Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Something slightly different (part 1) ...

This post is a little different ...

Has anyone wondered why Flappy Bird made such big waves last year? Well, it's because of a phenomenon know as “let's plays” (LPs) on YouTube – basically people posting videos of themselves playing computer games. It's like spectator computer gaming. To some this may seem totally weird, but it's a significant proportion of YouTube's 'business', as it were (and it is a business).

Last year, Flappy Bird was showcased by PewDiePie – a Swedish let's player (LPer) – and hey presto it then went vital. You might ask who is this PewDiePie? Can he really have that influence? Well, PewDiePie has more YouTube subscribers – at 29.8 million and rising by 1 million a month – than Miley Cyrus and is one of the most popular attractions on the internet (alongside porn and fluzzy kittens, although not those two together since that would undoubtedly break the internet!).

Yet something like LP videos – watched and enjoyed by millions, myself included – barely surfaces in mainstream media. It remains unknown – and maybe unfathomable – to most people out there. It probably sounds strange, in fact, the idea of watching other people play computer games. Surely the point is to play them yourselves? With others if you want. What LPs illustrate, however, is that the image of geeks playing alone in their rooms is outdated ... WAY outdated. In contrast, LPs provide a glimpse into the creativity, interactivity and community possible as part of Web 2.0. It is driving new forms of gaming and new forms of leisure as computer gaming overtakes traditional entertainment industries (e.g. film, publishing, theatre, etc.).

I came across LPs a few years back - I think it was in 2009 or 2010. I was either ill or hungover and was thinking about playing Deus Ex again but wasn't sure if it's was worth the time. I looked it up on YouTube and came across an LPer called Kikoskia who does a brilliant turn at sardonic commentary – see here. I ended up watching 100+ videos, several hours worth of clips all told. I then explored more LPs, looking up games I'd played previously or never finished playing. Since then YouTube and LP videos have basically replaced TV for me. I watch something every day, sometimes several videos, and follow a number of LPers.

Here are my favourites:
  • Obviously Kikoskia: amusing and wry commentary by a British guy, who knows who he is, on various RPG games that frequently takes me back to my youth (well, younger days!) when I played games like Ultima 7, Deus Ex, Baldur's Gate, NeverWinter Nights, etc. Funny, poignant, nostalgic, entertaining ...
  • Then there's Helloween4545: another British guy, active on Twitter as well, who focuses on horror games. First started watching him because he did an LP of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which I never finished because I found it too terrifying to play. Interestingly, he now does commentary on gaming issues (e.g. conflicts of interest in games reviews, DRM, in-game advertising) with other LPers like Kikoskia. He also does multiplayer LPs with people like Kikoskia and Klyka, an intermittent German LPer.
  • Next, Necroscope86: yet another British guy (there's probably a trend here) who does various RPGs and strategy games. He also does video blogs (VLOGS) about his personal struggles with depression alongside gaming.
  • NerdCubed: a British guy who has nearly 2 million subscribers and basically does 20-30 minute showcases of games, including new independent games. He's amusing and pretty blunt in his reviews, which is nice to see when it comes to something like Dark Souls (which I don't understand the attraction of at all!). What is interesting, though, is that he has become increasingly influential in the gaming world and beyond, evident in his interviewing of Steven Moffat (of Doctor Who fame).
  • Bajan Canadian: finally, a non-Brit! A Canadian teenager – or just out of his teens – who specializes in Minecraft (the best game ever!) modded games, especially a version of Hunger Games in which players fight each other to the death until only one remains. He has over 4 million subscribers and seems to have a pretty adult head on his shoulders – which is more than can be said for many YouTubers.
  • LifesAGlitchTV (LAGTV): another Canadian channel, this time comprising a couple of guys (MaximusBlack and NovaWar) who commentate on StarCraft games, mainly amateur ones rather than professional (yes, there is such a thing as professional gaming!). Their commentary regularly veers off into other subjects as they forget the game at hand. They started out, it seems, with a series called 'When Cheese Fails' in which one player tries a 'cheesy' tactic instead of playing normally (and then loses). Probably more pre-pubescent humour than the others, but both casters also do other videos on things like the mechanics and economics of being a YouTuber – i.e. how to make money from it.
What should be obvious right away is the gender imbalance here – this might be my own fault (in terms of what I watch), but it is very noticeable that women are under-represented in the LP world. They are not missing, there are several women LPers with significant followings (e.g. RPGMinx, YOGCASTHannah) and, of course, others without. They are not, however, the dominant voice in the LP world.

Ok, I'm going to finish this post here and come to back to this at a later date with some analysis of LPs as a socio-economic phenomenon ...

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