complete – This is the category for learning to say no. You may not particularly like every game you engage with and that’s totally okay. Part of respecting your time is about setting your own boundaries
    • Other Categories – You’re free to use any categories you’d like to help group your games together, beyond just the three listed above. I often use Ongoing as a category for games that are generally endless, like Stardew Valley or Destiny 2. I’m also someone that likes to dip back into an old favorite I’ve played before, so to give myself that leniency, I use the category One-Off to mark games that fall outside of the PGC scope. 
  • Keep track of your games. You’re free to do this in any way that is meaningful to you! I like to use Airtable, while others may stick to a Google Sheet or Excel document. You may find that you also like blogging or journaling about your gaming experiences, or creating art about them. Keeping track of what you’re playing is more for you than anyone else, but it’s fun to go back at the end of the year to see everything you played. For 2020, we’re providing both an Airtable template and Google Sheet template to help get you started.

Each week, beginning on January 1st, I’ll post a thread on the Greetings From subreddit. These threads are optional, but a great way to connect with others and share what you’re playing that week and what you think of it. I am certain I was only able to finish the challenge last year because I had others in the Reddit and Discord to hold me accountable, and their support and enthusiasm for their own challenges made it a fun way to bond together over something we all love.

How can I make it my own?

I’m glad you asked! The primary challenge of the PGC is meant to be twofold: play 52 games during 2020 and play them purposefully. The “purposeful” part is meant to be up to your discretion! I created the PGC originally around the idea of playing purposefully with your time, but I would encourage everyone to level up in 2020 and consider other ways to be purposeful with your gaming. Think about causes that are important to you (e.g. fair labor, supporting minoritized creators, unionization, environmentalism, etc.), ways to be more frugal or judicious with your spending, opportunities to support independent artists and teams, and so forth. 

I’ve included below some ideas from the community to help give you a launching point to design your own PGC:

  • Backlog Buster – We’ve all gotten a little too excited during a Steam Sale and ended up buying more games than we might have actually had time to play. Maybe there are a few games you’ve played in the past couple of years that you’ve really wanted to get back to but just haven’t had the time. The Backlog Buster challenge is all about working your way backward and carving a purposeful dent in your backlog. Looking to level up your Backlog Busting? Take the frugal route and go on a no-buy or low-buy to ensure that you’re giving time to the games you already own, and saving some extra dollars for the games you really do want to buy. 
  • Patient Player – Video games are often a major investment, and not everyone has the ability to buy every new game as it releases. Patient Playing is for those who are more focused on buying games for the challenge, but still looking to stay frugal. Sales and deals come along frequently, making it more affordable to buy big box games within a few months following their release, and is a great way to engage with the criticism and discourse around games you may have regretted buying on Day 1. 
  • Itch Idealist – The Greetings From team is a big fan of Itch.io, a platform where developers can easily self-publish their work. There are a lot of incredible games available on Itch (and we have an ongoing roundup of our favorites!) and many are available for free, for a donation, or for a reasonable price. The Itch Idealist is someone who is interested in exploring more experimental games, more complex narratives, and more artistic experiences that are not always found in the big box gaming space.  
  • Subscription Seeker – Subscription services are all the rage these days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you were already paying for a few! I personally pay for Game Pass/Xbox Live Gold, Twitch Prime, Apple Arcade, and PlayStation Plus, which nets me quite a few free games every month. Many of you may also have subscriptions to Humble Bundle, or regularly pick up free offerings from the Epic Games Store. Regardless of what you’re subscribed to, a great way to challenge yourself this year is to explore all the games at your fingertips. You may not have purchased them, but you are paying to access them; make the most of your subscription!
  • Cause-Conscious Choices – This is a more personal way to approach the PGC, but after so many issues in the gaming industry came to light in 2019, I thought it would be a smart way to approach gaming in 2020. The Cause-Conscious gamer chooses to vote with their wallet, and abstain from purchasing games from creators, studios, or publishers whose actions or values go against what is important to them. Consider boycotting studios who support unfair labor practices or create hostile work environments for minoritized groups. Don’t give money to known abusers. Make a commitment to what you believe in. 

I still have questions!

And I have some answers! Here’s some of the most frequently asked questions:

52 games is a lot of money! How can I keep up?

