Let’s Play

Ooops! It looks like I have missed two posts recently. And I don’t even have an excuse. I need to get a grip here.

I think I have already written something about the Let’s Play scene on YouTube. But I was recently catching up with the epic Let’s Play Monster Hunter Tri of my podcast partner Social Dissonance and I was reminded of how fascinating and weird this new culture is.

Contrary to a Let’s Play, the idea of a Speed Run or some oder kind of exhibit of extraordinary skill caught on video is pretty obvious. It’s a perfectly orchestrated, document of a very rare and precious spectacle. It’s intended to amaze the audience by it’s flawlessness. It’s also a way for the player to boast with his superior skills.

A Walktrough is slightly different, yet equally understandable. It doesn’t necessarily show off complete mastery of the game. But it shows still successful and competent play. It’s often presented in such a way that it can help players struggling with a certain challenge. To that end, it is often narrated.

Yet, in both cases failure is often edited out. Only successful runs are shown. This is where E-Sport replays come in. Those are replays of highly skilled players competing with each other. Like in a Speed Run, they are exhibits of spectacular skill, often unattainable by regular players. However, unlike a Speed Run or a Walktrough, by their very definition they show the defeat of one of the players. Additional commentary helps in emotionalizing the events and highlighting the important events. Quite often, the commentary also contains critique of the players which can potentially cross over into teaching the audience high-level strategies. In cases like the commentary by Day9, the border between Tutorial and E-Sport commentary becomes completely dissolved.

So what is a Let’s Play then? It’s not the exhibit of extraordinary skill. Failure is often part of the program. And it’s not even failure against extraordinary odds. Quite often it’s about mundane blunders and difficulties every day players know too well. There is some commentary involved and it blurs quite often into a Walktrough. But unlike in a Walktrough, the less successful attempts are also part of the game.

Social Dissonance is a good example. He is a very skilled player who already posted a lot of Walktroughs for various fights. His Let’s Play however, often contains sequences with a lot of mistakes and failures. For example, the Great Sword fight against the Lagiacrus takes almost 16 minutes. Social Dissonance often finds himself in a very vulnerable position and doesn’t seem to get the most out of his weapon.

But of course, this is still highly competent play. Many regular players (me included) would take easily 3 times that long or even simply die. On the other hand, Social Dissonance doesn’t upload the fights where he actually died and attempts to keep the time for each fight beneath the length restrictions of YouTube. He specifically fights ever monster with every weapon, which is more than most players do. But then, he doesn’t show the grinding for items, which is an important part of the game.

Still, his Let’s Play comes out much less perfect than his Walktroughs and it conveys much more faithfully the actual experience of playing the game. Which brings me to a final observation on the Let’s Play videos. There is some discussion about how to preserve games. Even technologically it seems like a difficult challenge. Hardware won’t remain functional forever and emulators don’t convey the real thing. The Let’s Play videos are an interesting form of preserving games for the future. More specifically, the don’t preserve the games themselves. But they do document the experience of actually playing the game. They record the progression, the struggles, the pain but of course also the eventual victories. They might seem pointless at first. But as we continue applying an analytical mindset to the design and critique of games, Let’s Play videos might turn out to be extremely useful at capturing the very essence of gaming experience.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

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The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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