The Race to React to Media

I noticed something interesting happening last night that I have been seeing for some time, but the frequency of it happening on my timeline finally convinced me to let my thoughts out about it.

The new Star Wars movie released, and seemingly, most people I follow had tickets to see it. There is a wild pop-cultural energy around Star Wars that sweeps everyone up into it, I think, like “even if you’re not super into it… it’s the new STAR WARS, come on”.

The interesting thing I noticed was that many of the people coming back from The Last Jedi were serving up their immediate take on its quality. Some simply expressed a feeling after seeing it, some ranked its spot in the trilogy right away, and I even saw some people scoring it DOWN TO DECIMAL POINTS. All of this just hours after seeing it. (and for the record, I think describing what you feel after watching something is appropriate.)

I feel that the importance to be out there sharing your thoughts on the Internet at the same time as everyone else may have won out on the importance of letting things sit with you before making a judgment. The energy of the Internet after a piece of media has dropped can also affect peoples’ takes; if I see a lot of people hating on a thing, I’m more likely to focus on the positive aspects and vice-versa. That happens no matter what my actual take was going to be.

This makes it IMPOSSIBLE for people looking in from the outside who were not interested before to know if they should give something a chance or not. I’ve seen this with popular TV shows as they progress, I’ve seen it with hour-long rap albums that everyone has to hear a minute after they drop or you might as well be living in a cave, I’ve seen it with the first day of a game being out… The takes of the masses will probably never replace traditional reviews, at this rate. I don’t know if Game of Thrones is trash or a must-watch after each night a new episode premieres (please don’t @ me about this part, I really don’t care about the current quality of Game of Thrones)

So Waypointers, I urge you to think before doing this, to think about ways you could let your thoughts simmer and digest media in a more reasonable way. Also, share with me a time when you might have done this, if your opinion on the thing changed afterwards and if you updated your take.

Please refrain from too much airing of beefs about popular things that you aren’t a fan of. I can go anywhere on the Internet to hear that, but I come here for Only Real Conversation.


I think, in large part, people are chasing the narrow window in which their opinion or joke might blow up and become a networking opportunity. That’s one of the probably not completely intended aspects of social media: they’re marketing platforms that engage everyone as marketers, both for the products they buy and also for themselves-as-brands.

It’s pretty frustrating, especially since there is mostly no malice involved on anyone’s part, but the resulting psychological and social effects are still generally unpleasant, to say the least.

I don’t have any suggestions here beyond trying to work with an awareness of how these things end up functioning as social phenomena, regardless of your (generic you) intent.


I think some of them are definitely this, but not a large part. A lot of them were very conversational and seemed to be expressing their opinions in a pretty dry manner, like responding to a survey and checking a box. I saw a lot of takes, but not a lot of loud, boisterous takes.

I see what you mean, for sure, but I think by now it’s gotten to the point where everyone knows their replies to tweets blowing up, trying to push whatever their personal brand is, don’t really get them much traction. Unless it’s just those people whose personal brand IS to have a large social media following!

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This post is the biggest of moods :clap: :clap: :clap:

I made a conscious decision at the start of 2017 to try not to post any “first impressions” of games as I play them, because in the long run, I don’t think they’re ever as valuable as they seem in the moment. But even when I’m able to control my own instincts in that way, it’s impossible for my critical mind to not be affected by the takes other people lob into the ether.

A friend of mine absolutely loved Persona 5 when they played it earlier this year. But recently, they’ve been just dunking on everything about it in favor of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. It seems like this stems from The Great Game of the Year Decision of 2017, and maybe it’s their way of trying to convince themselves which game is more deserving. Maybe it’s about establishing an identity as the type of fan of games they are. I don’t totally understand. But I think it’s both unhealthy and tragic to see people feel like they need to trash one game in favor of another just for the sake of picking a “winner.”

