In Defense of the Let’s Play

Yes, this is me.

I don’t actually watch that much television. Growing up, my parents never got cable, so watching a show regularly was a thing unheard of. As I’ve grown older, though I now have access to things like Netflix, HBO, and Disney+, I still don’t watch that much television.

Or at least not what you would consider to be regular television.

Instead, I binge Let’s Plays on YouTube. I watch hours upon hours of them.

For those of you not in the know, a Let’s Play is a video where you can watch someone else play a video game.

Typing that out just now, it sounds stupid. I guess I can understand why there are people who scoff at the notion of Let’s Plays.

But I’m here today to speak in defense of Let’s Plays.

A good Let’s Play is always either informative and engrossing or comedic and entertaining. Some people watch Let’s Plays to learn more about a specific video game. Others watch it for the friendly factor of seeing someone goof up a video game.

I’m personally one of the latter.

There is nothing I like more than experiencing a video game with another person. Sadly, not everyone who is my friend is willing to sit for about fifteen hours to complete a video game with me. So I treasure the few moments I can get.

There is a specific and unique enjoyment I get from watching someone experience a video game for the first time, whether it’s seeing them delight in the same things I delight in, get the pants scared off of them, or cry at a particularly sorrowful moment.

So without having to kidnap and force my friends to play video games for me, a Let’s Play satisfies that itch.

Detractors of the Let’s Play usually say one of three things about them. The first is that it’s an incredibly boring experience to watch someone else play a video game. If you like video games, they say, why not just pick it up and play it yourself?

To which I say, sure, tell all those sports fans out there that in instead of enjoying watching a game, they should all go out and play sports professionally. Go on. Tell them.

Another issue these naysayers will bring up is the “copyright” issue. People who stream or record themselves playing video games are making money off of the material in the game instead of producing original content themselves. If you’ve seen any of the popular Let’s Players out there, you know that’s not necessarily true. The good ones bring a hefty dose of personality with them when they play. They’re almost like professional comedians. It’s a performance, and I’d say they do work to rake in those views.

The final thing I hear people complain about is how a Let’s Play deters players from buying games. If a person sees someone else play a video game, there’s no reason for them to purchase the game for themselves.

Well, I’m living proof that this is not true.

Sometimes I’m not sure about purchasing a new game unless I know I will like it. Call me stingy, but these durned video games are expensive. Before investing in a game, it’s important to know if I’ll actually enjoy playing the damn thing. A Let’s Play provides me with an extended glimpse into what gameplay is like, even more than a game review.

Also, I’m a giant pussy when it comes to horror games. Call me a coward, but I like to know when scares will happen or if a game is too frightening for me before I buy it. A Let’s Play not only allows me to observe when a jump-scare occurs, but it leaves me with lasting, funny impressions of when the Let’s Player got scared. In a way, their fear lessens my own.

And, on occasion, I watch Let’s Plays of games I could never even hope to buy because they’re for a console or machine that I don’t own.

Conversely, I also enjoy watching Let’s Plays of games I’ve already bought and played myself. (I’m a big rewatcher/replayer/rereader of things.)

Lastly, Let’s Plays have even turned me on to games I would never have even looked at had a favorite Let’s Player not taken the time to play it for their audience (namely me).

So, as my final piece of evidence in defense of the Let’s Play, here are just a fraction of the games I have played thanks in part to a Let’s Play.

Red Dead Redemption II: Yup, that game I loved so much I wrote a two part review for it, that game came into my possession because of a Let’s Play. I was super on the fence about it, especially after hearing it was a prequel. I knew it would be a long game and wasn’t sure I’d want to commit to it. I watched a Let’s Player start the game and fell in love with the look of everything. And after seeing the horse riding mechanics, RDR2 had me hook, line, and sinker.

Alien: Isolation: I was always a big fan of the Alien franchise, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about this new game. Want to know why? Because normally these games are shooters! They follow in the vein of James Cameron’s Aliens. And that wasn’t what I wanted from an Alien video game experience. Upon watching a playthrough of Alien: Isolation, I saw that the exact opposite was true. This game took inspiration solely from Ridley Scott’s Alien, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Ori and the Blind Forest: Not much was done to market Ori and the Blind Forest, so I had no clue about the game’s existence until one of my favorite Let’s Players picked it up. It looked interesting, and I watched the playthrough on a whim. Now it’s one of my favorite games (so much so that I bought the Definitive Edition), and its sequel is one of my most anticipated games of the new year.

Soma: I knew Soma would be made by the developers who did Amnesia: The Dark Descent. So even though I was very intrigued by it, I was a scaredy-cat when it came to actually playing it. By watching a Let’s Play of it, I was able to be assured that I could handle its brand of terror. (It helps that there’s essentially a no-dying mode.)

Telltale’s The Walking Dead: This game was everywhere on the Let’s Play scene when it first came out, and it’s easy to understand why. Its narrative-driven gameplay and branching dialogue options made it a game that was engrossing to go through multiple times. After watching someone play it, I bought it myself and went through the whole adventure again. Only this time, I made the *cough cough* right choices.

8 thoughts on “In Defense of the Let’s Play”

  1. I’m with you on horror games. I just can’t handle them. But I can watch them being streamed… in fact I watched a TONNE of Isolation and found it genuinely unsettling. It’s a great way to experience a game I would otherwise not play for more than 5 minutes out of fear 😅

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great explanation of the phenomenon that is Let’s Plays! From time to time I’ll fire up Mixer and spend 10 minutes watching someone play something. As you explained, it’s a great way to get a real sense of what a game is like (maybe better than, say, a 4-5 minute curated video review on IGN). I don’t follow many individual streamers (more flit from game to game) but there are a few I’m familiar with, and they all seem to have really kind and really loyal communities. It was honestly nice to see, considering how toxic and angry most online gaming communities can be.

    Anyway, I’m glad you find Let’s Plays so enjoyable 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm. Reading over what I wrote I guess I’m more thinking of streamers than Let’s Plays. I’m guessing the distinction is Let’s Plays are pre-recorded (on YT?) and will take you through the entire game, whereas obviously streaming is live.

      Like

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