  • You’re absolutely right! There is no rule about needing to spend money to accomplish this challenge. Obviously I’m not condoning piracy, but I’m also not telling you to buy 52 $60 games on Day 1. Here’s some frugal gaming tips:
    • Pull from your backlog!
    • Sales, baby! Gamestop, Target, Best Buy, Steam, the PlayStation and Xbox stores, and on and on–sales happen all the time and it’s a great way to catch up on stuff you’ve missed on the cheap.
    • The Epic Games Store is giving away free games every two weeks!
    • Humble Bundle is a great way to get a lot of games for the price of one!
    • Subscriptions! Humble Monthly, PSN, Gamepass, Twitch Prime–all these and more give away free games every month.
    • Free games! They exist! https://itch.io/ is a great place to find experimental free or extremely inexpensive games.
    • https://www.reddit.com/r/GameDeals/ is a great follow!

I’m going on vacation and I won’t have access to my Switch/console/PC and can’t dedicate time to playing this week. Does this mean I’m disqualified?

  • Not at all! This is a challenge after all, not the rules by which you must now live your life. If you know you’ve got some busy time coming up, consider playing a couple small games in the same week beforehand. If life comes at you fast and you lose all the free time you had, try a mobile game or something arty on Steam. The goal is just to experience 52 games, but they don’t all have to be 60 hour monsters. Don’t forget your old friend https://howlongtobeat.com/ if you need some help scheduling.

What do I get if I actually play 52 games in 2020?

  • We have something special planned for those who make it through to the end of 2020. Stay tuned and keep gaming! 

Photo by Lorenzo Herrera on Unsplash

 

Tyler’s 2019 Purposeful Gaming Challenge, In Review

At the beginning of 2019, I entered the Purposeful Gaming Challenge (PGC) with hope, ambition, and devotion. I told myself I was going to once-and-for-all reduce my backlog of 2017 games while simultaneously playing new games that released this year. I am proud to report I was not successful.

We all have a dreaded and extensive backlog of games we purchased but never played. The majority of mine come from steam sales; those sweet, sweet discounts get me every time. According to Steamdb.info, I have only played 185 out of 345 games that I own. What is even scarier is that over 12 years I’ve played 2,222 hours and I’ve spent $5,045 on games, and that’s just on Steam. That doesn’t include other timesinks like the 600+ hours I’ve dropped on Bloodborne (the time I’ve lost on the Souls series haunts me at night) or my total /played over the 8 years I spent with World Of Warcraft. My point is that while we as gamers laugh when told people to spend an average of 7 hours per week playing games (thanks Forbes), we can’t seem to find the hours to play the unplayed games we already own. And the PGC made me realize that I’ve become the 7 hours a week person (which is a shame because I used to be at least 20 hours a week).

As with any challenge, there are hurdles to overcome and the PGC was no different. My main hurdle was finding time to even play a game. Surprisingly when you’re suddenly 28 with a full-time job, a partner, three dogs, a podcast, and a desire to improve on your art skills while also going to the gym and trying to get a healthy amount of sleep, there’s very little time to spend with games. I found myself planning to play games but never actually playing them. I never returned to the games I played and out of everything I played this year (27) I was able to only finish 9 of them. But hey, 9 out of 27 isn’t bad, and 27 out of 52 games the PGC is supposed to make you play isn’t quite unsuccessful. The biggest challenge was playing them when scheduled. I almost never played the games the week that I planned to play them. Instead, I would go weeks without playing a single game until I had time to play over a large chunk of days.

If I’m being honest, I’m conflicted about the PGC. While I love how it champions mindfulness around time spent playing games you love, I hate how it holds me accountable and blatantly flaunts my procrastination in my face. I’m not here to dismantle or rant about a wonderful challenge, I’m just frustrated with confronting my personal growing pains. It made me feel more like the adult I’ve become, which is a good thing, but also, as Liz Lemon said in an episode of 30 Rock, “UGH!! Realizations are the worst!” The PGC made me realize just how little time I had to myself and the hobby I love. 2019 was a very busy year for me, for all of us probably, and the PGC is proof that I have an issue with time management. I may not have stuck to the PGC faithfully but now I have a baseline for next year and can only improve.

Finished – (8 games/16%) These are the games I truly finished within 2019. This doesn’t include DLC or 100% find-all-the-knick-knacks completion, it just means I saw the credits roll or the official end of the game.

