10/09/2016

Cynical Rant on the Digital God that is the "Let's Play"

Time to make a blog that will piss off whoever reads it *cracks knuckles*.
And for authenticity's sake, I actually did crack them.

Let's Plays are the... um.... "art"?... of making videos where game footage is captured and synced with live commentary, no matter how heavily edited or not edited it may be. I just explained to you what a Let's Play is as if you didn't just get done watching one. I've been posting videos and music on the internet for quite some time now and have even dabbled in the formula of Let's Plays myself from time to time. Most Let's Play opinions I see passionately defending or opposing the medium are from the viewers, but you don't always hear a full explanation of emotion from a creator.

For those of you who don't follow me on YouTube or Vidme, I run two YouTube channels, and I don't classify either as a gameplay channel or a Let's Play. Lexi Karma is my music moniker where I compose, perform, and mix my own music. Randomrings Channel is definitely a channel focused on video games, and although there are a few let's play videos on it, the focus goes towards full scripted reviews of video games, and then whatever other nonsense I feel like uploading. Every once in a while, I have publicly made jabs at the concept of Let's Plays and their supposed harm to an internet community with a niche towards video games. So with no explanation given, you just have to assume "hey! That guy hates Let's Plays! BOOOOO!!!" The statement "I hate Let's Plays" really isn't accurate to me specifically though.

I had seen Let's Plays before I fully understood what they were or if they really could get a following or not with things like Cr1tikal, Continue?, and of course this was still in an era where you couldn't log into YouTube without seeing Pewdiepie. Hold on rabid Pewdiepie fanboy zombies: I DO NOT hate Pewdiepie. I didn't go through a phase of getting into Let's Plays until I started watching more Continue? and then out of nowhere of course, Game Grumps appeared. I didn't like solo Let's Plays like Pewdiepie and Markiplier because of the format itself, not anything that they did or didn't do. I still feel this way today to some extent, just not as closed-minded. Face-cam doesn't appeal to me, seeing someone else react to something wasn't that appealing to me, and this was accentuated by the fact that they were usually playing alone. It just seemed weird to me putting together a whole production and series of productions based on the sole personality of one person, especially when these things come out every single day. At the same time, there were a few Continue? moments that I found jarring because there were so many people in the same room trying to get their thoughts out first. Game Grumps had easier to follow commentary because it usually consisted of an A and B conversation between Arin Hanson and Jon Jafari. There was less editing in general because they didn't need it. Arin and Jon knew they could improvise their way through an episode and keep it consistently entertaining to an already interested audience. Keep in mind, Arin and Jon already had quite a bit of internet fame beforehand, hence why the first episode ever is still one of their most popular videos on the entire channel about 4 years later. 4 years right? Don't answer that, I don't actually care that much.

"Oh my good lord, why did you just say all of that?" I hear you say. Because this is when the medium went to hell. Shortly after Pewdiepie, JackSepticEye and Markiplier got even more crazy famous and now make more money than you do in that one sex dream you have sometimes. Yes, that one. Everyone, their brother, and their brother's unborn daughter wanted to get on the Let's Play train after that. Is that so bad? In theory, not at all. It's like a podcast with an initial focus on video games, so it is slightly easier to get people to try your stuff out. If I say "my friend and I just started a podcast... um.... sometimes we talk about Louis C.K. and books but usually just dicks.", yaaawwwnnn, welcome to the podcast void. But someone in a similar scenario goes "we talk about dicks AND play Super Mario 64 in the background", then at the very least you've got the whole Mario thing going for you, and that is one popular Italian plumber... one might even say the most popular one. One of the things that got me into Game Grumps the most when it first started though was not just the fact that I had heard of the people on the show, because actually I had never watched a JonTron video before Game Grumps started (although oddly enough I'm pretty sure I saw him in the Ninja Sex Party video for "Let's Get This (Terrible) Party Started"). I was a huge fan of Arin's work and I thought a more organic portrayal of his thoughts on games bouncing off of someone else was a cool idea. And it was. But that's the factor a lot of people miss out on when they start a Let's Play channel of their own: the gimmick. Having a gimmick doesn't have to be a bad thing. The internet is a big crazy world, so having something ridiculous to stand out on isn't the worst thing ever.

