Watching people play video games on YouTube or Twitch is a hard concept for many to grasp. For instance, when I found myself in the unenviable situation of having a conversation with someone I didn’t really care to know in a bar, they were talking about their “weirdly nerdy” flat mate. This utter fuckin’ dweeb wouldn’t just play these ‘game videos’ they have nowadays, but he would actually sit and watch other people play them on YouTube. I sat and solemnly nodded, all the while wishing I was currently participating in my own fuckin’ dweeby game-watching. It would certainly be more enjoyable than listening to a tipsy economics student systematically and quite unknowingly tearing apart my lifestyle choices.
It’s not only non-internet people (don’t call them that to their face, they don’t like it) that have misgivings about the much-maligned medium, though. When not met with abject disdain towards the act of watching someone play a game, you’re stuck as an innocent bystander in the battlefield of sectarian violence between different Let’s Play camps. Over in that field, the ‘bro army’ of PewDiePie’s followers, young warriors whose shrill shrieks reverberate around the desolate wasteland, and whose propensity for rape jokes makes even this war effort seem relatively civilised. And over there, fans of DarkSydePhil! They, despite being told what to do numerous times, can’t get their heads around how to use their weapons and are therefore blaming the concept of weaponry rather than their own ineptitude. But, alas, their sacrifices are in vain, because here comes the all-conquering Yogscast, whose ambition to take over the entirety of Let’s Play seems more of a certainty by the day. The battle of the comment boards rages on. Whoever wins, we lose.
I’m being a smidge hyperbolic, of course. In reality, the Let’s Play scene is a varied one with something for everyone. From in-depth play-throughs where the game is very much the focal point, to ones where the player takes more of the limelight. In the latter, the player can provide genuinely insightful or funny commentary and, if they’re fortunate, reach an audience well into the thousands and beyond. Alternatively, the player could scream incoherently and gurn like a startled yeti in a headset as they plod their way through yet another Amnesia mod and pretend to be scared, thereby reaching an audience well into the millions and beyond. Remember, kids, the world is a cruel and unforgiving place.
Of course, in what is a heavily saturated market you have to take the good with the bad, even when there’s a vast, yawning chasm of the bad. For a more complete archive of Let’s Play wrongs look no further than Retsupurae – a channel devoted to finding the worst examples of the medium and riffing over them MST3K-style. (By the way, for those unfamiliar with MST3K, look it up now. It’ll be a better use of time than reading this.) One particular highlight is a guy who decides to record Final Fantasy 13 by pointing a camcorder at his television. The following ten minutes or so consists of a frantic battle between the camcorder, which constantly zooms right up to single-pixel levels of the TV, and the Let’s Player, who has to multitask between using one hand to play the game and the other to zoom out and make sure we can see more than one strand of the character’s hair. It’s an astonishing video that actively makes me not only hate camcorders and televisions, but also makes me hate John Logie Baird for his pioneering research into visual recording that laid the foundations for both of those objects existing.
My point is, there’s a lot of crap to sift through, but isn’t that the case for all the best things? Like panning for gold in a sewer. Not that I’m calling the Let’s Play scene a sewer, per se. It’s honestly more like the U-bend. Yeah, it’s occasionally pretty gross but sometimes, when out and about, you can find a coin, or a waterproof watch, or an only-very-recently-broken iPhone. I should add here that, in spite of what this weirdly specific and laboured analogy suggests, I do not rummage around toilet U-bends. Don’t go spreading that around, I’ll be done professionally.
So what is good Let’s Play? Hell if I know. As the popular adage goes, you do you. If you want funnies, go for something like Game Grumps. If you want five minute gameplay snippets as a shorter break from the unending horror of real life, try SeaNanners. If you want an in-depth look at a game, just search the title and there’ll likely be someone passionate about that game who’s willing to espouse it’s virtues via Let’s Play. Heck, while you’re here, and while the ability to shamelessly plug still lies within me, check out BitCultures’ very own Pineapple Gaming.
Like much of what’s on the internet, Let’s Play tends to be shrouded by the noxious fumes of those who are overtly passionate about their choice of entertainment. If, for instance, I went to a Duran Duran gig and was met outside by a bunch of rabid, vicious Spandau Ballet fans telling me in no uncertain terms how I’m the worst person on Earth, then I might be put off the 80s new wave scene entirely. Heaven forbid. All I can say is thus: Avoid the nonsense, put aside your prejudice, and rest your feet in front of YouTube for an hour or two, won’t you?