End of Year Lists are Not Useful

The anonymous author of the Thinkings blog on why they think year end lists are silly: (edit Jan ’24: the post seems to be removed, so I’m linking to the archived version)

I reject that the GOTY format is even useful. They reinforce the underlying combative nature of the gaming world where superlatives are prime and shades of grey are 180-no scope’d on sight. At any time anyone can say that a game was meaningful for them, and here is why. They don’t need permission or the enabling factor of the GOTY list meme. And they don’t need to wait until December, in the same way people don’t need to wait until 1 January to adopt a new habit or hobby.

This seems mostly fair! Reductive rankings of media can be unhelpful and strip away the nuances required to meaningfully describe and distinguish between the very many qualities that make something worth recommending in the first place.

The author provides some notes on how these recommendations can be more useful—eschew publication date, reject arbitrary listings, invite dialogue—which I hope I broadly followed in my own recent year review.

But I think this position goes a step or two further than I would agree with. These sorts of yearly reviews are unfettered curation. In Stephen Carradini’s words, you trust my aggregate expertise in some way, and thus you can trust my specific expertise regarding this recommendation. Curation—in the original ‘caretaker of objects’ definition—seeks in part to narrow the gap between curator and audience; good curation needs to be engaged with for it to be successful, and the way that it is presented can assist with this.

Music critic Steven Hyden discusses this as a sort of necessary evil:

In my mind, the list format is a vehicle for packaging thousands of words of critical analysis that might otherwise seem unpalatable if presented in large gray blocks. On the internet, a winning formula is taking a dumb idea and executing it smartly. That’s what a list is. Most people do not want to read 7,000 words on a band from the 1990s. But they will suddenly change their minds if you put numbers next to every other paragraph in descending order. It’s a magic trick. I don’t pretend to understand it. But I know it works.

We should make these lists (or round-ups, or reviews) as informative as possible—focus on the why, keep the nuances, explore the differences—but let’s not put in place too many rules that prevent an audience from reading them in the first place. A thoughtful, subjective list is vastly better than no list at all.



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