Creative-consumptive entertainment


Since discovering a discussion on Hacker News about the perils of consumptive entertainment, I doubt my self-worth every time I sit down to play a video game. I could be doing something productive. Instead, I stare at my Steam library, guilt and indecision cycling endlessly.

Forms of "consumptive" entertainment are regularly looked down upon, often cited as necessary evils. The modern adage goes, "create more, consume less". Time spent consuming is time better spent creating, writers opine.

When most people think about entertainment, they tend to group it into one of two forms:

  • consumptive: no input needed from the participant
  • creative: consists almost entirely of participant input

Consumptive entertainment is watching Game of Thrones, scrolling Instagram, or playing Loop Hero. Whether or not the participant chooses to interact doesn't change the output of the entertainment. Footage continues to roll, scrolling remains infinite, and video games play themselves into eternity.

Creative entertainment is painting a landscape, recording a song, writing a program. Without the participant actively engaging, nothing is produced.

These two forms of entertainment are often described as being at odds. Binge-watching is bad, but an occasional episode is a reprieve from a hard day's work. Creativity is good, particularly if years of toil and anguish are reflected in the final piece.

I propose a new classification of entertainment, one that draws the line between consumptive and creative.

Creative-consumptive entertainment is consumptive entertainment that is actively engaged with.

Reading a book with pencil in hand is a great example. Reading is a consumptive act; both the words and the ideas are static when absorbed in a passive reading session. However, read with a pencil and you'll discover yourself underlining passages, writing small notes, and engaging with the words in a new, creative way.

This method of close reading is creative-consumptive because the ideas from the page are re-interpreted by the reader, adding new meaning and texture.

What's most interesting about creative-consumptive entertainment is the ability for any consumptive form to transform into a creative form by applying attention. The principles behind close reading carryover to television, movies, video games, and so on. All it requires is active participation.

I hope that this idea of creative-consumptive entertainment assuages the guilt that modernity attaches to consumption. Active participation can transform consumptive entertainment into something that is both more fulfilling and engaging.