Monday, December 11, 2023

Is There Anything Good On?

People often talk about their Steam backlogs, a habit I originally viewed with incomprehension, then smug self-satisfaction and eventually sympathy. I went through the same cycle I imagine many have, first not using Steam at all  - or even seeing the point of it, really - then using it reluctantly, before coming to view it as a useful resource. Eventually, I reached the point I'm at now, where I treat Steam like an over-enthusiastic puppy, to be enjoyed and played with but never indulged beyond the point where things might get out of control.

My current Steam backlog, or "Library" as I prefer to think of it - that is what it's called, after all - contains 91 games, of which I've played 75, although the "unplayed" sixteen does include several I've already played elsewhere. I'm not claiming I've finished all of those seventy-five games but since a significant number are demos, which I have finished, or open-ended MMORPGs or survival games that can't be finished, I don't think I've done too badly.

My Steam Library isn't what's bothering me, though. I'm just using it as a point of comparison with something that troubles me a lot more - my Netflix and Prime watch lists.

I never hear anyone fretting about these. The obvious difference is that it costs absolutely nothing to add a title to a list on the streaming platforms so the whole "Have I wasted a bunch of money?" question doesn't come into it.

That said, I've always had the impression Steam users are at least as concerned by some sense of obligation to the games themselves as they are about the incurred cost of owning them. It's as though people feel some kind of moral imperative or social duty to play the games, since they've expressed a public interest in them.

I guess that's another factor - the public nature of Steam compared to the private indulgence of the streams, although I confess I'm guessing here. I've never used any of the social functions of Steam. I prefer to treat the platform as if it has no public interface but I'm given to understand that others use it as a quasi-social media platform focused on gaming. At least, that's what Steam itself keeps trying to convince me.

For me, the two things - streaming and gaming - have very different social connotations. Games don't really matter; movies and TV shows do.

It's not a rational position and I have no intention of trying to defend it. If anything, it's an indicator of age but also of cultural identity. I may have played video games for more than all of my adult life but it hasn't been until very recently that I've found other adults around me openly acknowledging a similar interest and owning it as part of their public persona.

Even then, none of those people is more than half my age. It seems as though thirty-somethings no longer feel a social obligation to abnegate their earlier interest in gaming the way very many in my generation and the one after it did. (It's not like those generations didn't play video games. They just seem to have conveniently managed to wipe their memories entirely clean of the experience, so now it's just something their children or grand-children do, at which they shake their heads, whether indulgently or worriedly, not something they spent countless hours doing themselves, once upon a time.)

In my day, as the obnoxious refrain has it, far more so than the infamously self-congratulatory admission often made in certain circles that one is incapable of understanding mathematics, a lack of knowledge of video games was never going to lower anyone's intellectual credibility. More likely, admitting even to having heard of such shiboleths of mundanity as Mario or Zelda would in itself undermine whatever cultural cachet you held.

Not recognizing the names of certain film directors or being unable to bluff convincingly on their key works, on the other hand, could easily result in social ostracization. Television stood somewhere between the two extremes but even with that frequently derided medium there were names it was always acceptable to drop.

To  a great extent, much of this now feels as relevant to everyday life as the social conventions of the Edwardian Age. Dinner party conversation no longer revolves around the difficulty of finding reliable servants. At least I imagine it doesn't. Been a while since I was invited to anyone's dinner party... 

I'm pretty sure if I did get an invite to one this week, no-one there would be talking about the disaster unfloding around the launch of The Day Before. Not if they're my age, they wouldn't, anyaway.

And yet, if you grew up in those times, as I did, it can sometimes require an effort of will to remember that no-one under fifty fucking cares if you've seen Fellini's 81⁄2! (I have, by the way. Don't remember much about it. It was at college so I would probably have been stoned at the time... Is getting stoned at the movies even something young people do any more, or is it as archaic a ritual as hailing a Hansom Cab to get you home in a pea-souper?)

Consequently, it bugs me that I haven't wached everything on my watch lists in a way it doesn't that I may not have played everything in my Steam Library. Which is why it makes no sense for me to keep adding things to those lists every goddam day!

