A Meditation on Lists

Like most people I like lists.

And not just of the grocery variety, but of all sorts. I’ve written them (check out the Tuesday Top 5 category on the sidebar), I read them and generally speaking know that when I do so, I’m wasting my time. For instance, just considering the past hour I spent consuming lists on UGO, I could have filed my pay stubs, written my IGMS column, or better yet seduced my wife. But no, instead I sat there working to sate some inexplicable desire to know who UGO had named as the hottest woman of 2010. And after that, which woman looked best in stockings. And then what was the number sexiest secret to be found in a video game. There is apparently a lot of pornography involved in video game journalism.

I know very well of course why so any sites, not just UGO, are constantly putting out lists. For one, they’re easy and fun to write. While I have been incredibly lax with my own weekly Top 5’s (I’m thinking of canning them for greater endeavors), I know from experience that if given half an hour I can push out a fairly good list. They’re works of pure opinion, often requiring nothing even resembling evidence to back up preferences. Moreover, that kind of pure opinion often leads to disagreement, which in turn leads to discussion, which in turn results in better traffic. Of the few articles I’ve written here that pushed my view count up into the thousands range, several were lists.

What I don’t quite understand is why people so love to read lists. On the one hand the reasons are similar to why people like writing them: they’re easy to read, they stir up controversy, and they’re just plain fun! That said, of all the lists I read about video games (my supposed area of expertise) I rarely read anything unexpected. Lists discussing shooters will inevitably toss a bone to Doom or Goldeneye, and fondly recant with misty eyes the days when the Call of Duty games were still pushing the shooter genre forward. RPG lists will include Final Fantasy VII with almost infallible reliability, very often at the number one spot (VI was better).

I love lists as much as the next person, but I hate how typical they tend to be. How, with thousands of great games out there, so many writers with such a wide range of experiences always seem to fall back on the same sacred cows. And yet, despite playing it so safe they still drum up hits thanks to the eternal rabid frothing of the fanboys who’s first RPG was Final Fantasy VII, or who stayed up late nights playing split screen death matches.

I know I am no better than anyone else, but a part of me still would love to see the list format used to its proper potential. Lists are easy, but they don’t have to be. Believe it or not, it is possible to write a list that is fresh and interesting. A list that expresses opinions but also performs the cardinal duty of a real piece of journalism: to inform. But I digress, who am I to complain? I have two lists open as I write this and lord knows I will see them through to the bitter end. Although I could hardly call a list ranking the quality of this year’s cleavage all too bitter. Ah, the joys of personal hypocrisy…

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