Time Crisis

Back in my day, we had to walk up the hill, in the snow, both ways just to reach a television; and were excited that it was black and white. Kid’s today with their YouTubes, Xbots, Man-Spider books and moving pictures don’t understand how easy it is.

The difference between old-man-stereotype and today’s consumers is, instead of experiencing a lack of choices we are constantly inundated with varying options. There was a time when there was only one game console, a few blockbusters, television stopped airing at night and there was a Batman monthly. Today, there are four game consoles (plus phones, tablets, Ouya and others), twelve new movies hitting theaters each week, nonstop television across hundreds of channels, Netflix, Amazon Prime and at least ten books about the caped crusader. Money is no longer the barrier to entry, time is.

There was an era when it was possible to beat every game released, but no more. Only the most diehard fan, or hermit, is capable of going through everything. I play more than my friends, three to five a month, but there were over 3,870 games released for the Playstation 2. At my current pace, I would compete the PS2 library in 64 ½ years but they keep releasing new games.

Of course, not each release is worth consuming. But how do we decide what to interact with? The obvious answer is what we enjoy the most. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task to accomplish before committing to a purchase. We rely on previous experiences, friend recommendations, critical reception or worse case scenario, marketing campaigns. This is why sequels, remakes and prequels are popular. They promise an experience similar to the original which is a known commodity that fans enjoy. There is comfort in having expectations set and met. The trial-and-error approach of reaching into the unknown can yield a hidden treasure but can also be a waste of time, which is the most egregious sin today.

Distributors are aware of the time crunch consumers encounter and have adjusted their approach. Videogames default to easier modes because players don’t have the time or patience, to perish on the final castle over and over again. Movie run times are streamlined to allow more showings throughout the day. Television services are available without commercial interruptions for continuous enjoyment. Comic books contain about 20 pages and include multiple splash pages for quick reading. The flipside is that by making their content shorter, distributors are able to sell more copies so this is not an entirely altruistic decision on their part.

While looking at achievements (Steam and Xbox 360) Microsoft determined that only 30% of games started are played through to completion. Pilots of shows always see larger viewership than the average episode and a relaunched comic with “#1” on the cover will draw in a spike of readership. These figures highlight the decision paradox consumer’s encounter: We constantly search for the best possible way to spend our time, and hope that newer is always better. People want to believe that the next thing is better than the last; we are willing to try the beginning but when it fails to meet expectations it is immediately on to the next new thing. As a culture we suffer from entertainment ADHD and there are enough choices that we will always be chasing the ever elusive mayflower of the perfect experience.

When I was a kid, I was torn by determining the best way to spend my allowance. As an adult, I need to figure out the most effective way to spend my time. There are movies that I only know through trailers, games I will only read about and comics that can only be experienced through select screen grabs. If I had more free time, I would consume it all but for now I must calculate the best way to accomplish my entertainment goals. Hopefully, I choose wisely and don’t end up with my face melted off.


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