Mr Kurt Klein is the Exhibit Manager for the Virginia Air and Space Museum. He is also a life long gamer. Over a couple beers Kurt shared a unique gaming experience and I’ve asked him to share it here.
There are no two ways about it. I’m a gamer. Not a casual gamer. Not a guy who likes to play games to pass some time. I really enjoy playing games and have since I was in my single digits—back when Atari ruled the console wars with the 2600 and a
Commodore 64 was cutting edge PC gaming goodness. I once traded away five games to borrow some guy’s Super Nintendo just so I could play Final Fantasy 2 (4) for a week. I have beaten well over 500 games. I have found myself checking the clock at eight pm realizing that I checked the clock at eight am when I started. Lately, however, I’ve found myself bored with playing video games. Very few hold my attention these days, but I still feel the call of the wild and so I turned to a place I hadn’t considered: YouTube.
Just like most people watch a TV series, I now watch people play games, anxiously awaiting the next upload. The truth is, I never used to be interested in watching other people play games. (There is a dark moment surrounding Karnov that I would rather erase from memory, but that’s another story for another day.) Lately, however, it seems I have learned to enjoy watching other people play.
It started slowly. I watched videos of games that I was playing at the time, looking for shortcuts, treasure locations, or NPCs glitching in strange ways. I watched cool kill shots and close calls—the usual fare for a guy who plays games. As I clicked around, I found that I was drawn to one player in particular. He’s not a particularly serious gamer. He doesn’t care if he gets the best loot or beats a level or boss as efficiently as possible. He is all the things I am not, except that he loves making a show out of playing a game. In short, he led me to a revelation.
Mr. James Heaney currently works with GameFront.com, a California-based outfit with a small contingent of two dedicated uploader staff. In a world of serious gamers trying to learn combos, find shortcuts, or just beat games, Heaney stands out as a guy who can not only accomplish these things but give them a showbiz flair. He’s also a comic and an aspiring actor. So while his carefree nature keeps his playing from getting too bogged down with technical explanation, his desire to make an entertaining video keeps him pushing forward.
Dark Souls is my top ever favorite, hardest of hard core games. It’s made not for the faint of heart, but only for the most dedicated of gamers. Shortly after I beat the game, Heaney was challenged to make it through. I wondered, “How in the world is this try-hard going to get through one of the most unforgiving games I’ve ever played?” Not only did he end up doing it, but he used just the right amount of, happy-go-lucky panache combined with his real passion: entertaining people. Mind you, it took him 190 (!) videos to get through.
A little while later, when I saw that GameFront was uploading a play-through of a game called The Last of Us, I was intrigued. I didn’t have a clue what the story was, but I had seen the cover art. Instantly I thought, “Buddy flick, I get it.” So I clicked the first episode and was riveted for the entirety of the upload.
The story was well written. The cut scenes made the characters loveable and appealing and had me cheering them on as the story unfolded. The plot even took Joel and Ellie, the main characters, through Pittsburgh. I have family on Troy Hill, so this tugged at my love for my adopted home town.
As the storyline progressed through Wyoming and into Salt Lake City, Heaney commented on things during quiet moments, but fell silent when anything was happening on the screen. His avatar didn’t linger too long in any one area, yet he managed to explore them pretty thoroughly, which satisfied my ingrained gamer need to eviscerate entirely a game’s mechanic and design, but kept the story moving so as not to lose the viewer. By the end, I had experienced was a great story with well-written characters told through the medium of a video game.
I mentioned I am a gamer, right? Yeah… so I dabbed my eyes free of tears, and promptly watched a couple of reviews of The Last Of Us. To my surprise, there was a lot of groaning about how certain game mechanics and AI took the players out of the story and ended up confusing them or disappointing them because they, being gamers, had to play through all the faults in the game as well as point out the detriments of telling a story through a gaming medium.
I am well aware that the story in a game is very difficult to pace and that balancing it is a HUGE part of making a good experience for a player and a fan. So after seeing that other people did not have the same feelings as I did about The Last Of Us, I started wondering what happened that caused these two opposing points of view. What I realized was that all the disappointed players actually had to PLAY the game, whereas I was able to just watch. Additionally, I must have lucked into watching an entertaining player who affected my perspective without my realizing. Because of Heaney’s play style and personality, the flaws were glossed over. I was paying attention to his playing and commentary rather than having to play it myself and getting wrapped up in mechanics and seeing the glaring flaws. In more than a few spots the AI was noticeably poor. One bit in particular was when the team has to run through a yard and keep quiet, but is being told to be quiet and stay low by a guy who is crunching, rattling and, in some cases, running right past enemies while they ignore him. Flaws are there, to be sure, and I feel very lucky to have been cleverly guided through most of them in a way that made them seem smaller than they are.
What am I to make of my discovery? I imagine a game industry that will seek particular gamers for their style, personality and wit based on what they believe will show their game in the best light. In my mind, no longer is it necessary to rack up the most points, get the most frags, have a high KDR, or even be particularly good at playing games. Playing games for an audience now seems a legitimate way to make a little cash if you can pull the numbers. Not just top players like Fatal1ty can do this, but quite possibly just a guy who makes you feel as though he could be sitting on your couch. There’s a lot to be said for that and I encourage anyone to check out some play-throughs of stellar games and, once you’ve found the story, check out different players who upload. Find the gamer who tickles your fancy and enjoy a game like it wasn’t intended to be enjoyed.