Unfinished – (22 Games/45%) These are the games I spent some time with but didn’t finish. They’re on the ever-growing backlog now. Maybe I’ll play and finish them in the PGC 2020, or maybe they’ll be waiting for me when I retire at the ripe age of 80 (I’m thinking about degrading my hand-eye coordination now, accessibility is important!).

Didn’t Play – (14 Games/29%) These were the games I never touched. The problem was either no time to play or not justifiable to purchase at that time. I definitely want to play these games because they excited me a lot, I just never followed through with commitment.

Previously Played – These are the games that I played and finished it in previous years. I really only returned to one game (Diablo 3). I also played Darkest Dungeon, WHICH I LOVE, but I technically haven’t beaten that game, so it’s labeled as unfinished.

  • No surprise here, PC is my main platform and, as I mentioned earlier, the majority of my games come from Steam. 
  • That said, I’m very surprised that the iPad won over the Switch and the PS4. However, I want to let The Gamers™ know that while it looks like I’ve become a mobile gamer (thanks Apple Arcade), the Switch is still my #1 console with time spent playing games this year. 
  • Shout out to the one Xbox One game I played (Remnant: From The Ashes) because they don’t allow crossplay between games on Game Pass.

Despite failing to play from my backlog, I must say that I did a pretty great job of playing games within the concurrent year, even if I didn’t finish them—Go me! I think next year I will try to focus more on games from the past (again, my gigantic backlog) and focus less on the releases in 2020.

 

Olivia’s 2019 Purposeful Gaming Challenge, In Review

I have never been good at doing challenges related to playing games, watching movies, or consuming any other types of media. My free time keeps shrinking as the responsibilities of life keep growing, especially when it comes to playing games. My pile of shame is so big that I’ve had to create spreadsheets and use tools to try to organize it. Looking at my list of backlogged games in Howlongtobeat.com, it would take 408 days and 2 hours to finish everything I want to play. That number is not counting ongoing games like Destiny 2 or Fortnite.

Having a backlog is emotionally taxing for me. It stresses me out to think about all the games I don’t have time to play and it stresses me out to say no to nearly anything. With new releases coming out all the time, my backlog grows larger every day.

Because of that stress, I fall into the games that feel the most comfortable for me. That means grinding out packs in Hearthstone or playing a game of Civilization 5. It’s hard for me to find the emotional energy to open my backlog spreadsheet.

Doing the Purposeful Gaming Challenge (PGC) this year was my first step in admitting that maybe I have a problem with enjoying the media I play and setting hard boundaries. The PGC gave me a toolset to view my backlog through and forced me to pick up a new game every week. This habit made me face the cold realization that I was never going to finish all the games on my list, and, as painful as it is to say, that is okay.

Learning To Let Go

I was extremely hopeful that I would have time to go back and finish the games that I started during this year’s PGC. I had 22 games that I marked as, “Unfinished, but will complete.” This category includes absolute bangers like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. With the current backlog that I have and the slew of 2019 releases I’ve yet to play, I don’t think these games are going to get finished anytime soon. I still haven’t updated my spreadsheet to say that I won’t finish these games. I’m working up to it, okay. Get off my back.

Currently, I have finished 13 of the games I put on my list, and I expect to finish a few more of those recent releases before the year ends. A few of these finished games include Control, Gorogoa, and another playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas. This relatively large number of games beaten is a serious accomplishment for me. I will strive to continue this greatness into next year.

I put 10 ongoing or live-service games on my list that cannot be beaten. This group includes Fallout 76 and Animal Crossing: New Leaf (ACNL). ACNL stood out to me because can you actually finish an Animal Crossing game? I would posit maybe. I have an ongoing spreadsheet of all of the items in ANCL. Here is hoping I can either “beat” ANCL or figure out how to say goodbye to it before Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes out next year.

There were three games I chose not complete. These three games are Crackdown 3, Ducktales Remastered, and Crusader Kings II. Crackdown 3 was a boring game that couldn’t hold my attention, Ducktales was hard as hell, and Crusader Kings II required me to read an encyclopedia to play it efficiently. My hope for next year is that I can make this category grow the most.

