Saturday, August 17, 2013

Internet fame: Let's Play overview

Many people in the world have a strong desire to become famous, and of these people many are willing to go to great lengths to achieve that fame. This idea is especially prevalent in the medium of the internet. People who have talent, or an idea, or just people who want to be noticed can and will produce things for YouTube, deviantart, blogger, etc. Unfortunately Sturgeon's law definitely applies. Stating that 90% of everything is crap, we can see examples of this whenever we visit the aforementioned sites. The real question is why people pursue this fame and why the internet is a common outlet.

In my case a desire to be famous stemmed partially from a desire for social interaction. Fame I believed brought influence and therefore brought “friendship”. People talk to famous people, and while one may rightly argue that this talk is just due to fame and therefore not actually real social interaction, when one is deprived, either actually or just in their head, they will take it where they can.

A good example of this can be found in the phenomenon known as “Let's Play”, essentially people playing games and commenting on it a la Mystery Science Theater 3000. There are more let's players than I could probably count, making their homes in two places in particular, YouTube and Something Awful,. The two groups have a bit of an unfriendly rivalry, with Something Awful members, known collectively as “goons” regard YouTube Let's Players as lower class, a sometimes understandable assumption with YouTube being a free service and Something Awful having a $10 membership fee. Coincidentally most goons do still post on YouTube, but they organize their series through the Something Awful forums. Because of the subscription fee, Sturgeon's law is less prevalent among goons, but some have more success and therefore arguably more fame than others. Most Something Awful Let's plays can be found at http://lparchive.org/

A major example of this stems from one of the earliest goon Let's Players. Micheal Sawyer, calling himself slowbeef started out the phenomenon of a video based Let's Play (text and picture based versions being created a year or so before) in 2007 with a play through of the Sega Genesis version of The Immortal, a notoriously difficult adventure game starring a decidedly not very immortal old wizard. This led to a ton of videos of fairly difficult old games being played and beaten by various goons. I'll admit such a thing appealed to me because frankly I am terrible at games and it seemed the only way for me to see them through to the end. I have always liked the storytelling potential for games but I was often stymied by their difficulty.

Other Let's Players, such as Deceased Crab, have gained notice by playing games that can be difficult, but are more notable because of their obscurity. In DC's case, His play throughs of games such as LaMulana and Cave Story opened my eye to games that I would have never discovered otherwise. As cheesy as it probably sounds, I am grateful to him for helping me discover them. I have also been impressed by his avoiding of the typical comedy fall back that plagues a lot of Let's Players by avoiding swearing altogether. The worst you will here is an occasional “Damn”, and such things are rare. He has instead chosen to represent himself as a bit of an old world jester, relying on a combination of ham and catch phrases with a bit of physical comedy, as least for the character in the games he plays.

The reason I previously compared it to Mystery Science Theater however is the other main reason for fame generated, as well as the reason that certain Let's Players develop that fame in the first place. People seem to latch onto things that make them laugh. Why they are considered funny can vary quite a bit however. For example: one group known as the Freelance Astronauts (http://www.youtube.com/user/SAMaxwellAdams) have formed themselves into a bit of a comedy group by complementing the personalities of each other. Each of the four have a sort of comedy style, from Pipes' loud, vulgar, no indoor voice personality to Ferr's deadpan snarkiness. The interesting thing about their personalities is mentioned in their tvtropes page (a clear indicator of internet fame is having one), each of the four represent an example of the big four temperaments (Melancholic, Choleric, Sanguine, and Phlegmatic) This combined with their quality and sense of humor is likely the reason for their success.

Other humor can be found by including a sort of hook to get someones attention in your videos, a funny example as mentioned in another video is that if one wants to be successful they should first try “being foreign”, Having an accent other than a typical American one will catch someones ear and can help you be noticed. However this is not an excuse for a bad stage presence, as many people have found out the hard way. Examples of this include the flamboyant Englishman Electric Beast and the French Canadian goon Psychedelic Eyeball. In Beasts case, he has a personality that is so cheery and excited that it cant help but rub off on you. He also is a skilled storyteller who comes up with elaborate plots to make the game-play entertaining. For Eyeball (http://www.youtube.com/user/PsychedelicSA) it is similar, but he is not quite as cheery, a lot more informative, and quite a bit more crass. His tendency to mispronounce a lot of words due to English not being his main language is a source of endearment for his fans as well. I should emphasize again however that an accent does not make the Let's Player. It may be a means of getting attention, but it is one's personality that makes someone successful.

If I was to give examples of bad Let's Plays it would probably annoy folks, bordering on defamation. As I want to be more analytical and less combative, I would prefer to avoid that. Example are everywhere though so there not that hard to find. Taking the comparison to Mystery Science Theater to its inevitable conclusion we have a group known as Retsupurae. (http://www.youtube.com/user/retsupurae), created by Slowbeef and Diabetus: another Let's Player known for playing excessively difficult old games as well as his southern accent. There purpose is to take “bad” YouTube accounts and brutally make fun of them, much like Mike and the bots use to make fun of bad movies. The reason for this may not be what is considered nice, but is perhaps due to something that Slowbeef feels personally responsible for, as his was one of the first video Let's Plays he seems to feel that it was because of him that the popularity took off and has become what it is today. Of particular note are users with little or no showmanship and skill trying to ride the Let's Play popularity wave, as well as those that opt to record a TV screen with a camcorder in a day when video capture cards, screen recording software, and other technology make such things unnecessary (an admitted pet peeve of mine).


Due to size I will end this here, but later I want to discuss a bit on what kind of effect this pursuit of fame can have on our society both online and off. I would also like to discuss in more detail some of these Let's Players as other ways people have achieved or attempted to achieve this fame, so we can explore how they did it and why it is important.

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