By Dixavd 0 Comments
So as we all know by now, there is a growing question over Video Game content on the web and about what constitutes fair use (especially in the wake of some recent YouTube controversies). Anyway, this isn't about that. This is my retort to an argument I see brought up a lot in relation to this: that Let's Plays ruin the stories of story-centric games (some even going so far as to be the catalyst that means future AAA franchises cannot survive with single player narratives alone). I hear often how Let's Play series on mechanics-heavy games (like, say, Minecraft) don't ruin games because of the inherent interactivity and personalisation of play-style. But I rarely hear people mention how even the non-personalisation of a linear story won't be hindered if the story is so good it outclasses the Let's Play themselves.
I'm obviously going to be talking from my own perspective and not expecting others to think/act the same way I do; but as a player of games who believes the story is paramount to the point of being the driving force of me playing a game, I'm going to be speaking as if I am the typical person (at least in so much as to be the kind of gamer whose purchasing decisions will be based on what I do and do not know about a games narrative).
When I watch a Let's Play series, there are a couple possible actions I make:
- I stop watching the series because I find the game and commentator incredibly boring. (This is not related to the story whatsoever - this is to do with a bad Let's Play above anything else).
- I watch the series to the end because I enjoy the series and most importantly, I enjoy the personality of the person doing the Let's Play. (This means I haven't been enthralled by the story enough to want to experience it in the best way possible - it isn't interesting enough to be worth my money, but the Let's Player is interesting enough to make the series watch-able. In my eyes, the game's story is bad.)
- I get enthralled with the story and stop watching the Let's Play as I go and buy the game to play it for myself before returning to the Let's Play. (This means the story is good and I care about it...)
Option 2 is the most common, but that's because I go to a Let's Play originally for the personality of the person doing it. And also because most video game stories are bad.
It's option 3 that people think doesn't happen. The story is so good, I'm enthralled and want to find out what happens next. BUT, in this case the Let's Player is actually hindering the story. If I care about it, why would I want to watch it with someone talking over it? That's like going to a movie Theatre (for a film that you're invested in the story already) with people you know will talk throughout the entire film just because they are paying for your tickets. Even if they don't speak during it, purely by the set-up of the medium, watching a Let's Play means being at the whims of the series' editing. Is a really interesting arc in the game reaching its climax? Doesn't matter, this episode is ending now and you have to wait X-days to find out what happens next (or maybe they'll spend the entire next episode doing side quests, in which case you have to wait even longer).
If the story is enthralling, then I will want to experience it myself on my own terms without distraction.
Here, however, is where people bring up cut-scenes as "lazy story telling" and how the experience of the story is exactly the same for every play and thus, viewing the cut-scenes online is a perfect substitute... No. Just because the plot points might be told completely by cut-scene, doesn't mean that's the entire story. This is where the art of pacing comes in. I could watch a playlist of all the scenes: maybe there's a shot of the characters entering an area, and in the next we see a boss appear and die at the end of the area. I just saw the main plot points. But I didn't experience that area. The story of that environment was told in the art assets. And critically, it's told in the act of playing the gameplay itself. They are not mutually exclusive unless the game is specifically badly structured. In that example, the narrative of me personally achieving success over the boss is just as pertinent in the story as the scene of them dying. Without that, the scene is meaningless.
See, when I do go and look up a scene on YouTube it's because I no longer believe the story is worth the act of achieving those moments. Either the game has become too difficult, or tedious or the scenes themselves have lost there appeal (i.e. the game has degenerated in either: pacing, game-design or story).
Ultimately, I think it's a fallacy that some make that simply because cut-scenes use the same techniques of film, they are one-and-the-same. This is untrue. A film has to represent everything (story, setting, characters and pacing) within this one structure. A game does not. In a well-designed/written game, the gameplay moments will space out the plot moments in a way as to create a fluid narrative. In a Kingdom Hearts game for example (a game which relies heavily on representing all plot points via cut-scene), it's only relative to personally being able to move about - play, fight and explore within - the different worlds that I care about the characters within them. Without that, the scenes in these worlds will feel like filler - like moments specifically put in to hold the overall arc back. Yet, were I to watch a Let's Play, despite the story cut-scenes being my driving reason for caring at all about the game, it would be incredibly jarring to see another player be within this world - taking control of Sora and acting in a way that seems totally opposite to what the character should be doing in my eyes (like ignoring treasure boxes, or maybe being overly-invested in finding every single one).
So overall, I just wanted to say that if watching a Let's Play is enough to not want the viewer to experience it themselves - this is due to the game not being being enough to deserve it. Even if the game's only driving force is a linear cut-scene-heavy story, if the story is of the high enough standard, even a Let's Play won't ruin it (especially since it just has to be good enough that watching it will make you care about it more than the people talking over it). And all of this isn't even taking in context games where the story branches or changes depending on playthrough. I think it's less about us expecting a Let's Play to not reveal all the spoilers for game, but about improving game stories to the point that finding out those spoilers ourselves is more rewarding than seeing someone else show us them all.