Are you exhausted by all the entertainment screaming for your attention? Do you need help extracting yourself from the content swamp? Here are some tips to make you fall in love with stories again.
There’s a lot of entertainment out there. Eleven major streaming services, over 400 movies a year, and hundreds of video games across three major consoles and PC — and that’s not counting sports, music, dance, theater, Christmas markets, D&D live playthroughs, and wasting the time of the guys who cold call you offering to clean your air ducts.
All of this *shudder* content doesn’t just sit there — there are millions of dollars of advertising directing you to it all, and it isn’t just a matter of keeping up with the times. Did you watch both Barbie and Oppenheimer on the same day? Congratulations, you participated in an event that was not only culturally significant but also marked you as both a feminist and a historian and someone interested in interrogating the stories we’re told about our culture, our history, and ourselves. Wow! All that in 5 hours!
It’s not just exhausting — it’s deafening. And it’s a tough cycle to break. What you watch is part of your identity, and brands have seized on this to keep you paying, playing, and complaining.
So, here, I’m gonna give you a gift:
It’s okay to stop caring about stuff that doesn’t make you happy anymore.
Step 1: Pick the TV shows or video games you’re not enthusiastically enjoying and drop them. TV shows change writers, actors get bored, and executives push for bigger and more dramatic storylines. All these things are out of your control; no amount of whining about it online will change that.
Video games change, too. Characters get rebalanced, patches screw things up, and scopes change. I play Destiny exclusively single-player, something the game hasn’t been built for in years. We broke up. It’s fine.
Step 2: Admit you’re a victim of marketing. I thought Tears of the Kingdom looked like a boring rehash of Breath of the Wild. I bought it anyway because it’s The New Zelda, and I’m supposed to care about The New Zelda. After eight hours, despite all the cool new stuff, it felt like a boring rehash of Breath of the Wild. I just played too much of the first one to enjoy it. That’s a me problem, and that’s okay. Trust your instincts.
Step 3: Cancel your streaming services. Limit your options to improve your sanity. My wife and I keep Prime Video because we order enough stuff from Amazon to make it worth it. We also have Shudder because we watch a lot of horror, and it’s like $6/month. A few times a year, I’ll pay for the Criterion Channel for a month, especially when they do something cool like the Japanese Noir showcase they did last year. Supporting Shudder and Criterion feels like helping a small business. Rotating your subs between the Big 3 is elite behavior.
Again, this applies to video games. Do you need both GamePass and PlayStation Plus? How often are you actually using these? Do you require all three Mafia games to be accessible to you at a moment’s notice?
Step 4: Acknowledge that characters aren’t real. I hear it all the time. “I stuck with Game of Thrones because I needed to see what happened!” Reader, nothing happened. None of this is real. Those people don’t exist. And, hey, you get to give a friend the experience of telling you what happened at Clegane Bowl. Remember Clegane Bowl?!
Step 5: Watch the first episodes of TV shows like they’re movies. Watching Season 1, Episode 1 of a show is a commitment to anywhere from 6 to a hundred hours. Watching a 60-minute movie called Reacher is easy and fun. Plus, if you really like that movie, they made like 12 more of them! Wow!
Step 6: Ignore stuff. Do you know what the most powerful words in the English language are? I don’t care about that. Next time a Starfield NPC asks you to scan a bunch of trees or whatever, you don’t have to do that. If someone asks you what you think about the state of the MCU, just shrug. You’ll get some resistance at first — we are supposed to care about everything — but you don’t have to. Care more about fewer things.
If you follow these steps, you’ll gradually, consciously uncouple yourself from the pop culture morass. Now what? Reader, it’s time to start healing.
Step 7: Follow creators, not brands. Disney isn’t Star Wars, DC isn’t Batman, and the people making the new Dragon Age game aren’t the same people who made Dragon Age: Origins. The reason Andor was so good wasn’t because it was a “darker” Star Wars story – it’s because it was made by the guy who wrote The Bourne Identity.
Step 8: Watch, read, and play what those creators do. One of the few good things about social media is the access you get to writers, directors, and actors. Nobody creates in a vacuum, and all art is a conversation. Did you love The Batman? You should watch Se7en. Did you like Se7en? You should watch The French Connection. Most creators don’t “rip people off” — they learn how to apply what they like to their own work. Martin Scorcese is an awesome resource for this.
Step 9: Find critics you trust. If you read a review online that you agree with, go to the top of the page and see who wrote it, then follow them on social media. For the love of God, ignore Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and anyone obsessed with box office numbers or other sales metrics. Once you let go of caring what “the majority” thinks, you’ll be truly free.
One last thing: do not feel shame about what you fill your brain with. As the great philosopher Sheryl Crow said, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.” Just don’t forget the next line of that song, “If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?”
Storycraft is a monthly column by Colin Munch that focuses on the stories we love. You can check out all his previous work here.