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If you want to put forward a constructive critique of a game, watching someone else stream the game is not enough.

So I've been noticing this a lot more lately. There have two particularly contentious releases in the last year: Death Stranding and The Last of Us Part II. On launch, the conversation surrounding Death Stranding was particularly toxic and heated. And the conversation surrounding The Last of Us Part II is exponentially worse.

As someone that enjoys talking about games, I've been pretty steeped in conversation regarding both. And a common theme I'm noticing seems to be that a lot of the loudest people (typically on the negative side) aren't playing these games. They are watching streamers play these games and going into to message boards and critiquing the game based upon a stream they watched. I normally write these people off but I think it would be good to have a conversation about it because maybe there's some nuance I'm missing. But I'm going to make my arguments for why I think this is actively horrible for gaming discourse.

A lot of people would agree that the inherent unique quality of videogames is the interactive aspect and the control you get of the characters gives a unique experience to passively watching something. This is kind of a crude representation and I can't say I entirely agree with this sentiment, but I'm sure we can all agree that most gamers feel this way. So it strikes me as a very odd juxtaposition that it's also so common for people to watch streamers — and by virtue of doing so — turning that active experience into a less than ideal passive viewing experience, and then thinking you've engaged with the game enough on a fundamental level in order to give your critiques. At this point, you have not engaged with the game on the base level that the creators wished for you to do so. You have effectively judged the movie with watching it. Judged the book without reading it. Judged the play without attending.

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I think many would argue that you wouldn't be able to necessarily critique the gameplay but surely you would be able to at least address your story criticisms, but I don't buy this either. I think any work needs to be assessed in an optimal environment. A loud idiot in a movie theater can ruin the entire viewing experience for you and detach you from the narrative. So I also fail to see how some yelling idiot waving his arms around, screaming about bits and tips, talking about random bullshit with chatters, and dancing anime characters popping up on screen whenever someone subscribes is an optimal setting to enjoy the narrative. You're already detached and I think some of the power of narrative and character driven works is that emotional investment. You may be willing to overlook a couple nitpicks in other categories if you found yourself genuinely moved by the characters or story. But this detachment that's caused by distracting streamers inhibits that.

There's also the fact that watching someone not having a good time is really not fun at all. One of my favorite films is Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Classic 1964 French musical. It's one of the best films I've ever seen and I will never watch it with anyone else. Know why? Because I don't want to hear this, "Ugh, why are there subtitles? Ugh, why are they always singing? Ugh, why is her voice so shrill? Ugh, how long is this? Ugh, why did she do that? Ugh, I hate her, she's such a bad character. Ugh, that ending had no closure." Now imagine that but for a 20-100 hour game. Yeah, no thanks. That ruins my experience. And I feel like people underestimate how suggestive that can be. If you're watching something with someone shitting on it the entire time, you're probably going to be harder on it as well than you would be just experiencing it fresh on your own. This is also why I don't take the, "I watched a stream, I know everything about the game" thing seriously because I don't know how that streamer engaged with the game and how that may have also affected how you perceived it.

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These are just a few reasons why I think basing criticism over watching streamers is bad for the discourse. Whenever I'm discussing a game now, my first question to a lot of people is going to be, "Well have you played it?" And I would say maybe 6/10, the answer is No, but I'm watching a stream". This is with regard to the launches of Death Stranding, Persona 5 Royal, Resident 3 REmake, and The Last of Us Part II and it's just tiring talking about games with people that haven't…well….played them.

Do you guys agree or disagree? Am I off base?


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