I skipped one week of the year. This missed week is my eternal shame and stands empty in my spreadsheet. I pray that one day this failure will be forgotten in the annals of history.

Other Fun Graphs

Above is a breakdown of the platforms that I played my PGC games on. Here are a few takeaways:

  • I played the majority of my games (14 titles) on the Nintendo Switch. I traveled a lot and share the TV with my partner, so the portability of the platform made it incredibly useful.
  • The PC was my second most-played platform this year with 12 games. I played a mix of indie games and AAA titles on PC, both new and old. The oldest game I played on the platform was the 2010 Fallout: New Vegas and the newest was the 2018 Cultist Simulator.
  • I played a few older games on Nintendo platforms, including the Game Boy Color and Nintendo DS,. with the oldest being the original The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening which was released in 1993. The other Game Boy Color game was a ROM hack of Pokémon: Crystal, called Pokémon: Crystal Clear.
  • I was surprised that I played more games on the Xbox One (7) than the PlayStation 4 (5). Every game that I played on Xbox One was on Xbox Game Pass, which continues to be an amazing deal.

Above is a graph that shows the year that my PGC games released. A few interesting factoids:

  • 2019 was my most popular year with 12 new releases. The majority of these new releases (5) were on the Switch.
  • 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2019 were the only years that had more than one of my PGC games released.
  • I finished two games in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

You can see the spreadsheet of my 2019 PGC games by clicking here.

Moving Forward With The PGC

The PGC was my lifeline during some difficult times this year. The habit of pulling something out of my backlog and devoting a few hours to it gave me something to think about when things were dark.

Moving forward, I’m excited to put what I learned about letting go of games into practice next year. I can’t live with a backlog of 408 days. Maybe I can get it down to 407 days next year.

Rebecca’s 2019 Purposeful Gaming Challenge, In Review

I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with 52 Week challenges since I was in college. More than a few friends at the time were always trying to tackle something, whether it was 52 books or 52 movies. I always liked the idea of the challenge; there’s a part of me that craves structure and checklists and finality. I liked the thought of being able to say that I’d stuck with something meaningful and formed a habit of it—increased my media literacy and all that. On the other hand, there was always that voice in the back of my head saying why create so many rules to make something you enjoy more difficult? 

Looking back on the last year, I am not yet certain I’ve successfully managed and married those two sides of myself, but I think I got pretty close. The concept of the Purposeful Gaming Challenge is nothing unique or particularly earth-shattering in the face of every other 52 Week Challenge on this planet. But I started it in the hopes of not only holding myself accountable to maintaining my game literacy, but also creating a more meaningful headspace for saying no. I’m not good at no—in fact, I’m honestly pretty awful at no. I struggle to say no to myself sometimes, even when I can feel myself shriveling up as I pile more and more on my plate. Maybe it’s the universe keeping the balance of things, but 2019 ended up mowing me down like a truck, and because of it, learning how to say no became a difficult—almost crippling—necessity. 

Yes, voice in the back of my head, maybe the PGC is putting too many rules on something I enjoy, but what’s wrong with trying? I found a lot of value in approaching the PGC as a lesson in no by learning how to respect my time. As kids, we often have a lot of time but little cash to buy games. When we grow up, we have the money but hardly the time to put into anything at all. There’s a lot of games out there, a lot of great ones even, but not all of them respect your time. Not all of them even deserve it. For me, the PGC helped me to feel more confident in saying no to what I didn’t like for the ultimate benefit of having more bandwidth for what I did like.

There’s room for improvement here, of course, but at the end of all this, I do feel a great sense of pride in myself for sticking to the commitment I made. Even when I felt my worst, I still showed up and played something. I never missed a single week. Saying no got just a little easier, and that’s an energy I’m happy to channel in all aspects of my life as I move into 2020. 

So what is the room for improvement, anyway?

I’m not perfect and slipped into anxiety even with the best of intentions in mind. Toward the end of the year I started to feel pressured to stay on top of the sheer volume of releases from 2019 that I’d not played, and as a result, I feel as though I set myself up to fail just a bit. There were weeks when I committed to playing three or four games when I certainly didn’t have the bandwidth for more than maybe one or two at most. The upside to this is that I found myself being much more willing to say no to things that didn’t connect with me right away, but I wonder if that came at the expense of not giving some games their fair shot. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, after all. Until they’re paying me to play these games, there is no meaningful reason to feel like I have to play every single one. 

