Why bland entertainment is having a moment now
Posted August 25, 2016
When most people think of playing video games, they think of violent, high-speed first-person shooters or racing games.
But then there are games like recent releases "Farming Simulator 17," and the space-exploration game "No Man's Sky," which both venture into relatively uncharted territory for gaming: the art of experience in real time.
Where many other games create tension and excitement with a so-called "run and gun" approach, these games move at a glacial pace by comparison. "No Man's Sky" is an exploration game whose play is simple: Fly to a randomly generated planet that will be unlike any other in the game (including planets other players find), explore it, mine it and move on to the next planet. No combat, no drama.
"Farming Simulator 17" is exactly what it sounds like: The player raises animals and crops, with the game itself offering more an invitation to marvel at the gorgeous backdrops than provoking an urgency to get to the next harvest.
A similarly "slow" approach to entertainment is occurring on TV. While shows like "Mr. Robot" or "Game of Thrones" dominate the cultural conversation for their entertainment quality or extreme content, Netflix has added a popular European TV phenomenon to its streaming lineup: Slow TV.
Slow TV is a Norwegian import that boasts knitting, firewood stacking and long-distance train and boat rides as its focus, to the delight of 20 percent of Norway's population.
Many might ask, How is this a thing? The answer isn't clear, but it may be more subtle than audiences realize. In the world of extreme content when entertainment comes increasingly via technology used every waking moment, sometimes people need something simple to recenter and recharge.
"Instead of drowning out its viewers’ inner lives, it seems to want to be a backdrop that can give rise to their own reflections," Nathan Heller wrote about the show in the New Yorker. "A slow-TV program is like a great view you encounter on vacation: it’s always there, impervious, but it gains meaning and a story depending on what it conjures in your head."
That premise, as The Atlantic argued, isn't boring. It might actually be a little rebellious.
"All other TV is just speeding up, and we want to break with that,” The Atlantic quoted Lise-May Spissøy, who produced the knitting installment of Slow TV. “We want to allow people to finish their sentences.”