Passive versus active media: Why I prefer games and books to movies and television.

Recently I was told that I was overly critical, especially of movies. While I don’t agree, having met and sometimes been the target of people who are truly withering, it did get me thinking.

I don’t really like movies and television as much as I enjoy reading and playing games. At first I thought that I preferred reading and gaming because they were my first loves and primary form of entertainment as I grew up.  While this is no doubt partly true, my tastes have changed over the years and I have become more jaded about games and books, but I still always find myself coming back to those forms.

Interestingly, I expect less from television and movies. Television, in particular, has such a low bar for me that I am always astounded when I find a show that I enjoy. Since we apparently live in the golden age of television, this means that I am often exceedingly happy with whatever show we are watching, which is strange. As a plus there are more and more genre fiction shows on TV as well, from Game of Thrones to Daredevil.

Movies too, tend to be aimed more in my direction these days. Yet, I while I enjoy these more than I ever have I am far more critical of them than games and books. I find myself searching for faults, specifically things that I would change when I consider a movie or TV show in hindsight. In books and games, I find myself looking for the diamonds, enjoying good systems in otherwise crappy games or interesting ideas that shine out like diamonds from the pages of a book that is otherwise lackluster in my eyes.

As I considered this, I came to the conclusion that the difference was because TV and movies are generally passive entertainment, while reading and gaming have a more active component. Games have player agency (when they don’t they make me angry), while books require that I interpret the text and paint a picture in my mind, often filling in extra details.

Thus while I enjoy movies and TV almost as much as games and books, I am more critical of them because my primary forms of entertainment furnish me with input and agency, so the criticism is often the only form of input that I have with them. Of course, movies and shows that require more thought and have more to digest thus escape criticism from me, because they invoke a sense of agency.

Something to keep in mind if you read any of my reviews 🙂


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