In sum, I played 61 games for the PGC, along with 7 other games I didn’t count for the challenge (why didn’t I count them? They totally count!). Of those 61, I was able to finish 21 of them, felt confident saying that I liked and wanted to finish 15 more, and made a commitment to saying no to 12.

The Hard Data

If you’re anything like me and enjoy a good breakdown of the metrics (or just like looking at pictures of pie charts), I’ve got you covered with some of the facts.

  1. Nintendo Switch (18 games / 30%): I traveled pretty frequently this year, both.domestically and internationally, so having the Switch to tote around with me made it easy to keep up on the PGC when I was away from my more sedentary consoles. More and more, I find myself craving Switch releases for things, especially indies, as I enjoy the portability and flexibility the Switch provides.   
  2. PlayStation 4 (13 games / 21%): The PS4 is my primary console and remains the platform I buy all my AAA, big-ticket games for. Because of my move toward buying indie releases on the Switch, I have found that I generally purchase fewer games for the PlayStation 4 overall. 
  3. iOS (11 games / 18%): I was surprised how highly my phone ranked as a platform for me this year. The release of the Apple Arcade subscription service, along with mobile versions of many excellent indie games, gave my Switch a run for its money as my primary small-game device. As of this writing, I’m still subscribed to the Apple Arcade and plan to see it into the new year. 
  4. PC (9 games / 15%): PC has always been a middle-of-the-road platform for me. My job requires me to spend hours a day at a desk in front of a computer, so I find I’m less interested in going home and doing the same thing all night long. For this reason, I generally try to buy games on consoles where I can, but occasionally will still fire up the old PC, especially for exclusives and fun finds on Itch.io. 
  5. Xbox One (7 games / 11%): I picked up an Xbox One S over the summer, so it perhaps didn’t get a fair shot at being higher on the list. Ever since I purchased the console, it’s remained a Game Pass machine, which allowed me to play a lot of games I never planned to. As of this writing, I’m still subscribed to Xbox Game Pass, and absolutely plan to maintain a membership for the foreseeable future. 
  6. Et Cetera (3 games / 5%): I also ended up playing three additional games, two on the 3DS and one on the Xbox 360, to round out my 61. 

Because the PGC is largely about learning how to better respect your own time and embrace the games that you most enjoy playing, I decided to sort each game into one of five categories:

  1. Finished (21 games / 34%): These are the games I played through from beginning to end. For me, level of finished-ness doesn’t matter, so this metric accounts for those few games I saw through 100% as well as those whose story I finished and put down. Some highlights: Outer Wilds, Control, Later Alligator. 
  2. Unfinished – Will Complete (15 games / 25%): These are the games that were maybe too long and all-encompassing for me to see to the end, but the ones that piqued my interest and kept me wanting more (and more…and more…). Some highlights: Mutazione, The Outer Worlds, Disco Elysium. 
  3. Unfinished – Won’t Complete (12 games / 20%): This category was a hard lesson for me as I generally believe (erroneously) that I will eventually finish all the games that I play. In an attempt to force myself to be at peace with my bandwidth, I used this category to be extremely judicious about how I wanted to spend my time. Not all games have to make the cut, and that’s okay. Some highlights: Moonlighter, Void Bastards, Ashen. 
  4. Ongoing (7 games / 11%): This category is all about games that maybe don’t necessarily have a distinct finish point or are games that I can see myself returning to periodically when I have a few moments to give. Some highlights: Wilmot’s Warehouse, Baba is You, My Time at Portia. 
  5. One-off (6 games / 10%): I used this category to give myself some wiggle room to return to older games, local multiplayer games, or games I’ve previously finished when the itch struck me. I didn’t want to be too restrictive on only pulling from my backlog, so this category is just the right amount of flexibility that I needed. Some highlights: The Stretchers, Bloodborne, Murdered: Soul Suspect. 

Finally, we come to the release dates. Almost 60% of the games I played this year, released this year—35 in all, with many more still left unplayed. I also was able to clean up some releases from 2018, playing 15 games in total. The remaining chunk of games came from the last 20 years, going back in time as far as 1998.

The Harder Data

So, you like spreadsheets, do you? Here is the full breakdown of every game I played in 2019.