So as I’m playing through Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I find myself being excessively critical of details that I know shouldn’t bother me. I really, deeply loved Persona 5, and I obviously know that it has its own merits that completely separate it from Xenoblade 2. Seeing my friend rip it apart when I know they liked the game is frustrating, maybe even a little hurtful! So as I dig deeper into Xenoblade, I constantly find myself having to mentally course-correct. Somewhere there’s a line between what I really feel about the game, and what I’m only lashing back at, but it’s going to take a lot more time to understand exactly where it’s drawn.


Also, the times I’ve been this person were generally when I felt left out of something a lot of my friends were enjoying, and decided to be a painful contrarian about it.

Dark Souls was one instance: I was very late to the bandwagon, and it was impossible for me to have the mythical ~unspoiled experience~ that everyone seemed to have had like a year or more ago, and I’m not great at action rpgs at the best of times, so I just made it my mission to be annoying about how I don’t think it’s a very good game. It was kind of a pointless jerk thing to do, and I regret it, but in my head I was providing some kind of cosmic balance to this overwhelmingly positive experience that I was apparently supposed to be having but wasn’t.

I think it’s easy to forget how things like that can just sort of hang in the air and create a really unpleasant and hostile atmosphere, and you’re probably not going to get criticized very strongly for any single instance of it, because, well, it’s just your entertainment preferences, right? I’d like to think I’m more aware of that sort of thing now, but really, only my pals could tell you for sure.

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I’m always going to revise my takes of things… I’m not sure I’m going to refrain from sharing an initial take though. Part of the reason I get down early thoughts is so that I can remember how I felt when it was all fresh, and because I want to see how other people’s early thoughts are similar or different.

But, like, with the new Star Wars about 2/3 of the way through I was having such a good time and by the end of the film I was really high on it, then after sleeping on it I was a bit more mixed on it. After I’d had time to think it through I could see some of the cracks. But then where I am right now, a whole day later is pretty high on it again. And I’ve no idea where it’ll land a month and a year from now. But I’m glad I had some pretty early thoughts shared to revisit sometime.

When I first read Ready Player One, I actually liked it quite a lot. I was under no illusions about it being a well written thing, and the nostalgia aspects were hit and miss for me, but I really enjoyed the ARG puzzling aspects that I’m always a sucker for, so I was along for the ride.

Looking back on it, the writing seems much harder to defend, especially the grosser parts, and the central puzzle while it kept me reading, wasn’t that clever, and I actually went back and revised my take. But I’m glad I got to read the original take first, because it reminded me of why I initially rated it at all.

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I think part of it is a community thing–everyone wants to be a voice in the conversation (hopefully a big voice), and people are afraid they won’t be heard if they don’t speak up loud enough. Also, the time window right after a release is the moment when people are most likely to respond back to your opinions. It feels less like throwing fortune cookies into the void.

For me, I feel the impulse to react quick most strongly with smaller print and comic books. If I feel that a book deserves a larger audience, this sense of guilt comes over me if I don’t put something out online for people to see while the iron’s hot. It’s silly, because no one follows my opinion…but it’s still real.

Sidenote: we’re also used to giving snap judgements on movies to friends right after seeing…so maybe this is part extension of that?


I dunno, I don’t have a Twitter account or anything – or really, any of the new social media stuff. The ~hot takes~ I see are all coming from “traditional review” writers – for certain values of “traditional”, at any rate – who usually read/watch/play/etc. something long before I get around to it myself, because of the need for ~relevance~ or whatever. It’s one of the reasons why I’d never really want to become a reviewer!

I remember I didn’t care one way or the other for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell when I first read it – though something of it must have struck me, subconsciously, because one does not simply decide to reread a heavily footnoted 800-page Regency pastiche for no reason. Anyway, after the second read, it became one of my favorite books of all time.

This is usually my instinctive explanation. Coming up with the classic quip or the missing piece of the puzzle is an alluring thought. The longer you wait, the more time other people have to develop their thoughts – if you’re not a professional film reviewer, it’s hard to be able to make that impression 2-3 weeks down the line (and even then).

I do this a ton, especially with films. Whether I’m watching it alone or with someone else, I am almost always jumping right into talking about the film with someone, even if only in a blog post or from a flatmate asking how I thought about the film. I most recently did this with Murder on the Orient Express, in which my 30-minute walk from the cinema back home became the formative period for the film.

