Let’s Plays and other Videos

I’ve noticed that a lot of my posts recently have been somewhat abstract and esoteric, so I thought I’d talk about something a bit lighter both that I’ve spent less time thinking about and also that has more room for conversation.  I’m a big fan of the Let’s Play communities on sites like youTube, and I find myself more often than you might expect trying to explain to people in my major what the appeal of a Let’s Play video actually is.

Obviously, this is a much broader topic than what I’m going to talk about here, so if I miss something you feel is important, feel free to mention it in the comments.  I’m also going to be talking less about Minecraft or other creative mediums, which would warrant a post in and of themselves, although there are certainly some interesting discussions to be had there. In terms of something straightforward though – a game with a definite beginning and end – why would someone watch that?  Why would someone look at a Let’s Play for a game that they could (or already have) just played themselves?

Experiential Gameplay

I’ll highlight the videos below as being some of my favorite LPs to put on when I have trouble sleeping. The principle behind this is that a game or a commentator’s voice/personality might be good at putting you in a particular mood, or be valuable in and of itself.  On top of that, Dear Esther and Journey both stand out as games that have affected me emotionally in a very particular way. Watching other people play these games affects me again, because it reminds me of my own experiences.

Sometimes this takes the form of getting someone’s first reactions to a game that you find really special, or sometimes it’s just comforting to see that someone feels the same way about a game that you do.

And of course, having a good voice or personality doesn’t hurt either. It’s a bit outside the scope of this post, but I liken the experience to listening to something like NPR. Audio creates an environment that is welcoming or safe, which is a common theme I’ve run into when looking at other people’s thoughts.

Gameplay Style or Proficiency

Different people approach gameplay from different angles, and if you never move beyond your own style of play, you’ll never be able to evolve and appreciate the multiple ways that you might actually be able to approach a title. The more you learn from how other people interact with media, the better at interacting with media you yourself will be.

The two videos I’m highlighting here are a perfect run of Megaman X and a glitch-assisted speed run of Ocarina of Time, which are good for getting the point across, but not great for showing nuances.  In reality, you don’t need to be so drastic: any game where a person’s play-style differs yours would be is valuable, even if it’s as simple as taking a more aggressive approach in a strategy game, or role-playing in Scribblenauts.

The point is to get a different perspective on how a game could be played, and the gameplay itself doesn’t need to be radically transformed in order to get that.  Let’s Play videos have changed the way I think about a number of different strategy games, roguelikes, and other genres, because until seeing someone else approach the game, I only knew how to do it from one angle.

The commentator’s insight

I’m going to call out Mastigophoran as having one of the best LPs I’ve been able to find on youTube.  There are a lot of reasons I’d give him that level of praise, but a large part of my respect is based on how wonderfully he goes into the mechanics of Eternal Daughter’s gameplay, engine, and story.  It’s a level of detail you would never notice until you’d played through the game multiple times in a row, if even then.

The important qualifier here is that you’re getting information that you wouldn’t have gotten simply by playing the game, and while there are a lot of things I love about Mastigophoran’s videos, this is what’s most apparent.  Good Let’s Play videos are often in-depth looks into how a game works.  Often this goes beyond just plot or puzzle spoilers.  You should come away from these videos feeling like you have a lot more insight into the game than when you went in.

Common threads?

I’m not going to try and come up with a practical ruleset for what I feel embodies the essence of a good Let’s Play video, especially since there’s a bunch of stuff I’ve ignored here, including competitive or creative games like Magic or Minecraft.  Many (but not all) of the examples I’ve actually listed incorporate elements from all of my points.  They change the way you look at a game, or build upon the way you look at a game to enhance your overall experience with the medium.

It’s not a serious point of contention for me or anything I would ever actually argue about, but I do maintain that Let’s Plays are neither a replacement for playing games, or a completely separate experience. The mediums work with each other and rely on each other to reach a greater potential.

And of course, ultimately, your attitude towards or engagement with any medium is only necessary or worthwhile in as much as it enhances your life or gives you something of value.  I’ll emphasize that LPs are, like literally every other medium in the world, an acquired taste that takes time to get used to, and it’s understandable that for some people, the rewards might not be worth the effort. But if you are curious, I would encourage you to try developing that taste, if nothing else just to gain an appreciation for why people are making these videos and why people are watching them.

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