Sam Brooks is a devoted consumer of Let’s Plays – to the point where he uses them to sleep. He explains what it is about narrated playthroughs, and one kind in particular, that he loves so much.
If you’ve been living in one of the many corners of the internet where people don’t watch other people play video games, let me first explain what a Let’s Play is. They’re like audio commentary for movies, except instead of the people who made the movie doing the commentary, it’s gamers playing the games and talking over it. Some are humourous, some are informative, some are snarky – and some are all three. Even as live-streaming games becomes increasingly popular, this kind of well-structured commentary is still a pretty niche thing.
The appeal of Let’s Plays is a little bit harder to define. Sometimes it’s cool to see people play a popular game you don’t have access to, or to watch people play a game that you love, or even to watch people play a game that you hate and be funny in the process of hating it. For me, it’s all three, and also the chance to get involved in the narrative of a game I’ll never play because I’m pretty bad at it, or am apparently so apocalyptically lazy that I’d rather watch someone play a video game than play it myself.
I’ve never been able to sleep in silence. Maybe it’s a product of growing up in the city, always hearing the motorway nearby, a distant siren or a plane flying overhead. Maybe it’s because silence to me represents the death of all things and the start of endless thoughts about myself, my mortality and everything I’ve done wrong in my life. Maybe it’s because I’m too hot and need to turn the fan on.
Whatever the reason, since I’ve been a child I’ve always needed something around me to listen to while I sleep. For a long time, this was music. I still have extensively curated sleep playlists, usually one for each year of my life. These tend to feature Tori Amos music or other songs with lyrics, something human I can listen to while I whittle away the minutes and drift off into six hours of sleep. When music stopped working, I moved on to podcasts. Not even sleep podcasts, just fairly plotless and meandering podcasts where funny people talk in different accents about something (Stop Podcasting Yourself is great for this). When podcasts stopped working, I was at a loss.
Then I remembered Let’s Plays.
And it’s not like I sleep to any Let’s Plays; it’s only the Let’s Plays by a very specific creator.
Chip Cheezum and General Ironicus (not their real names, presumably) have been making LPs for about ten years now. The pair have a really chill vibe together, if they’re not best friends they feel pretty close to it. Cheezum plays the game and is more informed while Ironicus is the more delighted, impressed commentator.
They’ve done a huge number of games together, from Beyond Good and Evil to Fight Out, but their most popular are the Metal Gear Solid and Uncharted series. Their LPs are universally delightful to watch. Even if it’s a game I’m not particularly interested in – like the comically grimdark Watch_Dogs – the pair have a way of making it watchable, not just through their banter but through judicious editing and general love for the nebulous form of the Let’s Play.
I’ve watched all of their Let’s Plays at least once, all the way through. I’ve watched their Metal Gear Solid LPs – from the first game right through to Peace Walker – more times than I can count. Not only are they great to sleep to, they’re also perfect hangover tools, if you’re the kind of person who gets hungover, which I most certainly am not.
But why do I watch them to sleep?
Well, one reason is that it’s comfortable. More comfortable than the silence.
Sleep is a form of comfort. And to sleep, you generally have to be so exhausted that your body overrides your need for comfort or you need to be actually comfortable. For me, silence isn’t comfortable. It’s cold, and kind of terrifying. Then music became comfortable, listening to Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, Kate Bush and the like. Soon that became white noise. Then podcasts, Stop Podcasting Yourself, My Favourite Murduer, so on and so forth. That became white noise. And now LPs.
There’s something weirdly comforting in watching two people chat over game audio, calmly, where you know when the jokes are coming, from them and in the game. It’s why we watch the same episodes from our favourite shows over and over – I’m also somebody who has watched every episode of Absolutely Fabulous maybe ten times – we want to be around what’s familiar and safe. It’s why we eat the same meals, why we form relationships – why we do almost anything.
Chip and Ironicus LPs put me in that comfortable place, where I feel like it’s okay to sleep. It’s not because they’re bad, it’s the opposite – they’re genuinely some of the most informative, funny and well put-together LPs I’ve ever watched. Even the brief showcase of what they’re going to do with Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain seems almost terrifyingly thorough for a game that is by far the biggest game the pair has ever had to LP.
I think what makes LPs special – or at least what makes Chip and Ironicus’s LPs special – is the way they trigger that little part of your brain that makes you feel good at a video game. Even though I’m not actively watching their videos – often it’s the exact opposite, I’m in bed rolled the opposite way – it triggers something deep in me.
Which I think is the appeal of Let’s Plays: they give you a kind of contact high, the second hand smoke of playing video games. And with these particular Let’s Players, it’s like playing a game with your friends where they don’t give you the controller, and actually you don’t really want it because it’s just as much fun watching them play.
But honestly? I just need to sleep, you guys.
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