The Void

Welcome to our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans, nagging questions, and whatever else we feel like talking about. No matter what the topic, we invite everyone in the comments to tell us: What Are You Playing This Weekend?

Recently I had a hankering for some survival horror, and to that end, I planned to spend this weekend replaying Silent Hill 2. When I went to my shelf, though, I remembered that I had sold my copy ages ago. In order to satisfy an itch that only Silent Hill 2 could scratch, I did the next best thing: I went to YouTube and watched a Let’s Play.

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Let’s Plays have something of a bad reputation, and it’s easy to understand why: The vast majority of them are awful. A lot of the Let’s Play videos you’ll find on YouTube are “blind” plays, done by people who have never played the game they’re demonstrating, and who clearly have no idea what they’re doing—or anything interesting to say about it. Still more are weighed down by asinine characters or gimmicks, usually either “I play video games, and I’m mad about everything!” or “My buddy and I play video games, and we’re both just sooooo wacky!”

When done right, though, Let’s Plays can be tools for education, criticism, and vicarious enjoyment. They can give you access to a game you might otherwise be unable to play: Maybe it wasn’t released in your region, or rarity has driven prices sky-high, or it’s just too time-consuming for you. The videos are also a great way to get the gist of games that do a couple of things really well but are otherwise not worth the price of admission. A good Let’s Player can highlight one good idea buried in 60 hours of blandness, saving you the boredom of having to find it yourself.

A great place to start looking for good Let’s Plays is the Let’s Play Archive, a curated library of finished, high-quality Let’s Plays from the Something Awful forums. The Let’s Play Archive is where I found CannibalK9’s terrific playthrough of The Void, a Russian gem I might have overlooked if not for K9’s superb coverage. The hypnotic commentary drifts seamlessly from walkthrough to analysis to criticism, and it helps make the game’s inhospitable world and opaque plot more approachable.

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A Let’s Play can also be a demonstration of skill. George Weidman of the YouTube channel Super Bunnyhop did a no-kills run of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater on its highest difficulty—with the additional challenge of never using the game’s overpowered tranquilizer gun. It’s a demanding self-imposed trial, and it offers plenty of tense moments and creative exploitation of the game’s many wrinkles. Weidman is a natural showman, and his enthusiasm for Snake Eater shines through the entire series, keeping it lively and engaging.

Let’s Plays are also more than just guided tours through a game. They have the potential to be expressive works themselves. Leigh Alexander’s Lo-Fi Let’s Play series focuses on obscure, often forgotten Apple II adventure games. They balance exploration of the games themselves with personal anecdotes about her own history with them. Their length and Alexander’s narration make the videos feel almost like chapters from an autobiography. Her take on Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? is particularly inspired. It was recorded in a Helsinki airport, and the ambient noise captured on the audio enhances the game’s jet-setting romanticism.

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What do you think, Gameologitrons? Have you ever used a Let’s Play to experience a game you wouldn’t have played otherwise? Do you have a favorite Let’s Play or Let’s Player? Let us know in the comments—along with what you’re playing, or watching someone play, this weekend.