“Subway Surfers” is destroying attention spans

Created by animator and comedian Seth MacFarlane in 1999, “Family Guy” is one of the most popular adult cartoons on the air. The series follows the zany antics of the Griffin family: Peter, Lois, Chris, Meg, talking dog Brian and baby Stewie. Despite its off-color humor, the show has always managed to find an audience. In 1999, it was people interested in a new FOX cartoon. In 2004, it was people who discovered and resurrected the show through the DVD release. In 2012, it was people who tuned in to see the death of beloved character of Brian the dog (which was retconned three episodes later). Now, in 2023, “Family Guy” has found a new audience through the TikTok generation. With the spread of viral clips and jokes from the show permeating the app, it’s almost impossible to not know who Peter Griffin is if you’re on TikTok. However, this all comes with a strange caveat. Almost every single frame of the show posted onto any given account is bizarrely paired with gameplay footage of the popular mobile game “Subway Surfers,” or variations of it.

This is a problem that I have seen across many short-form video apps. Whether it’s TikTok, Youtube Shorts or Instagram Reels, “The ‘Subway Surfers’ Effect,” as I’ve coined it, permeates. Sometimes full-fledged motion pictures will be posted in parts alongside unrelated gameplay. I don’t mean to get up on my soapbox, but I feel as though if you are to watch a Stanley Kubrick film through TikTok, then at the very least realize that double-featuring “A Clockwork Orange” with someone doing a terrible job at a mobile game is perhaps a step to far. Ignoring the basis issue of posting someone else’s art for your own monetary gain, it feels incredibly disrespectful to do so with gameplay footage, as if to say, “this work of art is not engaging enough to stand on its own, so we stuck something actually interesting under it so you keep watching all 27 parts.”

According to a CNN report, attention spans have decreased by a whole two minutes among the general populace. That’s not even taking into account the new generation of children who are being raised through an iPad. Generation Alpha will eventually succeed all of us, and it is somewhat terrifying to think of what kind of people they will become after being exposed to so much short-form video content. Even among my own Generation Z, anti-intellectualism is at an all-time high. It feels like less and less people are interested in anything other than what is currently affecting them directly. I fully believe that these over-stimulating clips have an effect, and are an active participant in destroying the attention spans of future generations.

I fear that we are seeing a “Subway Surfer-fication” of all media, slowly beginning to conform to the micro-patience of the audience. We have already witnessed the garbage that big movie and television studios have dished out in the post-pandemic years. Almost all of Disney’s output has been self-gratifying waste that exists only to appease the tiny attention spans of its viewers. You might think that this isn’t an issue worth talking about, but when I’m watching the generation after mine living inside of a screen, I get worried. So in ten years when you go to the movies and they offer you a “Subway Surfers” option, don’t come crying to me.