Oh but I'm not going to go on an outreach tangent. Back on track here. I was interested in that idea of "Egoraptor game commentary with other guy I didn't know yet" because I saw it as a side thing that Egoraptor was doing while working on bigger things. It was a daily, entertaining reminder that these two creators I had grown to have so much respect for were "still alive" as they say. And at the time it was something different and not horrendously common as all of the Let's Play clone channels were trying to be Pewdiepie. That's where I'm going with this.

Pewdiepie accidentally destroyed YouTube's monetization algorithm by living in so many different areas and being one of the more eccentric people doing what he was doing, and as a business was being formed in it, his passion grew for it and I think that still shows today. This led millions of other people thinking "I can make money playing video games!" which is... just such a lazy "aspiration". Can I even call it an aspiration? There are so many people begging the public and praying to God that they can make millions of dollars on uninspired, unoriginal content; let's play or not. Then they get defensive when other people say... pretty much what I just said. And their aggression was based on a career built on an algorithmic fluke!

Here's the inspiration for why I made this blog entry: the argument of "talent". I hate to be one of the people that says "you need no talent to make a let's play" but it's absolutely true. Piece that statement apart. To CREATE a Let's Play video, you do not NEED talent. Unless you consider downloading free video editing software and knowing the basics of using a computer as talent, then in that case I'm completely off my rocker. To make a Let's Play video, just one video, you need EFFORT not TALENT, and even then, not very much. Depending on how you record it, syncing audio and game footage that were recorded in conjunction to each other is not difficult. It takes time for sure, but if half of that time is spent waiting for the video to render, then how much are you really doing? Then there is the argument that they do this process every day for daily video releases. Well most of the time those are "releases" but not "uploads".

"How do you know that, you jaded Pewdiepie hating ass?!??!?!?!" Good, well-thought out question, my fellow human. I am part of the problem... kind of. For a little more than 8 months I ran a Let's Play channel called Grody Harmony Gaming with my friend Evan, in which we had a daily release, but really that video could have been uploaded anywhere between a week and three months in advance. I had a very small following from Randomrings Channel and had not released Lexi Karma yet. Evan came from Big Tobacco Company, which at the time was exclusively music, but has now started to do Let's Plays as well. But once again, the point of GHG was to be a side dish. The gimmick of GHG was that we were both musicians that liked video games, so if you were into other things we were releasing and wanted to hear us talk about game design, movies, and genitals in between big releases, then GHG was the place to go. Even that tore me apart because I had to do all of the editing and most of the uploading, and it just become so routine that I hated it and myself. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration but I still felt captive and unable to put that amount of time into something I was really passionate about. So I stopped and we went back to making bigger things, and although not all of it is public yet, let me tell you, it was worth it for both parties.

If you make a Let's Play, want to make loads of money on it, and make boring commentary because you aren't really interestingly critical or remotely good at improv comedy, then you aren't just trying to sell a side dish as a three-course meal, you are trying to sell a side dish as a three-course meal that is under-cooked. And your entire calling card from your primary goal being a Let's Player is that you have minimal video editing knowledge and have functioning vocal cords. Some of these channels load up multiple videos every single day, and they do this to cover a wider fanbase, but then your fanbase might be getting worse content. It's the same people recording essentially the same shtick for a few hours a week, maybe once or twice a week, and that is eventually going to stagnate. For some reason even after it stagnates, people still come back to it and argue that it hasn't stagnated, so I guess that's just a taste thing.

I get that people like how organic it is because it's improvisational, and again, has more of a niche than the average podcast, but the organic nature usually works well because the "performers" are usually doing something less organic. JonTron videos are scripted, Ninja Sex Party make songs; these things take a lot of preparation and time, so having something in between makes sense to me. People acting like doing Let's Plays needs to be their life and it is their God-given calling is bizarre to me. It really boggles my mind. And the kicker about most of these that I will say because a lot of other people won't: most of the super defensive Let's Players like this who are also usually the really desperate ones have the most criminally boring commentary I have ever heard on anything ever, and I watch creator commentary on Community, Rick and Morty, and once Iron Man 2. IRON MAN 2!!! Let that sink in...

