Ranking Media Consumption by Satisfaction

It’s the start of the new year and nothing feels different. I know the changing of the calendar means little on its own, and I think this grows truer the older you get.

I find myself dissatisfied with how I spend my time. Too much consuming, not enough creating. I think about my brain and I just see this dead, gray lump. The center pulses sluggishly with day-to-day routine activity, while the thin outer branches (I kind of picture my brain as a tree) of new ideas & creativity stagnate, wither, and die. I need to be writing & coding more, or the mind muscles I’ve neglected will only grow weaker.

The obvious course is to cut down on the time I spend playing games, reading, and binging on television. But that’s going to be difficult, and I thought it would be helpful for me to examine those hobbies and figure out which are the most worthwhile. Maybe it will help me cut down on the others.

1. Books

Mostly fiction, though occasionally I’ll pick up something factual if it really catches my eye (or for book club). Even if I’m just reading subpar science fiction, finishing a book for me delivers greater satisfaction than anything else I could consume. It feels healthier.

So why haven’t I been reading more books lately? I think part of it’s the compulsion to finish what I start. I used to read so quickly, and so often, that getting through a book I didn’t love only took a day or two. Now, if it doesn’t really grab I lose momentum very quickly, but it’s still hard for me to drop it. I’m learning to be better about this.

Over the last three weeks I’ve been trying to read The Rook. The writing style is solid, I like the premise, but it just isn’t grabbing me, and I haven’t made it past fifty pages. Last night I finally decided to give up and start Day Watch (the follow-up to Night Watch), then spent two hours tearing through it. It feels great. Now I just have to keep it up.

2. Television / Movies

It feels weird to say it’s satisfying to watch television, or a movie. I should feel guilty about that, right? It’s such a passive activity, requiring little mental involvement and less physical activity.

Well, sure. But all I know is when I finish a season of fantastic TV, or an amazing movie, it feels to me like time well-spent. Not as satisfying as a book, I think, just because the act of reading gets a few more neurons firing.

3. Video Games

Ah, video games. Probably the most time-consuming form of media consumption, and yet also usually the last satisfying. Games typically don’t generate as strong an emotional response or the same type of loyalty. Too often they are overlong, padded with extra collectible content and dozens of samey tasks to cross off a checklist. Because of this, I often drop a game out of my rotation without ever having the satisfaction of “finishing it.”

The completion of a game is not the only place to find satisfaction, but it does tend to have more weight to it. The games I’ve finished this year have brought me more lasting enjoyment than the ones I played for a time and then forgot. The Witcher 3 and Bloodborne, among others, were both immensely satisfying to play and fulfilling to finish — and yet even those hold more tasks, more boxes to check, and in the back of my mind is a persistent gnawing pulling me to return.

Apart from those exceptions, a lot of the games I play do not end up feeling like time well-spent. They feel like distractions, ways to kill time — and why do I want to kill time when there already isn’t enough of it. Writing this reinforces the need I feel to re-balance my time, looking at both the total amount I spent consuming media and how that is assigned.

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