Personal blog of Elijs 'X2Eliah' Dima

Let’s talk of let’s plays

They have become quite the thing over the last couple of years, haven’t they? These amateur-captured videos (and, admittedly, posts of 100s of pictures and some text, but I’ll not talk of those in this post) of people just plain playing some games and talking, more or less, about it. There are completely silent let’s plays, where you as a viewer see only the game footage with maybe some clarification subtitles now and then, there are serious solo-filmed endeavours meant to show off the game. Sometimes, there’s even such a rarity as an amusing let’s play, more often than not by 2 or 3 people doing the talking and jokes. It’s a hard one to do right – to put it absolutely bluntly, the reason why most truly funny people aren’t involved in let’s plays is that they have far better avenues in which to exploit their wit. And then there are the let’s plays which seem to celebrate the players’ utter ineptitude and fumbling, relying on that to provide a humorous foundation and theme.. And I completely don’t get it, why? Why is that assumed to be funny? Why is it worth wasting one’s time? Here, let me elaborate.

From hereon, I’ll refer to specifically the type of let’s plays that feature inept players that can’t make logical deductions, don’t notice anything the game actually tells them, are unaware of the features/options of what they’re playing, and spend roughly ten times as much on the average level/encounter/problem as a generic player, and ultimately, think that this is ‘fun’ and thus intentionally cram that junk into all videos.

Also, I know the standard reply is “if you don’t like, just don’t watch it”. Well, this is not about liking. This is not about watching. This very brief very quick rant is about trying to understand something that completely baffles me. If you don’t like it, don’t read it…

For one, how is it amusing to see other players constantly fail think of a solution to a puzzle, or pass a boss encounter due to either not being a good shot, or not knowing the battle mechanics? I guess this does hearken back to the very beginnings of cinema itself, with the silent-era Charlie Chaplin comedies, which thematically were all about laughing at one person’s constant misfortunes. Fairly popular, as far as I’ve heard – though having had the fortune of seeing parts of them, well, I’d say they were utterly awful. What’s funny about a man tripping on a banana peel (the universal analogy for a pile of dung, as MovieBob explained)? What’s funny about seeing him fired from his only-income job? In short, what is funny about seeing failure? I don’t know, maybe I just have the misfortune of possessing empathy, or a really screwed up world-view, if I am unable to “point and laugh”, as it were. But there it is, and exactly this principle applies to these let’s plays as well. I cannot find the humorous element in having to watch someone failing to realize obvious things. Not only is it unfunny, it also prevents me from seeing any new content from that game. And it doesn’t really matter one way or the other if the commenter him/herself acknowledges the issue (and invariably assuming a goof-ball vocal expression and cracking self-referential jokes) or starts to rant about how unfair/hard it is.. Neither of those is amusing, as they are derived and centred upon an entirely unfunny premise.

Furthermore, the qualities of these let’s plays actively prohibit the viewer from seeing new content at an optimum pace. If the player is constantly having to restart from saves, or checkpoints, and repeat the same sections multiple times, that’s not really giving anything new to the audience. It is obviously frustrating having to do the same thing over and over in a game. Having to watch the same thing being done over and over in a game is just so much worse. Repetition aside, there’s the question of the player’s expertise on a game (ye gods, that sounded way too serious). This pertains to a much greater degree to the so-called “blind let’s plays”, of course, but ignorance is not limited to those alone, nor is it present in all of them – it’s much more dependant on the player, not the circumstances. If the player is unaware of the game’s features – or even basic mechanics, plot and controls, as has often been the case – then can there be anything informative in the video? The player most certainly won’t be able to showcase any interesting functions / actions due to simply not being aware of them, and whenever the game itself tries to present something neat, the player him/herself actively acts as a blocking element, not allowing the viewer to see what the game potentially could do.

And there’s always the factor of “you could just play it yourself”. Well, fair enough, that’s a completely valid stance. The reasons for watching a let’s play, I presume, would be to either get a look at a game you yourself cannot obtain or play (maybe it’s too old, or out of sales, or just too creepy/scary) – I chose to watch a full playthrough of Amnesia, for example, because I knew I would never manage to play and enjoy that game myself, for example. This is where the informative let’s plays step in, though, as they are centred around showcasing the game and not screwing things up. Another reason to watch these would be, presumably, to see alternate paths, outcomes and directions. But how entertaining is it to watch a bumbling, hash-work progression through something you very well know already, in greater detail than the player? Where’s the personal viewer gain from that – it certainly isn’t information, so is it entertainment? I’d argue that it’s not even entertainment – as I cannot understand what could possibly be entertaining in that (see the paragraph on failure).

If this seems like overly harsh to the let’s players, well, yeah, I guess it is. I certainly don’t make any boasts for myself – If I wasn’t good at playing a game, didn’t know neat details about it, wasn’t aware of its plot and mechanics, would I be able to provide witty, funny, interesting commentary? Heck no. That’s why I am not making such videos. (Well, that and the fact that I am no voice actor, so my expressiveness is probably not the best it could potentially be. If I can’t do it properly, I just don’t do it.) That’s the thing – surely those let’s players realize they aren’t being entertaining? Why are they still persisting on following the same bloody concept again and again? And if someone finds that particular kind of let’s plays funny, well, by what reasoning?

~X2-Eliah isn’t immune to humour – he just doesn’t call stupid stuff funny, s’all.

4 responses

  1. While I possess enough schadenfreude to find amusement in the failures of others, I will agree on the inept let’s plays… I do occasionally watch blind let’s plays because I’m quite curious to see how someone reacts to seeing a game for the first time, but watching someone fail over and over is not fun. I watch let’s plays usually because I’m interested in the person doing it and want to hear what they have to say. But if I get constantly frustrated at how they’re not getting on, it kinda kills the joy.

    24/06/2012 at 09:00

  2. Oh yeah, Let’s Plays like that are really painful to watch sometimes unless they have something else to bring to the table. What’s even worse is that they have the ability to edit out all the annoying bits. I just watched a Let’s Play of Assassin’s Creed 2 on the Something Awful forums. While the player wasn’t the best, he made up for it by studying and commenting on the history presented in the game and by editing out all the fluff like overly long walks and failed attempts (unless shiving bards was involved).

    24/06/2012 at 13:40

    • Shiving bards is always a worthwhile pasttime.

      02/07/2012 at 15:19

  3. Pingback: Hell Yeah, do it again and suffer for it! « O.G.R.E. (altar)

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