Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Videos About Games

Despite being a one man show
Angry Centaur Gaming is your
best bet for reviews these days
When I was little, trying to figure out what a video game was about could be a real challenge.  At an arcade it wasn't so bad because I liked to watch someone else play and, from them, get a feel for the gameplay.  Gaming at home though was a bit trickier.  Box art and (often, but not always) a couple of screenshots on the back gave would-be-players some idea of what to expect.  It wasn't much though, and getting to see actual footage was practically unheard-of.  There was a TV program called "Video Power" where I lived that would show some short clips, but it only aired for two seasons before getting cancelled.  So, what about the written word?  Well...bullet points and a paragraph of text tended to be less informative than one would hope for.  Magazine publications dedicated to gaming coverage back then were spotty and of even more dubious merit than modern day outlets.  Of course, you could rent games the same way you'd rent DVDs or (back then) VHS tapes.  However, that really only applied to the console scene.  If you happened to be like me and play a lot of computer games too then it was back to educated guesswork.  Now, here's where I want to say, that's all a thing of the past thanks to twitch streamers and video game channels on youtube.  Unfortunately, I can't genuinely speak those words because it's not entirely the case.  Sure, most of the problems I've mentioned above are pretty much gone now, but I also feel like the solutions have introduced a few new problems of their own.

One of the most blatant examples has to be "youtube bait," titles like Goat Simulator, I am Bread, or Surgeon Simulator.  They're all fun for a short time, but quickly start to suffer from shallow mechanics and poor controls.  A corollary to this are screaming-into-the-mic games such as Five Nights at Freddy's or Slender.  Their fast tension-building-and-release jumpscares tended to be a good way to attract a certain kind of fluid viewership, which in turn means raised awareness and ultimately higher sales figures...despite being pretty mediocre from a design perspective.  I doubt most of the aforementioned titles would have been commercial successes at all, if internet video content producers hadn't gobbled their gimmicks up so eagerly.

This ties into another problem - trend chasing.  I get that viewers are interested in whatever the new hot thing is, but if every youtuber and twitch streamer is playing the same game (or couple of games) then there's no benefit to be had here in terms of viewership.  Fortnight, PUBG, Rocket League and perhaps the originator of the me-too games coverage Minecraft, are all examples of games that got an oversaturation of coverage simply because they happened to be in-vogue at a particular moment in time.  I'm not saying watching or making videos about popular games in bad per-se.  I just think homogenization is antithetical to the whole point of having internet games coverage.  There are a few channels (such as Accursed Farms) that go out of their way to only really play older more obscure stuff, often carefully editing footage to not waste the viewers time.  Marshall Dyer is another, albeit somewhat different, example in that he tends to play lesser known indie titles...and even then only after any post-release hype around them has died down.

Don't be "Brad" at games
One might be tempted to say it's not really about the games, but rather the individual personalities of each and every streamer/youtuber.  There's a lot of truth to that statement, but it's also a deadly path to go down.  If an audience associates a certain kind of content from you then they'll get annoyed very quickly if it changes to anything different.  Case in point, Mangaminx had a lot of trouble transitioning herself to TheRPGminx.  Splattercat had a fair amount of difficulties too when tried to move away from survival games in an attempt to branch out to other genres.  It can also be frustrating in that I like Quill18, but most of the hardcore strategy games he's known for playing don't interest me.  I kind of want to see him spread his wings a bit more, but understand why he (and a lot of other content creators) don't.  Fanbases support, but they can be a limiting factor as well.  The real problem here though is youtubers and twitch streamers losing their passion for video games, and just going through the motions; covering particular games because it's what their audience expects of them.

I should wrap this up by saying that even though I use youtube and twitch as my primary examples, the problems I've mentioned aren't exclusive to those to sources of video games coverage.  Dedicated websites made up of supposed "professionals" can (and do) suffer from a disinterested staff, unwilling tackle the challenges of mastering the mechanics of whatever it is they decide to play.  Guys, you don't have to give up on your passions to be "successful"...in fact it's quite probably the opposite.     

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