While both ‘the soaps’ and ‘the game’ have been criticized as poor viewing choices, only the soaps have been dismissed as fluff. However, a close examination reveals that, in fact, the soaps have more heft than the game.
In both cases, the central theme, and that which drives the action, is winning. In the soaps, what the players are trying to win is money, power, love, and/or happiness. These are pretty substantial goals. In the game, however, the players are trying to win – the game. Frankly, it verges on circularity (you play the game in order to win the game), which comes close to utter triviality.
And while both sets of players use strategy, often involving manipulation, the strategy of the soaps is considerably more complicated than ‘Go left, fake, then go right.’ In fact, I would venture to say that the soaps is to the game what chess is to checkers.
With regard to setting, the soaps have a bit of an edge: while a well-furnished room is the norm, at least the set does change. (One has the well-furnished office, the well-furnished den, the well-furnished living room…)
With respect to dialogue, again the soaps have the edge: there is some. (Actually, I expect the game players speak to each other too, but for some reason we never get to hear their dialogue; instead, we are privy only to a voice-over commentary, explaining the action, rather like a Greek chorus – as patronizing now as it no doubt was then.)
While the characters of the soaps are more gender-inclusive, the characters of the game are more race-inclusive. (And in both cases, they’re rich.) I’d call it a tie here.
As for plot, again I’d call it a tie: in both cases, the events are terribly predictable. I’d venture to say one is hard put to distinguish one game from another or one soap from another – only the characters give it away.
In the cinematography category, the game is superior for its long shots, but the soaps are superior for their close-ups. Again, a tie. However, in the soundtrack category, the soaps walk away with the prize.
As for sex and violence, I’m afraid the soaps lead the game on both counts. There is simply no sex in the game – unless you count the occasional ass-pat (but that is so very elementary, it hardly even counts as foreplay). And while there is a lot more physical contact in the game, of a violent-seeming nature, and while injury must therefore be frequent, it is seldom permanent; in the soaps, however, people get hurt all the time, in rather long-lasting ways. Death is even rarer in the game; not so in the soaps.
One might point out that the game is real, whereas the soaps are not, and on that basis alone claim victory for the game. Unfortunately this very ‘advantage’ backfires: given the level of injury and death in the soaps, it’s to its credit that it’s not for real; in the game, however, real people get hurt.
Tally up the points and I rest my case: the soaps are pretty substantial stuff compared to the schoolyard play of the game.