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Okay.

I have had people tell me (albeit politely) that they don't like Randomrings Channel, but I've never been accused of being a complete hack wasting everybody's time with my horrible garbage videos. Even if they did, it would be water on a duck's back. Love them or hate them, my reviews, hell even my occasional Let's Plays, obviously show signs of effort, editing, and preparation. Does that make them good? Not necessarily. But at least if I take these videos seriously and am passionate about them, a stranger to the medium can see where I'm coming from and encourage me to do what I'm doing. I think everyone should go after what they really want to do in life and I hope doing so inspires other people to reach for the stars as well, but I can't fathom anyone really being that greatly inspired to grow by some guy in a little box on the screen yelling tacky commentary at that one horror game that is trendy at the time. Channels like this try so hard to follow the trends that the content itself is a copy. I've even seen group Let's Plays with branding on thumbnails and channel art eerily similar to that of Game Grumps. Coincidence? Even if it is, you should probably change that.

Some people do Let's Play channels just for funsies, which is exactly why Grody Harmony Gaming existed (the only monetized videos on that channel are the ones that Nintendo snatched up and claimed as their own basically). Some do these channels to put in content in between views on their main channel (something else I find irritating but that's maybe another rant for another time). Then there are the big Let's Play channels that have been around for a long time and that's fine. I may not salivate over their videos but they earned their keep, exception being Continue? because they earned their keep AND they actually take the time out to make their videos entertaining based on their skills and not relying too much on the game itself.

So why make a giant text rant about this anyways? Where's the problem? It's everywhere, and with the platforms it infects, it chokes the life out of other channels trying to do something new. I would understand if Let's Plays were like crack, and it was just the best crack, and it was really hard to get unhooked once you start, but it's not! Are you not all sick of these things yet? I'm sick of my own and I rarely make them! They are little staples in time that are hard to replicate, and we as humans have found more new ways to record these moments and share them with the world, but when we treat them as anything more than that (which some of us do or else I wouldn't be writing about it), that's when a problem starts.

There was once a quote from... um... I think Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains? I think it was him. He said in an interview once that jamming in some garage somewhere is the next Led Zeppelin. Love or hate Led Zeppelin, history shows that they blew rock and roll out of the water, and not just in sales (but also in sales). But, he went on to say, although they may be the best band ever, the next big thing, no one will ever hear of them. Same thing with internet content. Originality is suffocated by mass-producing mediocrity. The best Let's Play, is still junk food. You can eat a lot of it and something in it might make you feel good for a bit, but you and no one else around you is really growing or learning anything new. If it's really inspiring at all, it just inspires you to do something else because holy crap, I just watched seven hours of Game Grumps! Time to go get a life!

I talked about the inspiration for this blog, but the trigger was Vidme. Vidme is a website I have been uploading to recently and a lot of my recent reviews did exponentially better on Vidme than they ever did on YouTube. I thought maybe if YouTube kept making stupid decisions and people kept trying to pump YouTube full of Let's Plays in hopes of ad revenue, that more creative and entertaining channels like I Hate Everything and Sick Animation would be the ones to pave the road, and more small channels like mine would at least get a tiny cult following for our efforts and ideas. Within the first three days it seems that my wishes jinxed the site and more Let's Plays have infected Vidme than before by a pretty great amount.

If you like making Let's Play videos for yourself, for your friends, whatever, good for you. Sincerely, good for you. Life's too short to not do what you love. Don't be a narcissistic, entitled asshole and make it everyone else's problem though. If people don't promote your loads of FPS, FNAF, and Happy Wheels Let's Plays because you aren't that funny, charming, or insightful, and none of it is anything original that anyone cares about, then find new ways to promote it yourself and stop making it someone else's problem, or better yet: leave your channel up for archive and then stop making these videos and go do something creative.

Let's Plays have proven to me that creating something is not always creative, and that was more disappointing than finding out that Santa doesn't exist, because at least I can rationalize Santa not existing.

I will be waiting for your torches, pitchforks, and the one guy in a straw hat with a shotgun.

Thank you for reading.

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