The Worst Let's Play Evar

Slowflake drew my attention to a Retsupurae video earlier. I'd stopped following Retsupurae when they started producing large numbers of videos every week, because I felt that the only way to drastically bring up the volume of their output was to take entirely average work and treat it with the same bile they previously treated objectively awful shakycam laggy-emulator no-effort dreck which fails both as media and as entertainment. Unfortunately, it seems I was correct.

The video in question is a Let's Play of Pokémon White by MageKnight404. If you listen to Retsupurae and Slowflake, this video is the worst thing in the world for any of a dozen different reasons. (Slowbeef and Diabetus stuck to just tacitly accusing the guy of having multiple personality disorder, because laughing at surface detail is easy and distracting.) I have a somewhat different perspective - I've been consuming MrBtongue's videos since he was still only griping about the ending to Mass Effect 3, and I find his mentality and rationalism help me find an objective perspective from which to approach works rather than simply latching onto the first thing I see which elicits any kind of response and declaring the whole work to be good or bad based on it.

When I look at MageKnight404's work, I don't see THE WORST THING EVAR. I don't even see a bad LP - there's no shakycam or emulator lag, the audio levels are good, there's clear effort put into presentation without going overboard with flashy animations and video decorations to make up for a lack of substance, and the voice-acting isn't bad. What I do see is a poorly-executed idea.

Video games are a combination of media - music, graphics, gameplay - collectively aimed towards a common goal. The term for this is a Gesamtkunstwerk, coined originally by Wagner in reference to opera. Since Let's Plays are a form of media derived from video games, they too are a Gesamtkunstwerk - they add commentary. One property of a Gesamtkunstwerk is that the more the elements interlock, the greater the chance the failure of one will result in the failure of the whole. (As a corollary, the failure of the whole does not necessarily mean the failure of every constituent element, which is the mistaken conclusion people are reaching in declaring the video I'm about to talk about the worst thing evar.)

So what works? What doesn't?

What Works

I'll start with a low-hanging fruit: the core concept of giving the silent protagonist a voice works. How do I know this? Because it's been done before, by Travis343. It's hard to get any more definitive than "someone else already did it" as proof that a technique or narrative element works in the chosen medium. MageKnight404's specific take on it, integrating the commentary as a character who interacts with the in-universe narrative has interesting possibilities, so I feel happy declaring this to be a good idea.

What Doesn't Work

The romance subplot between Hilda and the self-insert (who appears for all of ten seconds before being equated with the commentator and disappearing) really, really doesn't work and instantly kicks a lot of people out who otherwise might have managed to suspend their disbelief and go along with the premise. (Slowflake targets the "let's pretend she's 16" line, but while that does sound creepy, it's not the core of the issue issue - the age of Pokémon protagonist characters is loosely defined, so as to allow for the best possible chance of matching the age of the expected player, so the message could be removed and the problem wouldn't change.)

It may be an artifact of Retsupurae omitting the introduction and foreword (wow, omitting information so as to avoid providing preparatory context, wouldn't have seen that coming!) but as presented the video doesn't have enough of a lead-in to prepare the audience to suspend their disbelief about the character dialogue thing, so some people (including Slowbeef and Diabetus) just hear a guy talking to himself.

Finally, there's a lack of coherence in the degree to which in-universe perspective characters are aware of gameplay abstractions - a focus on numerical move power was juxtaposed with subjective talk about a Pokémon's strength or weakness, but then the character response to "hey, a level up" was an "ooh!" of delight rather than baffled incomprehension or surprise. Not a deal-breaker, but it stretches my ability to suspend disbelief.


I've started to dislike kneejerk win/fail judgements about things; Retsupurae has successfully shown us what bad LPs look like, now they need to keep beating that drum rather than trying to crucify the merely average safe in the knowledge that the yesmen will never go away.

At any rate, I'm more than happy to direct traffic to MageKnight404, because I don't see a ridiculous figure to be pilloried and ridiculed - I see a good idea which could potentially work. I'll probably be watching the remainder of his videos, and might have an addendum for this essay later.