Imagine If We Didn’t Always Binge On Games And Shows

Imagine If We Didn’t Always Binge On Games And Shows

The new season of Arrested Development is out. You’re not “supposed” to, but you could watch the entire season right away if you wanted. I’m guessing at least some of you did just that.

Binge-watching something isn’t uncommon. If a show hooks you well enough, and you have more episodes left to watch, why wouldn’t you watch them? If possible, people will watch through entire seasons of a show in a weekend. I’ve done it.

Still, if you read through interviews leading up to the release of season 4 of Arrested Development, you’ll find that the people behind the show hope you won’t do that.

Here’s Mitch Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development, in an interview with Wired:

I think of it more like writing a mini-series than something [for] binge watching… I think that people do sit down and watch it all at once. Personally, I think [that] will be very fatiguing and will lose some of the fun of being able to mull on it. But I think that with the majority of binge watchers, it’s a modified binge watching, just like the majority of novel readers. You know, you don’t read it all at once. But you are in control of when you feel like going back to it… I personally hope people don’t sit and watch it for, you know, 500 minutes or longer.

Here’s Hurwitz again, in an interview with Vulture:

“You’ll get tired!” says Hurwitz. “One of the producers came by when I was in post-production recently, and he said, ‘Can I see some of them?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got seven episodes.’ ‘Great.’ And I heard him in the other room laughing and laughing, and then I heard him laughing a little less, and then a little less, and then later I saw him getting a drink of water and I said, ‘What do you think?’ He goes, ‘I’m just getting a little tired. I love it, it’s great, but you can’t really laugh the whole time. You have to take a break. There’s so much material.’”

“You can’t take it all in at once. It’s like the selective-attention test. The whole show is like the selective-attention test. No one sees the gorilla! I’ll give you an example: When I was at the last sound mix with our editors and there was one of our bigger sight gags in the background of one of our more absurd conversations, nobody saw the sight gag, including me. And all we were doing is staring at the screen! What I like about the show is not that gimmick but that it gives fans something to pore over if that’s fun for them. If they want to go right back and check out the Gob episode and see how that was set up, they can.”

“Don’t feel obligated to watch it all at once. It’s a comedy! It’s not like Lord of the Rings. Comedy takes a lot out of you.”

I had read these interviews going in, and I promised myself I wouldn’t shotgun the entire season this weekend. A few episode, tops. While I didn’t watch through the entire show this weekend, I definitely feel like I watched more than I ‘should’ have. Those against binge-watching would probably argue I didn’t take in as much as I could had I taken it slow, had I taken more time to reflect on what I’ve watched.

Heck, they might argue that I was tempted to binge-watch not because the show is good, but because it’s potent escapism. Wired contributor Grant Mccracken argues that TV has become our “second home,” and binge-watching is a way of providing ourselves with “a sense of security” which can create “comfort” and makes “the world go away.”

A description which could just as easily be about video games — another medium which “suffers” from binging. It’s not a topic of heated discussion in this space in the same way it is for television — I’ve read like a dozen editorials that explore binge-watching — but it’s definitely something that I know people do.

I for one, by nature of having a job that requires me to review games on occasion, will sometimes play through a game at what feels like an unnaturally fast pace as a means of meeting a review embargo. An 8-15 hour game will be played through in a weekend, easy. Of course, binge-playing isn’t something exclusive to game reviewers. One of the reasons that we have day-one DLC is because developers know that at least some players burn through games at an absurd pace, and the extra content is meant to meet that demand.

I expect games to let me gorge on them as much as I’d like

It wasn’t until I started playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf this month that I realised that I expect games to let me gorge on them as much as I’d like. This is completely anecdotal, but I’ve heard it said that the best way to play through Animal Crossing is to treat it like a chore that you devote no more than about 30 minutes per day to. And playing it, sure enough, there’s only so much new stuff you can do on a daily basis — pull out weeds, find fossils, do some errands, capture some fish and insects, make some money. Maybe I’ll do something exciting that day, like buy turnips or start a new project in town — but these are all things that won’t take me long to do.

So I could play for more than 30 minutes daily, but Animal Crossing’s design encourages me to take it slow. It’s a design decision that feels jarring when I live in a world where I can watch an entire show in a weekend. If given the option, I’d probably pay money so to be able to experience more of Animal Crossing every day — I mean, that’s the basic business strategy behind a lot of social games, isn’t it? Pay so you can keep playing, pay so you can see more? Except I have a feeling that Animal Crossing would be extremely different if I could play like that — and probably not for the better. Animal Crossing’s efficacy as an idyllic game hinges on how much I can play at a time, in the same way that the comedy in Arrested Development hinges on how much I sit down to watch.

Which makes me wonder: even if I’m not playing through an entire game in a weekend, am I changing the core experience for the worse if I don’t take my time? My guess is yes, though I also know that realising this is the case sometimes makes no difference. I knew Arrested Development shouldn’t be something I binge on, and I did it anyway. I suspect I ruined some of the experience for myself, and will likely go back and re-watch in an effort to soak more of the show in. It’s easy to chalk it up to a lack of self-control, but I’m not sure that’s the only culprit to blame.

When that’s the fray I jump into with most games, Animal Crossing feels like a reprieve.