My Netflix watch list is very similar in size to my Steam Library, as it happens. There are 98 shows and movies in there, 31 of which I have yet to watch. That doesn't sound so bad until you realise I added about a dozen of those this month. And by no means do I add everything I watch to the list. A lot I just... watch.

My Prime Watchlist (Amazon calls it that; Netflix goes with the minimalist "List".) is shorter at 64 entries. Of those, I've at least sampled 42. Many have been on there so long now I'm feeling the urge to watch them again, although it's also been so long since last time, they now have that irritating little yellow purse icon next to them, meaning they're not Free With Prime any more and I'd have to pay repeat fees.

At least I don't seem to be adding new stuff to Prime at anything like the rate I'm adding it to Netflix but that says a hell of a lot more about the degraded quality of Amazon's offer than my sense of self-control. In fact, if it wasn't for my relatively recent interest in anime, adding new shows to Netflix probaby wouldn't be much of a problem either.

I suppose I could try to spin the ever-decreasing value of the streaming services as the market falters and fragments as a positive; if I struggle keep my list lust in check then perhaps it's as well someone's working to reduce the temptation for me. Yeah, I'm not going to do that. It's pitiful how far the streaming giants have fallen.

I'm also not going to do anything to curb my acquisitory behavior. I mean, who cares? That's the attitude I need to foster. Shove 'em all in the hole and let 'em rot there. It's not like they're taking up cupboard space like my hundreds of VHS tapes...

In case you were wondering what the point of all this was... well, if you work it out, you might let me know. I started out thinking I'd write something about a few shows I've been watching and this is what we got.

Just to bookmark that, the shows I would have discussed in the post I thought was going to write, had I written it, would have been Beastars, Dorohedoro and Akuma Kun. All anime. All great.

Maybe next time. If I haven't watched a bunch more before then. I mean, those list aren't going to get any shorter if I don't.


  1. I think I am part of a transitional generation where we are about evenly split on whether it's ok to still play games as an adult. I have colleagues around my age that hosted Rockband parties with full sets of fake musical instruments a few years ago when that was a thing. I also have colleagues that admit that they played the hell out of Diablo or World of Warcaft at some point, but no longer game at all. I also have colleagues that will give me the blankest of stares at the mention of any less mainstream game than Pokémon Go, and think of games entirely as something their kids like to waste time on. But go just a little bit younger, and damn near everyone games to some extent it seems like.

    1. I think the point at which I really noticed the transition was when I found out a few years ago that one of my managers is a full-on gamer, to the point that she stayed up late to download the first release of Destiny at the earliest opportunity and then played it into the small hours even though she was working next day. She's also a boardgamer and an anime fan. She's in her mid-30s I think - maybe late 30s. It is kind of a paradigm shift when you work somewhere and find your manager games more than you do...

  2. Well, you touched on one rational reason for treating Netflix and Steam differently: your Steam games aren't going anywhere (except in very rare instances) whereas shows on streaming services get yanked all the time. So if you want to watch something and don't get to it in time, it might go poof, or at least, as you said, get to where it costs you money.

    But in these crazy times it might just go poof, like Star Trek Prodigy did (at least for a time, now it is coming back via Netflix).

    1. I've noticed people around me starting to mention this, so it's clearly not just an online echo chamber issue any more. I wonder if the will exists to return to physical media in any meaningful way, though. Taking the much-hyped resurgence of vinyl as a comparison point, I read only this week that global vinyl sales only account for just over 3% of total music revenues and that's after what's universally considered to be a huge and miraculous return from near-extinction. I kind of doubt CD or DVD will make even a similar recovery but with digital storage now being so cheap, portable and utilitarian, I don't see any reason why keeping your digital media library at home on usb drives shouldn't become an alternative to streaming. Of course that would depend on the rights owners wanting to sell the downloads but there does seem to be some kickback starting on the cultural fallout of allowing a handful of tech firms to manage the collective memory of the movie industry.


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