Early into my now 95-hour playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, I started feeling anxious. The game’s giant scope was becoming clear, and even though I was enjoying my time in Hyrule, I started worrying over the other video games, movies, and podcasts I was missing. And judging by social media posts from folks feeling similarly overwhelmed, I’m not alone.
This year has seen a wealth of new video game releases. In the last few weeks alone, meaty single-player adventures like Tears of the Kingdom and Star Wars: Jedi Survivor dropped alongside endlessly playable online titles like Diablo IV and Street Fighter VI—to say nothing of the smaller titles also releasing during this surprisingly busy season.
And now, with other AAA juggernauts like Final Fantasy XVI, Baldur’s Gate 3, and Armored Core VI rapidly approaching, it’s no wonder so many players are feeling overwhelmed—especially when most of these games could last you dozens or even hundreds of hours.
Some of the most popular games you should play, if you have the time:
This isn’t an experience unique to video games, either. We all keep lists of games, movies, bands, or other media we’re interested in checking out some day. But sometimes those lists of unexperienced media can feel like debt, dragging us down as more is added to the pile. That’s exactly what my early hours in Tears of the Kingdom felt like—as if every moment I spent with Zelda plunged me further into a self-imposed backlog debt.
So, I declared backlog bankruptcy.
I decided to focus on enjoying the thing I was already doing and let go of my expectations for the media I was missing out on. I even deleted the spreadsheet of 2023 games I kept telling myself I’d get to one day, cleared the “Up Next” queue in my podcast app, and accepted that I probably wasn’t going to catch up on Succession any time soon.
And I felt so much better.
When you should declare “backlog bankruptcy”
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To be fair, backlogs have their merits. Some folks enjoy planning their free time and use their backlogs to do so. Others use backlogs to stop themselves from buying every new game the moment it releases. Some of us—including myself—use them to keep notes on the games we’re currently playing. But they can also turn into to-lists—or worse, become unpleasant reminders that we only have so much free time to spend in a day.
Admittedly “there are too many video games” is the epitome of privileged first-world problems, but those growing backlogs do have a negative mental impact on some of us. There’s now there’s a strong body of scientific evidence showing digital clutter can be just as stressful as physical junk, and backlogs are one of the biggest sources of digital clutter we can accumulate.
So, if you struggle to be present and enjoy a game without anxiously ruminating on all the other games you plan on playing next, then it’s time to consider backlog bankruptcy.
Tear up your “to play” list, uninstall old titles from your hard drives, or put the stack of uncompleted games back on the shelf—whatever it takes to erase all those unplayed games from the books. Like other forms of decluttering, it frees your mind of these made-up to-do lists so you can spend your free time doing what interests you in the moment and makes it easier to move on to something when you’re ready.