Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Blog: What's the Deal With Let's Plays?

Posted on July 20, 2012 at 8:15 AM

This week, I'm taking a break from the standard schedule and doing something I haven't done in a while: Quick Blogs and thoughts on certain things that have been in the back of my mind. Here we go I guess...

What's the Deal with Let's Plays?

In case you don't know, a "Let's Play" is a video, usually a multi-part series of videos, where someone is playing a video game and you watch. Also, usually, the person (or persons) playing talk over the video as well, as sort of a running commentary but also attempting to fill the void of silence with chatting and joking.

I have yet to see a single one that made me say "Wow, this is worth my time." At best, maybe some old, short videogame from the 80s or 90s just to kill ten minutes, but the person playing had better not waste my time and had better be funny. This is rare.

I still can't quite figure out why Let's Plays are as popular as they are. I can understand going into a live video stream and doing a chat while someone plays a game, at least you're interacting, but watching a multi-part Let's Play on Youtube that goes on for hours and hours is the entertainment equivalent of going to the movies but there's some guy next to you texting every five seconds and the movie is one of those four hour bastards with an intermission. The thing with the Let's Plays is that the guys (and they're always guys) think they are funny. They're trying to riff on the game. They're trying to be the video game version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 but they fall short in almost every regard. Jokes and puns are usually shallow and low-brow, it's usually just stupid reactionary statements to bad dialogue or even stupider visual gags that often involve sex or some racial puns with the depth of a Wayne's Brothers screenplay. The word "clever" is something I would never put into the vocabulary of Let's Play riffing or even cleverness in just saying something interesting. One-liners at best, stupid assertions and obvious visual observations (as in "now I'm going to do this....and then I'm going to do this...then I'm going to get that there") is about as good as I've ever seen it get.

Now you might be thinking "J, seriously, they're making it up as they go along."  Well, that's kind of my point. What is entertaining about watching unfunny, unclever people try to be funny and clever while they play a video game? And for hours? And you know they'll get in one area and not know what to do and you just watch them act like an idiot with their character for 30 minutes and try and be funny while they figure it out. Do you really want to not only watch someone be unfunny while they play a videogame, but play a videogame badly as well? What's amazing to me is that these videos have hundreds of thousands of views. Do people love tedium? Do they love just generalized statements with lots of "Ummms" and uninspired gags as someone plays a game?

Recently, I wanted to watch some gameplay footage off Spec Ops: The Line after Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw (someone who, despite the constant cynicism, gets comedic timing, pacing and relevance) lauded over it. I chose the fourth video in a long, long Let's Play series for the game, just to get a look at it, and was quickly reminded why I don't like Let's Plays. Everything I just said was readily apparent, and I watched five minutes before becoming annoyed by it all and just going to watch a preview / review video somewhere else.

Riffing is an art. No, seriously. It's a comedy technique that takes refining in the same way stand-up acts are refined or comedy shows are rewritten. The reason why Mst3k was good was because it was planned and written and not off the cuff. When it was off the cuff, it wasn't as good. Go back and watch those early episodes when they did that and before they had writers. They simply aren't as well done or as sharp. They are, however, still better than the Let's Plays because the people behind them were actually funny and smart and could come up with on the spot riffs. Let's Play "hosts" don't really have that sharpness to them…that's why they're doing Let's Plays.

So, what can be done about this? Well, that's kind of dumb of me to say. After all, I just said why I didn't like them and also noted they still get hundreds of thousands of views. Man, they're battling cats-in-boxes and cute babies for those viewers. So while nothing can be "done" I do think there are better ways to go about it and still keep the Let's Play feel.

The first step would be to play the game beforehand. There's nothing worse than a Let's Play and spending 15 minutes watching someone try and figure something out. I don't mean just "solving" whatever it is, I mean getting stuck and just standing there. Not only are they not playing the game, they're using their brain power to try and figure out which pretty much shuts them up and we have nothing but silence. Play it through, or at least look ahead to know what to expect in a walkthrough or something. Hell, have one ready, especially if it's an RPG. Nothing worse than wasting an hour backtracking and even if you edit that out, you still wasted time doing it.

Another would be to line up relevant things to talk about. Playing an old school Genesis game? Talk about the history. Talk about the system. Talk about your first experience with the game if this isn't it. Talk about the developers. Talk about the music. There's a ton of things that can be brought up during a Let's Play beyond just "Ha...look at that guy..."

Lastly, think "Streamline." Just consider it. Getting to the point, stay sharp, get it done. Also, watch some episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 beforehand, just to brush up on what riffing is about. Look at their timing. Look at how they know when to talk (usually responses to dialogue or during downbeats) versus when they don't talk (usually when someone on screen is talking).

Well, that's how I would deal with it anyway. If you have examples of someone being really funny and smart on a Let's Play, by all means share it.


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Reply Josh
11:26 AM on July 20, 2012 
Try out supergreatfriend's Let's Plays. He's very detailed in his walkthroughs and well researched into the insight of the games he plays. He has also played these games before he starts recording his videos as well. He mostly plays strange, yet intriguing games and his videos are very well done. I'd say start with his Let's Play of Deadly Premonition then branch out to his other Let's Plays.
Reply J. Conrady
12:10 PM on July 20, 2012 
Thanks, Josh. I will certainly check it out. It sounds like it might be right up my alley and the fact that he's paying a) something weird (which is entertaining in its own right) and b) plays beforehand to prep for it makes me appreciate the effort already.

I would love to compile a list of what people recommend. Deep down, I know this is something I COULD get into as a fan of riffing, comedy and enjoyment of the gaming culture, I just haven't fully seen a lot that work for me. I did watch a few of Yahtzee's Let's Plays, but mainly because they're short and he seemed to get the idea that nobody wants to sit there for ten hours and watch a guy play videogames. I liked that approach.