How often do you see a game referred to as a “roller coaster”? I see it everywhere, often used as a shorthand that denotes when a game takes you on a high octane ride. Games are designed so that you keep playing: a roller coaster is not something you get off of, after all. It’s purposeful, that roller-coaster feeling. So of course you’ll keep playing, even though the prospect of a real-life roller-coaster lasting the length of a typical game sounds exhausting.

I will never be able to say that Animal Crossing is exhausting — on the contrary, it feels meditative. Calming. Contrast that to barely pausing while playing through Fuse this weekend — that’s a 9 hour game! I’d go from one huge gunfight to a cutscene and onto the next mission, never really taking the time to let scenes or events linger. This sort of thing isn’t a rare occurrence. When that’s the fray I jump into with most games, Animal Crossing feels like a reprieve.

It took some time to look at it that way, though. At first I disliked the pace of Animal Crossing immensely, but now I’m learning to appreciate it — it allows me to take a step back and look at things differently. I feel like I’m taking more out of my playthrough with Animal Crossing, despite the short amount of time I’m spending with it, than with games I pour hundreds of hours into.

Developers can’t force you to play a game a certain way — heck, I’ve never seen a developer urging players to pace themselves, like Hurwitz does with Arrested Development — but even so, I hope more games find ways for players to take it slow. If nothing else, it feels good to step off the roller-coaster every once in a while.


  • Well yes, i did try to watch all the shows… but I’m afraid I prematurely shot my wad, on what was supposed to be a dry run, if you will, some I’m afraid I have something of a mess on my hands.

  • I watched it over two days. I disagree completely too. They’re not self contained episodes, it’s one GIANT episode. Because it’s non-linear, a lot of it makes no sense until you get to a later episode. It was really awesome seeing it all come together, and when I rewatch it (oh, I will) then I’m binge watching it. I see no other way to approach this season.

  • good article, i watched all 4 seasons of arrested development over the course of 4 days

  • I’m a huge fan of games with natural stopping points. One of the many reasons I loved “Alan Wake” was the chapter presentation that broke the story-line into manageable 40 minute chunks. It’s nice for a game to deliberately loosen it’s hold on you so you can blink, return to the real world and remember that the kids need dinner.

    • Yeah I agree. A few times me and my brother would sit down to play Halo co-op and when we eventually stopped we would be like “how many levels was that? 2?” and it would end up being like 4 or 5.

  • I binge-watched (I still don’t think this is a real term) the whole thing. By the end I was tired, so very tired. It felt like I had begun my journey in the distant past, the first episode was a lifetime ago. I kind of understood at that point why XBone is going to give you achievements for TV watching, my day sure felt like a quest.

    I loved it though.

  • I gave up binging on series years ago when a mate sent series 6 of Red Dwarf from the UK via VHS(yes I am old), watched it in 3 hours(6 eps) then realised there would be no more for at least a year.
    Particulary for comedies I find 2 eps the sweatspot as there is only so much ceratonin in your system that makes you laugh.

  • Arrested Development was the 1st show I unintentionally binge-watched.
    My friend lent me season 1 on DVD.
    Around 5 hrs later my wife and I decided to save the last 2 episodes til the next evening. Looking forward to a legitimate way to pick this up

  • You kind of have to watch season 4 all at once because the story and episodes interweave so much that when you watch episode 12 you will catch something that happened in episode 1 and vice versa.

  • Yeah but when you rewatch certain episodes you notice new things and its always exciting to watch it again. Just saw a few eps of seinfield at a friends house. Man that show is awesome.

  • Im up to episode 11 on my third day, done 5 episodes per day so far spacing them out a few hours each and its worked fabulously. I think with the major timeframe shifts, the back and forth nature of the show (we’re dealing with what, 2 – 3 different time frames?) its causing your brain to go into overdrive, linking previous scenes, tying up loopholes and plotpoints, its a complex bloody show!!!

  • Is there any way to buy this outside of subscribing to Netflix? I don’t watch much TV, so a subscription isn’t ideal – but I can’t find anywhere to get this and refuse to pirate.

    • You could always pirate and then mail the studio a cheque. I’m sure they would understand.

  • I have to say its 100% depends on the content. For a show like game of thrones it is immeasurably better to binge an entire season. Its one of the few shows that leaves you wanting more immediately not just oh i can’t wait for next week but a shit I’m literally pissed there isn’t an episode to watch right now.

    There is also the point that you will forget or miss alot of smaller things if you watch it over the course of 10 weeks or even 1 week. Then there are shows like the big bang theory which it makes little difference if you binge or not, the progression of the “characters” doesn’t happen at a fast enough pace for the “just one more” feeling and its about that singular moment compared to game of thrones which is telling a giant movie.

    Maybe its just me but i find almost 0 shows are bad to binge (unless your talking multiple seasons over a few days then its only the bad shows where the flaws become more apparent). Though I do recall doing 8 seasons of Smallville in 8 days a few years back and that was an achievement (about 16hrs a day) so maybe I’m just built different.

    On the topic of games I have a similar stance, most games aren’t long enough to worry about but RPG’s like the tales games or skyrim once i have binged the 30-50hr mark in a few days to a week i usually burn out so much i need to give it a few months break. But that’s just how i prefer to “consume” the media. RPG’s specifically are about the story and if i drip feed it to myself i know i enjoy it far less.

  • I binge-watched 8 seasons of Stargate SG-1 a few years ago, took the better part of a week stopping only for food, lavatorial requirements and upon passing out on the sofa bed I had turned into a pseudo-cinema.

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