The More I Have, the Less I Play

Choice in media sometimes doesn't lead to freedom, just paralysis.

I own hundreds of games. I mean, hundreds.

I have two big bureau drawers full of physical copies of console games, I have boxes of old PC ROMs, and I, of course, like many gamers, have a ludicrously long list of games in my Steam library.

Admittedly, I have played and completed a lot of these games, easily 70-80% of them, and some of them I have completed multiple times. However, in recent years, even when I pick up a new title or two, I find myself playing less, finishing less.

When I'm between games or have grown bored with the games installed on my PC, I find myself browsing my Steam library list, thinking about what games that I have started but not finished, thinking about loading up an older title that I know I like, trying to figure out what some of my games even are (those that I don't recognize from their titles).

Often enough, after a few minutes of browsing, I end up firing up a YouTube video or go read some articles on some website. I don't pick anything at all. I am paralyzed by my choices.

I recently heard about Sheena S. Iyengar's and Mark R. Lepper's study “When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?”, which concerns the nature of capitalizing on consumer choice when marketing a product. Joseph Putnam describes that study in ”Are You Losing Sales by Giving Customers Too Many Choices?”. He explains how the two researchers set up a marketing experiment involving presenting samples of specialty jams to customers at a supermarket.

In the study, the researchers found that when displaying 24 types of jam to customers to sample on their way into the store, that 60% of shoppers stopped to sample some of the jams. However, when presenting only six flavors of the jam, they found that only 40% of shoppers stopped by to try the jam. On the face of it, this seems to confirm the idea that presenting customers with many choices is a good thing. However, as Putman explains, the goal of marketing -- to produce sales -- was strangely less effective under these circumstances, “Of the customers who sampled 24 flavors, only 3% purchased, but of the customers who sampled 6, 30% did the same”.

I began thinking about this phenomenon in relationship to my problems in selecting games to commit to playing in recent months and just to the weird ways that we relate to media that offers a rich variety of choice. When I was a kid, and there was only three network stations on television, plus one local affiliate, plus public television, I always selected something to watch fairly quickly. When the cable box entered my home in the mid-'80s, suddenly, I was often just surfing, not really watching anything at all.

I watch my daughter and her boyfriend announce their intention to watch Netflix, then spend 20 to 30 minutes browsing the rows and rows of video offerings on the launch page of Netflix, discussing various titles, hemming and hawing, before abandoning the television in search of something else to do or just falling into conversation in front of the Netflix menu.

All of these scenarios feel quite close to the futility of my own Steam library browsing experiences. There are loads of choices there, but as I vaguely evaluate my options, noting that, yeah, I should get back to that game or that's a game I always have fun with or just, nah, that's not the right one, I just tend to give up and look for something else to do.

The seemingly obvious solution to this problem seems like a bit of a horror to me, though. I need to reduce my collection right? I need fewer options so that I commit to one of these things instead of simply getting tripped up in the process of feeling a desire to play that is quelled by the needlessly long foreplay that is making the commitment actually to play with one of these things.

As I said, though, this seems like a horror to me. I have all this cool stuff, all these cool games, many of them that I know I love or would probably enjoy if I gave them more of a chance or, hell, that I simply might discover aren't my thing at all and I would at least know to avoid it the next time. I have so many choices that I don't play, and, yet, I somehow fear that if I reduced those choices that I would miss out on something that I discarded. It's a Catch-22 between the desire to play with my toys or a desire to simply collect my toys, perhaps, and honestly, I remain at an impasse in regards to which desire will win out.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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