Editorial: Watching Someone Else Play

The older I get, the more malleable my definition of ‘gaming’ becomes. When I was young, I had a whole heap of time and not all that many games, so each was studied and dissected until I was a master of its charms. As I got older, with less time and more money, mastering a title became secondary to just finishing the games I had sat on the shelf. As thirty (eek – Ed) rapidly approaches, I no longer feel I need to have a joypad in hand to game. The circumstances of this surprising realization are recent…

My fiancé picked up Uncharted 2 on UK launch day here on Friday. By late Saturday night she had finished Nathan Drake’s latest jaunt with me watching on from the comfort of the sofa. What an absolute blast it was to sit and watch some of the best storytelling ever seen in a video game without the pressure normally associated with a tough group of enemies or a tricky platforming section. Simply being allowed to appreciate all that Naughty Dog had put on the disc without being distracted was an experience I wasn’t prepared for.

Uncharted 2’s cinematic presentation makes it enjoyable to watch

Anyone who has played video games for a long time has likely been wired into thinking that the main reason we engage in this past-time is to play the games themselves. After all, what control do you have watching someone else man oeuvre around a stage? We have no direct influence over the exploration or the evolution of the onscreen avatar. Surely games are meant to be a solely interactive experience?

This does not need to be the case. Indeed, sometimes much more can be extracted simply by being a back seat driver. Watching someone else allows us the distance necessary to pick the correct path through a section or work out the right strategy to get past a boss. It also provides the opportunity to consider if the game is achieving all that it should in terms of story, level design, character evolution or the myriad of other things which make a great game great.

Beyond all of this, as I alluded to earlier, gaming is stressful. Sure, we choose to play in the first place and, yes, it’s a fun kind of stressful in the same vein as a good horror movie, but it still ends up an anxious experience. Just ask anyone who has ever broken a controller in anger. I have found that observing someone else play makes for an entirely more relaxing affair which is sometimes much more necessary after a stressful day.

It’s also important to remember that the vast majority of people out there didn’t pick up a console in a shop and start playing out of the blue. I remember sitting at a friend’s house almost twenty years ago and watching him playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES and from that moment I knew I wanted one of those mystical boxes under my television. Most of us are introduced to gaming through watching a friend or partner play, so this isn’t a foreign concept.

I also find it interesting that the most popular of local, (i.e. not online) modern-day multiplayer games are music titles such as SingStar, Rock Band and Guitar Hero. As much as I love shredding a plastic guitar along to pulsating patterns of color, there are few experiences as satisfying as watching one of my friends utterly destroy “Sweet Child Of Mine” after a few beers. It’s a delightfully social experience and one that harks back to older of days of huddling around an N64 with four pads and a copy of Goldeneye.

Goldeneye holds some great memories of local multiplayer.

The Wii has proven to be the last stronghold for getting people round one machine to play ‘proper’ games. Indeed, Nintendo evidently considered much of what was written in this article long before yours truly when they designed the amazing Super Mario Galaxy. Being aware that someone may enjoy sitting and watching Mario dance through the color environments presented, Nintendo provided the option of picking up a second Wiimote and using it to interact in minor, simple ways.

As time passes, developers will understand how to make best use of the power they have available in the 360 and PS3. The side effect will be more and more games like BioShock and Uncharted, attempting in their own way to tell interesting, engaging tales rather than simply being passages of challenge, no matter how exquisite. These new games will lose nothing from the lack of interactivity that comes with simply watching them.

When I was young, I played games for the challenge; what gave me enjoyment from playing was simply beating what the developers put in front of me Now that I like to think I know a bit better, I feel that the most important thing is to be entertained, and not who has their hands on the joypad at the time.

Author: TGRStaff

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