I have a confession to make: I’m a “Let’s Play”-aholic.
Night after night, I find myself horizontal on the nearest available soft surface, lying catatonic in a puddle of my own drool and shame, watching a YouTube personality play the games that I simply can’t be bothered to.
How did I, a staunch believer in the experiential power of games, end up like this? An immobile observer, a pale facsimile of the gamer I once was, not being bothered to actually play games.
“Let’s Play” videos are really starting to take a toll on my relationship with games. Judging by their Internet-consuming popularity, they may well be negatively impacting yours too.
It’s actually not an illogical phenomenon among gamers by any means, when you consider the substantial advantages of settling down to marathon a “Let’s Play” series.
The most obvious benefit for the impoverished gamer is the fact that you can save a lot of money by watching “Let’s Play” videos. In an age where gameplay trailers are about as attainable as Eridium, the videos serve up a titillating taster of titles that you might not be entirely sold on yet. They can be a major factor in deciding whether the game you’ve been considering is worth your hard-earned pennies or not, reducing the risk of being deceived by the honey trap of cinematic trailers. What is more, for the true skinflints out there, the “Let’s Play” phenomenon makes it entirely possible to experience full-length games – albeit second-hand – for absolutely nothing.
You don’t even have to worry about getting repetitive strain injury from a bazillion attempts at navigating some stupidly designed jump in a tortuous 3D platforming hell; someone else is doing that for you as you kick back with a refreshing beverage in one hand and your Twitter feed in the other. It’s also bloody hilarious and sort of hedonistic, watching someone else go into rage-mode, as opposed to having I Wanna Be The Guy age you forty years and dish you out hernias like free mints.
The right commentators can sometimes further evolve the enjoyment of an already great game, or even vastly improve the gameplay experience altogether, through their interactions and reactions.
The gamers in the Achievement Hunter team are a sterling example of “Let’s Play”ers who keep games fresh and entertaining through their creative content. (Source: achievementhunter.com)
It’s all very easy, very accessible and somewhat relaxing. We happily step into a optimally edited and scripted world which either glamorises or floats above the drudgery of the less appealing side of gaming. No wonder I’m hooked on it, while my poor neglected Steam library hovers hopefully in a dusty corner of my desktop.
Herein lies the problem, of course. Gaming isn’t supposed to be easy, and we’re certainly not supposed to fast-forward over the frustrating bits, let alone watch someone else deal with them instead. Remember when your teachers used to tell you that by cheating on tests you “were only cheating yourself”? It’s completely applicable to the gaming/”Let’s Play” situation when it gets out of hand.
BioShock: Infinite, for example, is one of many incredibly evocative and powerful experiences that, arguably, one simply has to play as the protagonist; only then can you fully appreciate the twists, turns, and personal crises that the game pours upon you like the suffocating yet delectable jam of flawless narrative. To be mere, untouchable audience, instead of vulnerable participant, is often to be robbed of the emotional and intellectual experience that a game offers. If I had cheated myself out of the experience of Infinite by watching a playthrough, I know for sure that I would have deeply regretted it.
Obsessively watching “Let’s Play”s, ultimately, feels almost like the equivalent of a fast food binge; the ease of access, followed by the quick rush of instant gaming gratification, eventually culminating in an overwhelming sense of emptiness and shame.
Yes, it all sounds very melodramatic, and I’m hamming it up (unintentional burger pun?) a bit here, but I can definitely start to feel this junk clogging up the arteries in which resides my gaming lifeblood.
So no more “Let’s Play”s for a while, okay? Open up Steam, scroll through your Pile of Shame and let’s play – let us play, before we totally give over our identity and autonomy as gamers to the tiny, highly-visible portion of our kind. I’m off to work my way through a light, refreshing salad of indie games.