We all have our own gaming quirks and idiosyncrasies, and I think one of mine that I’ve developed over the past few years could be filed as one: listening to rather than watching Let’s Plays. It sounds kind of odd, right? I mean, the whole purpose of a Let’s Play series is to watch someone play a particular game. What’s the use of just having the audio playing without the visuals? Good question.
As with so many things in my recent gaming history, blame here falls pretty squarely on Mass Effect. My first foray into enjoying Let’s Plays by eye rather than sight began after my first attempt to play as a full renegade character, which failed because I just didn’t gel with the renegade options at the time. Considering that it would have been my fifth playthrough of the game, I knew the game itself pretty well, and I also knew that my failed playthrough marked the need for me to take a break from it. So, I did. But, I wasn’t yet ready to fully separate Mass Effect from my life. So I started seeking out Let’s Plays of it.
Of Let’s Plays themselves, its common to hear that people most often tune in for the player and not necessarily the game. When I was seeking out Mass Effect Let’s Plays online a decade ago, I don’t know that this was really the case, and honestly, I can’t event remember the particular channels I “watched” then. But what I did find was that I wasn’t really interested in watching someone traverse ME’s universe from The Citadel to Virmire, which I could do in my sleep. Instead, I was much more attuned to listening to someone’s reactions while playing Mass Effect, because in them I felt what it was like to experience Mass Effect for the first time. By the time of one’s fifth playthrough of any game, those “first time” feelings are decidedly diminished, so feeling that excitement through others reactions was pretty great.
Before too long, I found myself using various Mass Effect playthroughs like podcasts and even instead of podcasts. On some occasions I’d switch over to watching memorable scenes, or if someone had found a secret that I didn’t know about, or if someone had had a particularly strong reaction to a scene. But otherwise, I simply enjoyed the auditory journey of several someone’s playing Mass Effect. Consuming it’s story that way was new, and it even helped inform some of my later playthroughs of the game.
And so, this idiosyncratic habit developed. As a then-regular listener of several different podcasts, I added various Let’s Plays to my roster. But the thing of it was, I could only do this with games I knew well enough that I could picture various scenes in them without video help. So, for several years, my consumption of Let’s Plays via ears-only was limited. I really enjoyed Mass Effect, obviously, and I also found solace in Let’s Plays of Dragon Age: Origins, Fable 1 and 2, Grand Theft Auto IV, and a few other titles. In hindsight, I think what I was really after was good storytelling through Let’s Plays, as I mostly sought out RPGs. I wasn’t really into just listening to someone collecting coins with Mario, for example. (The only exception to this would be Super Metroid, to which I could listen all day, every day.) As well, some players were naturally better at storytelling than others. However, if someone had something interesting to say, even if it didn’t relate to the game, I’d tune in anyway.
In recent times, my relationship with Let’s Plays has steered more towards watching than just listening, however, I still enjoy my auditory adventures in games I know well. One way this as evolved is that I’ve become interested in listening to players’ reactions concerning the MMOs I play – GTA Online, ESO, Fallout 76, and Neverwinter – and learning how they have changed over time. For example, a new addition to my listening line-up is an early Let’s Play of Fallout 76 from when the game was first released (and was truly a dumpster fire). More than anything, in them I find a weird sense of inspiration that gives me hope for the future of games. That video game makers out there really want to try to give players the best experiences possible, and yet, prove that are no less fallible than any human being. I don’t to watch a game being played to know if someone’s having a good time with it, or not. Their reactions are enough to tell an entire story, and then some.
How do you consume Let’s Plays, and what do you think of them in these online-focused, YouTube-driven times?