Published: Jun 22, 2017 12:00:00 PM

IMG_20170615_155611_853.jpgThe modern world demands we manage our time. When you sit in a tiny room opposite a person interviewing you for a job, they're going to ask you how well you'll deal with the demands of time.

It's a matter of allocation and prioritization. This demand seeps over into our off-work hours, namely, that the modern world will offer fewer of those hours, if you can even manage to distinguish them.

Enter: Netflix. The bullet that killed broadcast TV. It's still "television," but it's on-demand streaming. Of course, if Netflix killed TV for busy adults, how will the upcoming Netflix Alternative manifest, meaning, what'll kill Netflix?

Conjecture: video games. Why? Because they invite agency.

Why has entertainment evolved toward on-demand? 

On-demand became a necessity when technology required the global workforce be on-demand. There's less pressure to leave the office when you don't run the risk of missing an episode of LOST on a Thursday evening. What's more, shows like LOST demanded viewers stay up to speed week to week, and when the demand for DVD boxsets rose, so, too, did Netflix and DVRs.

Society and work culture demanded this Netflix alternative to broadcast TV. With enough of us stuck at the office and missing out, there was enough demand for single-serving episodes. The iTunes music store selling single songs, and later single TV episodes, didn't hurt either.  

Naturally, all the technological advancements thrust into the infantile mid-20th century American psyche promised less work and more leisure. Sad, it didn't work out that way. Instead, assholes invented a way to get our TV to us at whatever hour of the night we require, rather than developing a Jetsons-style utopian society. But, you know, Samsung Galaxy S8 phones are an easier sell than solving institutionalized racism or energy and water crises.

But I digress. To the matter at hand: when you reach for your on-demand entertainment, how much do you want to manipulate the world in that exact moment?

How do we choose between passive and active entertainment?

This question is vital because it's a matter of agency. We've advanced to the point where video games are Big Enough, and Cool Enough, and Artistic Enough that they stand as a true contender to be the Netflix alternative of the future.

But there is a fundamentally critical difference: video games are an active entertainment medium. They've got "games" right there in the title for heck's sake, a game being a playful strength-building exercise without fear of reprisal, in the most primal sense -- like lion cubs having a little brawl.

Netflix, and its contemporaries in the video streaming sphere, is a passive form of entertainment.


Active versus passive? Do you want to have an impact on the story, or would you prefer it find its own way, no agency required. This is not saying one mode of entertainment is superior to another. They achieve different things. They're different meals. One is steak, the other swordfish (try to decide which is which in that joke).

Look, art museums are passive entertainment, but darn if they don't demand attention of your mental cognitive load, assuming you're Doing Art Right when you visit that museum. If video games indeed a viable Netflix alternative, then we must admit that at a foundational level, they are for individuals desiring agency. That means agency over story and a capacity to potentially learn the new brain-tricks to administer that agency.

A different type of mental strain is demanded in a video game than television, in the broadest sense.

When we reach for our entertainment at leisure time, we're asking ourselves whether our energy is balanced for an active or passive format.

What do we get from these options?

Once we become comfortable recognizing where our strength is going in our leisure time, some very cool doors are going to open up.

When entertainment is not only on-demand, but niche, we're going to start getting a lot more cool, weird stuff. It's not bound to an exact timeslot. The audience can find its way to these interesting works. That means the main barrier between art and audience is less a creation-problem, and more of a marketing and discovery problem.

Anything can get made nowadays. That's how we get special nonsense like Sense8. But can all the people find their way to it?


The only barrier in finding the right entertainment solution for a given state of mind is visibility. If we're looking for the future Netflix alternative, we ought to look to a discoverability solution.

Video games click with buys adults because they're often easy to access. They're easy avenues for agency. Our GOLDEN AGE of television means we've no shortage of quality stories, should we even be capable of parsing them.

We're all busy. We all wish we it was simpler to avoid this paralysis. The answer begins in deciding what manner of intellectual stimulation. And man, if that isn't a tough question.

-- Alex Crumb
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