“Why are you watching someone else play a game?”
“This is pointless, why not play it yourself?”
“I don’t get Let’s Plays”
These are all common things you will hear when you’re watching what has colloquially become known as “Let’s Plays”. A series of videos in which someone plays a game (most commonly to completion) all while, hopefully, providing hilarious commentary over the top. It feels like they’ve been around since the dawn of YouTube, such has become their prominence and if I’m honest, they’ve helped me get through some pretty bad times in my life. And have helped me gain a love for series’ that I may have not otherwise considered “up my alley”.
If we travel back in time, to the distant year of 2011, I was stuck in a job I hated, lived at home and was home alone for two weeks giving me ample time to stew in my own thoughts. While I had games to play, movies to watch and at the time, I was doing a lot more review writing, I still found myself for those first couple of days, a little bored of everything.
Now the previous year I had become familiar with the website Giantbomb. Made up of former Gamespot staffers, it was formed following the unceremonious firing of Jeff Gerstmann due to the low review score he gave to Kane & Lynch. Cue a bunch of fellow Gamespot staffers following Jeff out the door and Giantbomb was formed. A website that really understood that video and podcasts were the future of game journalism before most others did. While I was listening and watching for a while, there was always one part of the website I didn’t really venture. It was titled “Endurance Run – Persona 4”. Coming in at 155 episodes, it seemed like a mammoth task to get through. On top of that, I didn’t really know much about the Persona series. I think the only thing I really knew was that the previous game had high school students pointing guns at their heads to summon demons…or something.
So as the first week of my time off began, I loaded up the Endurance Run, and from that moment forward, those two weeks were lost. Hearing commentators Jeff Gerstmann and Vinnie Caravella talk over the absurdities of this Japanese high school life become a daily occurrence. The game itself was about a high school student who had to solve a murder mystery in the sleepy Japanese town of Inaba, a story which eventually involved cursed fog, shadows inside the TV world and a cast of colourful characters. It says a lot that even the “grinding” episodes (yes, it’s a JRPG) were equally as entertaining as the story focused ones, such is the chemistry between Jeff and Vinny.
For those two weeks, all my problems seemed to float away as I was engrossed in what would happen next. A wonderful side effect of this being a niche game, a lot of the plot twists weren’t heavily talked about outside of small communities. And then it all came to end. It was initially a sad moment, but it was quickly gone because as soon as I was done with the P4 Endurance Run, I jumped straight into their next one, Deadly Premonition. A game which soon after I started watching, I quickly ordered a copy for myself and played alongside them.
As I look back on those two weeks of procrastination it reminds me of what we faced at the start of this year. During lockdown if you didn’t use that time to learn a new language or skill then certain publications or twitter blue ticks wouldn’t be shy about calling you a failure. “Just use that time to play games and watch Netflix?!? Disgraceful! You should be learning Spanish!” I say, screw them! Use the time that’s best for you and your own wellbeing. I could’ve spent those two weeks working on that Unity project I was doing, but quite frankly my mind wasn’t in the right place for it.
I look back on those two weeks fondly, not just for the entertainment value it gave me, but the love of the Persona series that started with those videos. Afterwards the Golden version of Persona 4 was announced for Vita. So naturally I picked it up and actually controlled the game for once. It was delightful and easily jumped into my Top 3 games of all time. From that point forward I brought every game in that series, even the art books and anime. Which made the decision of Atlus to block the streaming of Persona 5 a baffling decision, but that’s a story for another time.
If you take anything away from this piece of word vomit, it’s that no matter if you’re in lockdown, have time away from work or whatever, just watch what you want to watch, play what you to play and never feel pressured to do something that you simply don’t want to do. Long live the Let’s Plays (and Giantbomb).