Incriminating numbers are one of the most addictive things ever. This is no surprise to anyone who’s ever done (or even just observed) anything that even remotely depends on this kind of addiction to be successful. Due to our natural want as humans to accumulate things, even if all we’re accumulating is numbers, watching numbers go up from our own actions, or sometimes not, hits a nice sweet spot in our brains that are hard for some people to ignore. It’s why things like incremental clicker games and watching loading bars fill quickly are so satisfying and part of why the grind in MMORPGs and watching something download miserably slow are so extra agonising. As a species in general, we like accumulating things. So, when a type of website comes into the limelight that helps quantify how much stuff people have watched, naturally it was popular. However, it got popular for varying different reasons. For some people, having a list of the stuff they’ve watched for when they easily need to recall everything. For some people, having having a good way to plan out what they’d like to watch. For others, it was a form of incremental addiction attached directly to something they were already doing. Today, let’s talk about anime list padding.
Without any doubt, I’m of the opinion that anime lists, or anime trackers, are incredibly useful. It’s nice to have an easy list to give people whenever they wonder what you’ve seen, to refer back to whenever you need to go through what you’ve seen to find shows that fit a specific criteria, or want to create a backlog of shows you have a genuine interest in. Even at the end of the day, the idea of stat padding anime lists just seems silly to me rather than any sort of problem. For those unaware, anime trackers, like MyAnimeList, Kitsu, and AniList, are websites that act as databases and lists to record exactly what shows you’ve seen, are watching, you have on hold, and plan to watch.
On top of everything previously mentioned, these sites allow users to score the anime they watch to aggregate into a general weighted score for each show. Since each user has their own independent lists and scores, naturally this creates a social aspect to the trackers and, while each tracker is different in how they display these stats, in general each site lets other people know how many shows you’ve watched, and in the cases of AniList and MyAnimeList how much total time you’ve spent watching anime and your average score — all the neat numbers people who use the site would theoretically be interested in.
So, theoretically, this is neat. You have a nice simple place to easily compare lists that you keep up to date and each list could have a million and one different uses for people. Of course, because the internet is the internet, there’s bound to be people tho take things like a neat organisation tool to the next step for no reason other than because they can. Anime list stat padding is when you binge show after show, regardless of whether or not it’s good or if you’re enjoying yourself, just to make your completed entrees and time spent watching go up.
The main idea behind this, or what I can gasp of it, is that by watching more and having spent more time in your life on anime that for some reason gives you a sort of influence or greater standing. Naturally, with more anime completed and more time spent watching it, you have more experience with the medium, and that experience must mean something. If I’m to play devil’s advocate for a little, when you put into consideration the difference between someone who just got into the medium, someone who’s only been a fan for a couple years, and someone who’s grown up with the medium, there’s a clear distinction. Whether or not that distinction is equatable to social standing in any meaningful way is up for debate and I’m personally of the belief that it doesn’t, but it at least makes sense.
All that separates a newcomer from someone who regularly keeps up with airing shows is experience and if you had to quantify experience with anime specifically, time spent with the medium and the number of shows completed isn’t an awful way to do it. One of the problems with this mentality, however, is it creates a sort of elitism and need to one-up everyone who’s happy with how much they’ve delved into the medium. Depending on the group of people, if I say I’ve spent 62 days total watching anime there can either be a normal conversation following that statement (despite it being a somewhat strange thing to bring up randomly) or someone in the group wanting to one up me by bragging about their 100+ days watched and 500 finished series.
In complete honesty, that’s the only thing that bugs me about stat padding. Every other aspect of it I frankly see as a waste of time and removing the enjoyment from an entertainment medium by forcing yourself to down as much anime as you can in as little time as you can. But with this kind of mentality supporting what is without a doubt an addictive practice, people who do partake in stat padding have no reason to stop. There’s something interestingly satisfying about finishing an episode of anime knowing that you can add that episode to your watch count, whether or not you enjoyed it.