That said, I do think there’s some distinctions to be drawn here.

I think the Internet Take Machine might be worth considering separately from this, although they are linked. It’s hard not to have your own thoughts caught in the maelstrom of internet takes, especially when liking or disliking a certain film becomes more than media taste and becomes a matter of indicating your politics. Even if you don’t voice your thoughts, this is still deeply influential. Untangling yourself from that to develop your own opinion is no simple task.


The Phantom Menace came out when I was in college. A whole bunch of us went to see it on opening night. We came out raving. Ewen McGregor IS Obi Wan. Could you believe the giant sea creatures?!?! Oh, and the pod race! THE POD RACE.

Suffice it to say my thoughts on TPM have changed since then.

The rush to level judgment leads inevitably to groupthink. Especially when it’s a subject you’re passionate about, and sharing it with fellow passionate people, there’s no way not to be influenced by the crowd. Some people might take it in the other direction, and be contrarian, but they’re still reacting to those around them.

I think about this a lot with games culture, and particularly the flash-in-the-pan tendencies of the games media. How often do we see a game become the ONLY thing EVERYONE is talking about for, say, a weekend, then to drop off and never be heard from again.

Devil Daggers. Tharsis. Everybody’s Golf. Titan Souls. Clustertruck. Furi. Let It Die.

You’ve got 48 hours. Play it. Opine. LOUDER. AGAIN. Time’s up. Next. (I will say I saw less of this in 2017, probably because the major, massively successful releases never let up enough for this to happen.)


I think the simple fact is that most people aren’t interested in reading an opinion on something they haven’t thought about recently, so we are collectively combating assumed disinterest by getting our thoughts out before everyone moves on. It’s frustrating that we are in hotter pursuit of the zeitgeist, rather than a meaningful personal experience, but in the end it can be empty and unsatisfying to experience things in a vacuum. Playing games, watching movies/shows, or reading books are great and fulfilling things to do on your own sometimes, but just as often they can be pretty lonely.


The one thing I do like about those shallow gut-reaction tweets is that, it seems like immediately after something comes out is the only time you have reviews unpainted by other people’s reactions.

So when I see someone I follow enjoyed a thing, and later it turns out most people thought that thing was bad, they still got to have the “I really liked it!” moment, instead of feeling the need to water it down to “I didn’t think it was as bad as people say.”

(Something which, for me at least, is more frustrating than the 24 hour reviews cycle, or whatever you want to call it. I hate tempered enthusiasm more than unconsidered reaction. It just lends itself to less positivity, less energetic enthusiasm. (Not things Star Wars has been hurting for, making this a bad example, but something most media could benefit from more of.))


I can get with the “I really liked it!” type reactions to some extent, because that seems more like a raw feeling to me. I agree that there’s something to be said for the window in which these reactions can come out. For me, that’s usually the moments when I’m walking out of the theater with friends before any of us have started talking about the movie. I feel like that blessed silent time before someone voices their opinion has gotten shorter and shorter, haha.

The takes that I was really surprised to see were the ones placing it within their pre-established ranking of the Stars Wars films and giving it these ratings out of 10 that everyone seemed to latch onto and imitate through the night. That seems like just toooo much when you’ve digested this thing for an hour tops.


I just want people having meaningful discourse with each other in lieu of shouting their own individual responses into an ocean of followers as fast as possible. Feels more like chumming waters than mulling over the merits of pop culture sometimes.


Why limit this critique of hot takes to media criticism? The rest of the world is at least as complex as the media we consume.

It’s the particular thing I want to talk about here today.

Reacting to events of any kind is a much bigger conversation than reacting to media.


I think most people have nailed the general phenomenon of why it happens: it’s the race to set the tenor of the discussion, to get the most relevance and attention for your takes on things. It’s hard because I feel this tug so hard: I’m a media critic, I’m a jokester, most of my life is spent thinking and indulging and critiquing media, even more so movies and TV than games, as both of those are more accessible to me than gaming when I have a limited amount of hours in a week. I know the true allure of being out in front of everything and really getting the good japes in, feeling temporary sense of community.

