The internet is a curious place, Hypothetical Audience, especially how its effected entertainment. If you’d told anyone a decade ago that watching videos of someone playing video games and talking over them would be not only a popular mode of passing the time for millions, but also a way people could make a living, most would likely laugh at you, and the odd one who didn’t would likely say “Well that’s clearly inspired by Mystery Science Theatre.” I am talking, of course, about the world of Lets Plays. You literally can’t browse YouTube without tripping over people trying to get their Warhol-15 minutes by playing games for everyone else’s entertainment (which was literally 15 minutes relaively recently, as that was the maximum video length at one point). Like a lot of people, I watch a few of these guys, and am equally annoyed by a few others, so thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject with you guys.
I’m going to divide my thoughts into the good and the bad aspects, logically, but won’t be ascribing them to any one particular person. This is partly because I don’t want to get into any kind of mud slinging, but also because in both counts I think what I’m describing is fairly universal for all LPers. Though, if you want my personal recommendations and such, for a perfect set of examples of how not to go about things, it’s worth checking out Retsupurae, who riff on “bad” LPs as opposed to make it themselves. For a good lets play, seek out Chip Cheezum & General Ironicus (and other friends), who’ve been consistently funny and informative for all the time I’ve been watching their stuff. It’s worth noting how both groups didn’t originate on YouTube but elsewhere, also before the current boom took off. This may not be a coincidence.
So lets start off with the negatives, these are all things that are surprisingly common with YouTube lets players that annoy the living hell out of me. Often video producers seem to rush to get some big name games LP’d right on the day of release, regardless of their own competence in the given genre. I get it that this is due to some percieved need to get all the views (which in some cases leads to higher ad revenue) but it’s really unnecessary if you ask me. Not every game needs to be shown off right this second, and indeed often in my experience older games make for more satisfying viewing, especially if the video maker can do new and interesting things with it. Leading on from this, lack of any kind of foreknowledge of a game can ruin a viewing experience too. While sometimes “blind” lets plays can be entertaining, watching someone try to bumble around a game they have no idea of how it works isn’t. Firing up the game at least once before you hit record isn’t just a good thing, it can make the difference between terrible and watchable.
Perhaps my biggest bugbear with bad lets players is screaming over-reactions. Sweet jesus, this is a good way to totally disinterest me in any video. While reacting to what’s going on on screen is a good thing, no-one wants to listen to flat emotionless commentary, somehow there’s a trend of people who OVERSELL EVERY DAMN REACTION LIKE CRAZY, especially when playing indie horror titles. This goes beyond reacting to events into the farcical, and is rarely ever funny. While obnoxious and cringeworthy characters are often a comedy staple, I don’t think I’ve ever found that many who’re being deliberate parodies, the perpetrators seem to genuinely think their viewers find it entertaining (and apparently some do).
Al of that provides a stark contrast withwhat I’d consider a good lets play. While at the most basic, simply doing the opposite of above will put you ahead of those who don’t, but there are other things I think can be done. First of all, it’s one thing to simply entertain, but the real top-flight lets players also inform. Several producers I follow go out of their way to actually inform viewers of little details many would have missed, or secrets and colectables, or even going so far as to 100% the game. This all makes it worth while to keep watching rather in my eyes. The better producers also know how to pace themselves. While I appreciate it may be a necessity for those who do it for a living, but putting out many videos a day often leads to creative burnout. Those who value their viewers over the view count often do only weekly upload schedules and manage to stay interested far longer. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, always try to keep to games that interest you. It sticks out a solid mile when someone is not invested in what they’re playing, and the entertainment value suffers badly because of it.
I get that it’s not always easy to keep the good-bad balance when making videos, it’s one of the reasons I’ve never tried doing it myself. But so long as the good is at least tipped slightly over the bad things will remain watchable. Lets Plays are a very curious cultural item of our times, and one that I have no idea how long it’ll last. Though even if it vanished up it’s own backside tomorrow, I’d hope we at least try to make something watchable while doing it.
Until next time, guys
— A bundle of snarky goodness.