Accumulating things in general can be found all over the place in psychology. Everything from the operant conditioning chamber, or Skinner box, to economic theories like capital accumulation and profit motive along with the aforementioned examples — generally the idea is that people like getting stuff. It doesn’t matter if that stuff is worth anything, it doesn’t matter how much other stuff a person has, and it doesn’t matter if they already have the stuff in question. If there is an easy opportunity to get more stuff, people will take it. So, when you create a massive backlog of shows for yourself, beyond what you think you can even finish, and force yourself to watch close everything every season, every episode can transform from a twenty-minute entertaining experience to a step further on your journey to complete this huge backlog.
Initially, you could even be completely oblivious to what you’re doing. It may even just be the way you enjoy consuming anime, and as odd as that is to me, I don’t doubt people could find enjoyment in it. The problem when the anime part begins to get stripped away and numbers take a front seat. When you begin to look at the situation as numbers going up, and bigger numbers being a better thing, whether or not the show you’re consuming is enjoyable becomes irreverent. This becomes entirely about experience and numbers over actually having fun. While I can understand how the process begins and picks up speed, how everything continues to appear as a good thing is something I can’t quite wrap my head around.
While breeding of elitism in general doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, forcing yourself through a medium to the point where you begin to loathe it for nothing more than higher numbers as a bragging right makes extra little sense to me. Once you dilute anime as just a means to increase the numbers on your anime list without them becoming literally meaningless, how the urge doesn’t become monotonous is interesting to me. It leads me to ask the question of if being able to have more power in your mind is worth the time spent not enjoying what you were doing. Just because I can at least kind of understand it doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing to do.
I mentioned in my editorial “Stop Complaining and Enjoy” that what begins a sort of needlessly contrarian and toxic mentality is doing things to the point where you no longer like it, but continue doing it for the sake of doing it. In that editorial I mentioned watching a long spree of bad shows being able to raise your expectations too high and eventually give you the genuine opinion that all anime is bad, and I think stat padding does something similar. In watching shows constantly just for the sake of watching them, you have to eventually adopt a negative mindset that all anime is bad sans for the few shows you remembered enjoying before going on an endless binge spree.
I bring this up because it’s an addition to the things our hypothetical binge watcher can hold above other people’s heads. Not only have they watched 100 days worth of shows, but that experience has given them certified proof that the entirety of the medium is garbage. Every time I see someone who boasts how much they’ve watched or that they “know” anime is terrible or about how many shows they “have” to watch, it boils up this curious frustration inside of me. Firstly, why they continue to subject themselves to something I have a hard time believing they’re having fun with and second, if they’re aware they’re transforming themselves into a garbage person, whether or not they care.
This, of course, isn’t to say binge watching anime for extended periods of time is bad. Outside of the elitism, I really couldn’t even care less about people who pad their anime lists. It’s when you begin to see anime as nothing but numbers that things become problematic. When I watched the entirety of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica with a couple close friends back one night in 2015, I didn’t loathe the experience and I didn’t see it as another five hours of anime to be added to my count, I enjoyed it. I bet if I did the same thing with Kimi no Na wa or selector infected WIXOSS I’d have the same experience — I’d enjoy it. When that stops being my primary goal, when I stop wanting to experience unique situations in unknown worlds, when anime becomes another number of stuff I’ve done, that’s going to be a flag that I should stop consuming the medium rather than a cue to continue padding my list far beyond the point where I care.
I haven’t stayed up until 5 in the morning to finish a post in awhile. Here’s hoping when this post goes live it makes sense, since there’s only so much proof reading I can do when I’m practically asleep. As always, thank you so much for reading this week’s post! If you’d like to see what I’m up to on the other six days of the week you can follow me on Twitter and if you’d like to share any of your thoughts on the topic for me to read just leave them in the comments below! Here’s hoping I can at least get some sleep today; see you all next week!
The featured image for this post was drawn by illustrator Tsunako.