But I’ve really tried to inculcate in myself a need to really settle into my own opinions on something, even if it bucks a trend or even if I come to a piece of media well after anyone else. I’m well known to binge watch stuff years/decades later after something was at critical mass and experience it as myself. But still, having developed an audience for this type of stuff, I know that there’s people who are actively waiting for me to have an opinion on something. I’m a tastemaker, whether I wanted to be or not. As for anyone else, I can’t say and I will say there’s definitely some people who do not have the patience or discipline to really think about what they just experienced. This is why I hate ratings, why I hate simplistic feelings about things and quite a few people get into that and I don’t get it at all. Paying that much money just to skip off and say a movie is XYZ or a 10/10 almost shows how much gaming and gaming circles have destroyed people’s ability to have a thought about something that’s not a review, but rather a series of thoughts.

But I still feel that tug, that sickness, especially when it comes in particular to attacking instances where a piece of media seems very problematique. I’ve gotten out of that habit as I’ve shed more and more of my angry feminist persona but it still jumps out of my mouth at times.


So something I did recently was revisit NieR: Automata. I had said a lot of things about it throughout the year and felt the need to check myself and experience it again. I knew I had to do something special to make it stick for me and really know what it was once I was done.

I started a photo journal in a Twitter thread, as well as my own private text journal entries after every few hours I played. It was inspired by @robowitch’s public exploration and discussion of movies they had never seen before via our forum. Never have I felt my connection with a piece of media becoming enriched more quickly than I did with this experience. The last time I tried this was in college, when I used to write a lame little book report and turn it in to myself after reading stuff for recreation.

Now, I’m lucky if I have a lengthy conversation with someone about a movie, book, TV show or game with time to reflect on it. Usually, I tweet and I’m done, that’s what the thing got out of me, as far as the public is concerned.

I would really recommend keeping some kind of personal or public record of your experiences with a thing, if at all possible for even one piece of media you plan to consume.


Honestly, so much of that I use as fodder for writing jobs but it definitely helps to also have a friend or seven that you have those private conversations with. That’s how I really get deep into my feelings about something.


I think the impulse to rate or score a movie (whether with numbers, stars, percentages, or a letter grade), immediately after seeing it partially relates to the problem with ratings themselves (which AppleCider touched upon): it’s a belief in the ability to quantify “mathematically” the value of a work of art.

The impulse to quantify one’s enjoyment of, fuck it let’s say Star Wars, based on a ranking system or how it compares to the other movies isn’t entirely escapable. But a numerical rating system allows one to pretend that one’s subjective ideas are objective in some way. Moreover, that certain aspects of a movie one does or doesn’t like can be objectively determined to always be a good thing or a bad thing. (Consider the effect CinemaSins has had, for example. Or the way people treat MetaCritic and RottenTomatoes as arbiters of taste and quality.)

This is a bit of a tangent from the topics of trend surfing, pressure to conform to popular opinion, and the urgency with which we feel compelled to react on social media. But I do think there’s a connection between wanting to get one’s opinion out there quickly and rating a movie with hilariously specific values.

If one takes numerical ratings seriously, as opposed to simply a convenient way to scan what someone thinks about, again for example, Star Wars, then the urge to always determine its qualities on an arbitrary scale, especially as part of the immediate response to watching a movie, is detrimental to critical thinking. In nerd cultural discourse, aspects of the movie are rated, out-of-context, for how appropriately they satisfy fannish demands, for better and worse. Online, ratings can seem to be less about the movie than determining how worthy it is. Is it worthy of your money (ratings reduce art to commodities, they really do) or of basically its cultural cachet.

For content farms, arbitrary ratings and scores also generate clicks and reactions very easily. The deluge of content like that also affects how we think about art.

Lastly, applying a number to one’s opinions is an easy way to falsely imbue them with greater weight or importance. Not that it’s wrong to want to feel important. But substituting talking and thinking with scoring—to show that your fave is a winner or whatever—makes the discussion about the ratings rather than the art itself.

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