Sometimes it feels like living in the modern world is one gigantic, never-ending exercise in dealing with FOMO.
Leave aside the news, which seems to be moving so fast that it’s damn near impossible to keep track of. These days, it’s also hopeless to keep up with every piece of pop culture that you might want to consume, because there’s just so damn much of it. There are only so many hours in a day for Fortnite and God of War and The Good Place and Better Call Saul and Little Fires Everywhere and The Adventure Zone and Dear Evan Hansen and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And that’s just the recent stuff.
The advent of all-you-can-eat subscription services like Netflix, HBO Now, EA Access and Xbox Game Pass means that many people now have instant, on-demand access to giant media catalogs that stretch back for decades. So the aforementioned pieces of pop culture are competing for your time with, say, Shadow of the Colossus and Cheers and Deadwood and Nineteen Eighty-four and ... the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What happens when you pit new releases against a massive library of older titles?
Samit Sarkar, front page editor: Look, I have a tough time making decisions. (Don’t ask me how wedding planning is going.) I can’t count the number of minutes I’ve spent sitting on my couch with a remote or gamepad in hand, endlessly scrolling back and forth through a watch list or console dashboard ... only to eventually realize that I’ve wasted too much time failing to make a decision, and now have to go to sleep.
Games are a special case because of the time commitment they require: Single-player titles are often vast, lengthy experiences that can eat up dozens of hours, while many multiplayer games are regularly updated with new content to explore.
The idea of jumping into something like Red Dead Redemption can be intimidating, because you know that you may not want to touch anything else once you start. It can also be a daunting prospect to start playing a game like Battlefield 1, because you know that you’re going to have to invest a lot of time to improve and maintain your skills.
Ben Kuchera, senior editor, opinion: Right, so what ends up happening, more often than not, is falling back into something that’s already comfortable instead of starting something new. Because when I say “yes” to a new game, it feels like I’m really saying “no” to all the other comics, movies, TV shows and games I could also be experiencing. It’s a really unhelpful way to look at the world, but I think society is set up in such a way that pop culture ends up feeling like homework. The trends that are out there right now only make this problem worse.
Everything is so connected; I know friends who skipped Avengers: Infinity War because they didn’t want to feel like they had to give all the past Marvel films hours of their time so they could understand what was going on.
Westworld’s writers spent its second season setting up a series of riddles that weren’t really possible to answer based on the clues provided before the last few episodes. I can’t imagine trying to get into Game of Thrones from a standstill these days. The dominant conversation pieces in media feel like you had to have been committed to be committed, which can wear you down. I have to assume there are about 5,000 hours of The Walking Dead out there now, and I just can’t be bothered. Plus, starting a show like that opens you up to suddenly feeling pressure about it. I don’t care about Walking Dead spoilers at the moment, but I probably would if I were trying to catch up to wherever the series is now.
So why not just watch The Office again? I can jump in and jump out at any point and feel fine. I’m currently catching up on the past few seasons of Shark Tank, just because watching something that gives you four tiny stories and dramas in an episode, without much serialization, is such a relief.
Samit: It’s weird ... I totally do what you’re talking about, except I very rarely do it for TV. I’ll rewatch movies — there’s a reason my fiancée and I own a sizable collection of DVDs, Blu-rays and now 4K Blu-rays — but when it comes to TV, I almost always prefer to watch shows that are new to me, since there’s always something I’m interested in trying.
However, I am historically terrible about this with video games. I almost never finish games unless they’re brief narrative-driven experiences such as Firewatch. I tend to start a bunch of different games and play each one for a few hours, perhaps never to return. It’s not that I drop games because I stop having fun — I really enjoyed the three or four hours I played of Pyre, for instance — but because I pick up something else and don’t come back.
Part of this comes from the nature of our job. It behooves us to play lots of different games in the course of a year, which makes it tougher to finish too many of them (unless you make gaming your only leisure activity, which I have no interest in doing). But part of it is a paralysis of choice. I might only be able to play for an hour or two in one sitting, so which one do I pick? Do I jump back into Night in the Woods or No Man’s Sky or The Last Guardian or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or Rise of the Tomb Raider or Titanfall 2?
The answer often is: none of the above.
Instead, I find it much easier to let that decision be taken out of my hands by an open-ended experience. Rather than resume a game that has, say, missions with defined progress points, I’ll fire up something that’s familiar and soothing, even repetitive. I’m a sports guy, and sports games are great for this. In one night, I can make it through a couple of starts in my career as a pitcher in MLB The Show 18’s Road to the Show mode. Another option is playing games online with a group of friends. In 2010, I had a regular crew for Battlefield: Bad Company 2; a few years later, I was logging on to play Destiny just about every night.
I don’t feel like I have a solution to this issue. As time goes on, my pile of shame keeps getting higher, and eventually I have to just admit defeat.
At the same time, I don’t necessarily feel like I need a solution. We in the games press tend to highlight innovative, unique experiences over games that are well-executed but familiar. But unlike with TV — where I often want to watch the kind of show I haven’t seen before, like Atlanta or Barry — I don’t find myself regretting the fact that I sometimes keep a few games in a regular rotation. Am I missing out on other experiences? Of course. But that’s just a fact of life in 2018.