We Love Routines

(or, this subtitling nonsense is a routine in of itself)

Despite what everyone thinks, we love routines – yes, all of us. Think about the most popular leisure activities of our generation – video games, TV and the Internet and listening to music – and consider that all of these inherently feature repetition: FIFA 14 is the best-selling game of the moment, a game in which the primary enjoyment is had by playing the same whiny eleven-year-olds on Ultimate Team over and over and over again until you want to kill yourself, beating GTA V in terms of sales, a game with much more variation in its gameplay; the average person’s Internet usage would appear to be scrolling through Tumblr posts or desperately refreshing Charlie McDonnell’s YouTube channel to see if he’s uploaded a new video, then giving up and watching the Rap Challenge for the eighteenth time; and listening to those same songs you’ve got on your iPod on going to school or while you work has left you with a better knowledge of each band’s basslines than their very bassists. But, critically, I’m not saying that this repetition is a bad thing at all.

Repetition is key in our society, as it allows working hours and employment to be defined, allowing us to create a Capitalist society, where everyone works for their own gain, or a Communist one, where the daily grind serves as a convenient distraction for the plebs from the oppression and hopeless meaninglessness of their pitiful lives. As a result, video games, which are the new Television, as Charlie Brooker will tell you, are more focused on establishing a formulae that works, and then refining it over years, rather than trying anything spectacularly innovative. Now, games like Heavy Rain and Mass Effect would suggest that repetition isn’t the way forward, and that innovation and story-telling are; but consider this – Heavy Rain doesn’t have a sequel, and Mass Effect 3’s ending was so controversial they had to make a new ending, to provide an ending to the original ending, thus ending that ending with a new ending (the original closure of the game was around 47.6 times more disappointing and difficult to figure out than that last sentence). The problem with something that’s ‘out there’ is that it is either hit or miss; yesterday I said that some strive for objective success in their work, and it can be argued that in terms of sheer income generated, formulaic series such as FIFA are much more successful than stuff like Heavy Rain; the latter is more subjectively brilliant as a piece or art, but FIFA’s been going for 20 years now. This is why sports games are so popular – if we can grind out 14 years in an education system we hate, logic would suggest that we’d be perfectly happy to waste a similar amount of time playing a fun sports game. This is perhaps why the concept of isolated levels was the basis for so many video games way back when; early heroes like Crash, Sonic and Mario all explored their worlds through individual stages, as opposed to the open-World means of exploration we Minecrafters and wannabe twelfth-Century assassins use today. And this stuff is all fun; do those people who like sports or platformer games find this cycle enjoyable? Undoubtedly; these games wouldn’t be so popular otherwise. My Football Manager addiction also shows me to be part of this routine-loving crowd. Although the gaming landscape is changing, with titles like those in the brilliant InFamous series and the heart-gouging The Last Of Us providing more open-World elements, these games also have levels and a clear structure on a deeper level – InFamous consists of 40 separate missions, linked by plot, and reached through exploration of a city, and The Last Of Us cleverly creates levels without us even knowing it, by dividing shootouts and sneaking sections with cutscenes, walking exposition bits or passages of time reaching new seasons of the year. Video games are largely enjoyed through putting several hours into them, and the only difference between then and now is the sophistication by which the developers hide the inherent routine present in most games.

