Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Commenting On Video Games and Our Interest

#REHASH and #HappyHolograms took South Park fans and gamers for a spin. The two-part episode aired just in time for The Game Awards that honored those in the industry and gamers...who make videos commenting on video games. Oh irony, if you have a sound effect now would be the perfect time to ring it. Why ironic? Because Trey Parker won Best Voice Actor at the award show for South Park: The Stick of Truth.

Here's the plot synopsis and why it's all so funny: Kyle just picked up the latest Call of Duty and wants to play with his little brother, Ike. He finds that Ike is spending his time absorbed with YouTube videos of people playing video games. Specifically PewDiePie (who makes a cameo in the second episode). While the kids lament on how silly the videos are and offer no real value to the world, Cartman takes it up as a hobby, starts earning money from it, and the whole thing takes off.

I'll link to the full synopsis because the rest of the story derails from there if you are not familiar with the way South Park storyline is working this season. It involves the singer Lorde (who's actually Randy Marsh), hologram Michael Jackson and Tupac, and how commenting is the new "hit thing" for marketing a product - not necessarily the product itself.

It is interesting to see how quickly media evolves. A few years ago, sitting and watching other people play video games on YouTube or Twitch didn't appear to be a recreational activity. Twitch was still trying to find it's place in the gaming world, and focused more on game tournaments and expo coverage before going after the gamers themselves in their homes for day to day play. Now it's owned by Amazon and continues to expand their content. Watching people playing games, not by their side, but over the computer, is normal. Even I do it. But as with the South Park episodes, we have to wonder if this new phenom is dimming the art of game play. That's essentially what the episodes are trying to get at, as well as a few news articles here and there (albeit in a very simplified manner).

What makes watching someone as they comment on a video game so entertaining?

You could relate it to sports reports or those officiating a football match. You're not playing the game, but you are paying to watch it, whether at the stadium or on your television, and listening to the announcer as they call the game. The content with Twitch and YouTube is no different. It just seems unconventional because it's a video game. Even now as games have evolved to include a mature audience, people still view it as something "just for kids." (I realize the Business Week article is a few years old, however, it still exemplifies the attitudes people have regarding games.)  Yesterday's article where I discussed Cinema Blend's piece by Ryan Winslett is a perfect example of this: collegues and peers looked down on his work because it was "just video games." There's nothing serious to report about, when it's the exact opposite.

And it's also amusing. People watch PewDiePie because he says silly things and sometimes throws in a weird accent. I don't particularly like his brand of comedy, but enough people do that he's able to make a strong living from it. I personally prefer the Rooster Teeth crew and their Let's Play videos. Not necessarily for the general game play and commentary, but when they create events within the games, such as Minecraft Monopoly, or The Most Dangerous Game in Grand Theft Auto V. It's a game within a game - a new spin on how to play the product. That holds my interest far more then someone attempting a speed run at Super Mario Bros. The videos are more of a creative outlet, less about making silly comments. Not to say that are void of anything involving the human voice. There are remarks aplenty, but the emphasis is more on "look at what else you can do in Minecraft" then reporting on what it's like to punch trees.

I'm curious to see where the fad goes in a year, maybe two years from now. Will it still be as popular? Will it start fading? And what will replace it?

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