I bought a subscription to Playstation Now yesterday, because it was only $60 for a year. And as I started to browse the games available, my overwhelming feeling was one of stress, of trepidation, rather than pleasure. Here’s another several hundred interesting games to go along with my existing PS3 and PS4 libraries, never mind the thousand-plus games I have on Steam, and all the game systems I don’t have hooked up right now! My DS and 3DS sit at arm’s length from me, both packed with even more experiences.
How exhausting it is to live in the Golden Age of content.
This golden age is part of why I’m always baffled when people tell me that they get bored. With hundreds of television shows, thousands of video games, and tens of thousands of books available at the modern consumer’s beck and call, how is it possible that you can’t find something to entertain you? People constantly inform me of shows on Netflix that seem totally in my wheelhouse–Mars is a recent example–that I’ve never even heard of, because there’s just so much stuff on there that hasn’t been surfaced to me by the app or my casual reading of websites like the AV Club. And that’s just one source of many.
But the golden age can be oppressive too. Where do you start, what do you dig into? I’m the sort of person who generally likes to commit to a thing, to play the game through to the end rather than just taking a nibble and moving on, to watch every season of the show or read every book in the series, and that makes picking content difficult. Thirty hours spent on thing X means that I’m not spending that time on different thing Y, which may be qualitatively better for me. Even though I’m retired, there are only so many hours in a day; there is a hard limit to how many more games I’m going to be able to fit into my life. The choice feels weighty, and there are too many to choose from.
I know I’m not alone with this problem. Being overwhelmed by choice is a common issue nowadays. I contrast it with when I was a kid; I had a Nintendo and a reasonable library of games, but a quick dig into my database tells me I have 36 titles for the original NES. That’s way less than I have for the Wii (66), a system I barely played at all, and a fair number of those 36 were acquired after the NES had gone off the market, from friends who had moved on or stores that were liquidating old stock, before the retro game boom. (I have a copy of Goonies II? When did I pick that up?)
And the Wii is old hat. My PS4 library has over 700 games in it, my PS3 one almost 600. That’s enough content to last a lifetime, but new stuff just keeps. coming. out. Television? With Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix, there’s already way more to watch than I’m willing to set aside time for, never mind HBO and Showtime and all the old broadcast standbys. And my stack of puzzle books grows way, way faster than my ability to complete them.
I’m most of the way through Guns, Germs, and Steel, which is fantastic and absolutely deserves the Pulitzer Prize it won, and I wish I had gotten around to it sooner. But there are so many books that still beg to be read, stretching back over a hundred years, and the rate of publication is far greater than any fan can possibly keep up with. I stopped buying the vast majority of my reading material several years ago, relying instead on the library, and that mediation helps quite a bit… but my list of “things I need to check out” is near infinite and expanding.
Any one of these venues for entertainment would be enough to keep someone going for years. Having them all available is exhausting, with that constant question in the back of my mind: what do I do? What do I do? Limiting my passive screen time to a couple of shows does a lot to reduce that particular space, but it’s a decision to basically write off 98% of a particular medium, which seems like a shame… even if that decision feels absolutely necessary to keep sane in this modern era. And I try to do something, rather than sitting and spinning my wheels making a choice, even if it often results in me switching between three or four puzzle books over the course of the day, with reading and videogames interspersed in between. A goldfish-like attention span at least gives me the feeling that I’m getting something out of all the various media available to me, even if it’s not sustained in any one direction for long.
And then there are the days when I pick up a controller in the morning and don’t put it down until 4AM, when I curl up with a book and only leave my recliner to go to the bathroom, when the tyrannical bleating of choices is silenced or at least quieted. This is the thing I’m enjoying right now, and everything else can piss off. But those days are rare.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to finish up this damn book. And then play a game… or do a puzzle… or watch a show. I don’t know yet. I’ve gotta make a choice.