Okay, now TV and it’s weird step-child that everyone but it likes, the Internet. In the world of off-demand entertainment, TVs are defined by their schedules, rigid organisations of programs, designed to maximise viewers, which in turn lead us to build our lives around these times; to catch Dr Who live (for the four days every two years its actually on) I plan my weekend work around it, working on Saturday morning, so as to avoid the choice between the show and homework (its not really a choice, more of an exercise in thinking of good excuses for not having done my work come Monday). Right now, to avoid the clash between my football training on Tuesday nights and the Great British Bake-Off, I strategically use my family to watch the first bit of the show, that I inevitably miss, and fill me in on the details when I come home; call it weird, but I know all about the history of Tottenham Cake, so it’s at least effective. However, modern Internetting kinda removes this need to build our routines around a TV schedule, as we can watch whatever we want, when we want, paying however little money we want! (well, I guess it would still be important to watch Breaking Bad as it came out so you could talk to your friends about it the next day and stuff) Now our entertainment comes from watching boys with fringes on YouTube do makeup tutorials, because ‘OMG it’s so ironic lol’, or watching boys with a distinct lack of a fringe take the piss out of the former, which can be obtained relatively on-demand (providing the content is actually created, to be obtained). This leads us to become obsessed with the routines of other people, of these mystical YouTube superstars who upload videos whenever the hell they feel like, leading to weird, almost stalkerish insights into their lives, as seen here in perhaps the most effort-free means to make a living in human history; here, routine and daily life are not only important to us in creating a schedule to live by, but are important for entertainment value; the whole ‘Vlogging’ genre of YouTube is derived entirely from people demanding to know about the lives of others, and said others giving it to them in video form (if you don’t know what I’m on about, watch Ben Cook’s excellent Becoming YouTube series from the beginning, providing a thoughtful and insightful look into this bizarrely wonderful culture, in perhaps the most impressive piece of journalism that is to be found on YouTube). TV once provided us with another block to build and structure our lives around, a block that the Internet has torn out, leaving the concept of routine more flexible than a Russian gymnast, reducing said routines to bases of entertainment.

Music is the third bit of popular culture that revolves around routine, or at least repetition. By its definition as a form of entertainment consisting of repeating sounds, music has always leant itself to repeating notes: rap music often (at one point, anyway) has the same beat throughout and has become incredibly popular for it, for instance. Obviously, to build a genre of music around repetition, the bit you’re repeating must be good to listen to; the best rappers will produce the best music to listen to by itself – I could easily listen to the instrumental to Classified’s Fall From Paradise for hours. Looking at music in our lives, its also clear that we use music repetitively – rarely will we sit down and simply listen to an album, we’ll have it playing in the background as we work, or play a game like Football Manager with no music, or as we commute around. This means that music basically becomes the backing track to our lives, something that we listen to all the time, but is rarely the focus of our attention. Also, with the introduction of playlists on programmes like iTunes and whatnot, we can rearrange our songs into groups that we can easily listen to as a whole, and over and over again, further routinifying (that’s another made-up word that should be real) music. Perhaps music is the weakest area of the three, in terms of arguing that our lives are defined by routine, in that concerts, where people go with the expressed purpose of listening to music, are extremely popular, and probably always will be. However, I maintain that music is a key element showing our love of routine, even if only to a small extent.

Overall, routines define us more than anything else, if it is believed that actions speak louder than words, but this needn’t be a bad thing – to repeat an action is simply to do it over and over, amplifying its effect, meaning that repeating difficult or dull tasks such as work makes working regularly even harder, and playing games or listening to music every day makes them more enjoyable. There are limits to the amount of repetition a person can take before wanting to kill themselves, and it differs from person to person, and depending on the repeated action – your idea of hell might be writing an essay a day, but I actively enjoy it (I’ve kept this blog thing up for eight days now). Still, even if you think routines aren’t enjoyable, you have to agree that they’re an inherent part of our lives, as they define our habits and jobs, and it just so happens that the routines I stick to happen to be ones I enjoy a lot.


FIFA 14 Sales Figures (reliable website is reliable)

Charlie Brooker’s Gameswipe (a little out-of-date by this point but still very much worth a watch)

A Silly Makeup Tag Video (it’s funny because they broke up)

The most thoughtful eight minutes on YouTube (“Here’s a Krave Challenge for you – try finding your dignity” will be written on my grave)

Emma Blackery’s Room Tour (love her videos, by the way)

The first episode of Ben Cook’s Becoming YouTube (honest to God, watch this)

Classified – Fall From Paradise (it is hard to explain our fall from paradise)


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