Poll: Is It Fair to Comment on a Game's Story Without Having Played It?

Hawki

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I've been wondering about this for awhile now. Short answer from me is "no," but I'd like to give some context.

Years ago, on a site, I and another user were arguing about StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. This was on a SC-themed site, and said user and I were well entrenched in our positions (TLDR, mine was a positive take, hers was negative). This was months, if not years after the original release, and let's say that by this point, the arguments were increasingly bitter (which is why I left the site just before LotV was released - I didn't want to go through the shit flinging again). Point is, long after the game was released. However, in one such conversation, the user casually commented that she'd never played the game, only watched a playthrough.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gVVWznIM-o was my reaction.

Suffice to say, I felt miffed. Not so much that the opinion was different, but that I'd spent months, if not years engaging with a person who I assumed had actually played the game we were discussing. Said user maintained that there was nothing wrong with this, that watching a playthrough of a game was just as valid a way to get a full story experience without having played it. I disagreed, and felt lied to, because SC2 wasn't the only game we'd discussed and disagreed on, so I was left to ask how much had been actually played or not?

Personally, I've rarely, if ever been partial to that belief. I had that belief since at least 2010, when Other M came out. I watched a playthrough at the time and thought the story was pretty decent. However, it was clear that a lot of people at the time didn't, and I stayed clear of those debates, because I didn't feel I could honestly debate Other M without having played it. Having since finished Other M recently, I will say that my perspective on the story has changed (it's not good, but not the abomination some make it out to be), but the key difference is that I now feel I have the 'right' to discuss it in-depth, whereas previously, while I could have an opinion on it, that opinion never would have been as well informed as someone who'd actually played the game. And if you want an example of me having a negative view on a story I haven't played, I can choose something like Sonic 06. However, I've only watched it, not played it, so I'd still be hesitant to outright declare it to be bad.

I want to make it clear that I don't think not playing a game forbids you having any opinion on its story at all, because that's silly. However, I am dubious as to the idea that without playing it, one can really appreciate a game's story for good or ill. I think some genres do give more leeway (e.g. Telltale's games), where I have watched playthroughs myself, but even then, I'd be reluctant to comment on them extensively. The flipside of the coin is games which factor in exploration and environmental storytelling - the BioShocks, Half-Lifes, and Doom 3's of the medium for instance. I'd argue that a similar scenario is declaring a film's story to be good/bad after only having read the script. Yes, you technically get the plot, but since film is a visual medium, you're not accomodating its strengths. If one judged something like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Blade Runner solely by their scripts, they'd be pretty lacklustre (granted, I think 2001 is lacklustre anyway, but that's another issue). But I think we can agree that both films are elevated by their cinematography.

So, TL, DR, my question is, is only watching a playthrough of a game an equivalent experience to playing it storywise? And does watching rather playing a game give one an equal platform to discussing it as someone who has? My answer would be "no" in both cases, but discussion is the essence of...something...meh, it's a forum.
 

Casual Shinji

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I think it's fair to comment on whether or not you'll enjoy the story based on watching or reading up on it, but without playing it, no, you can't really get a good grasp on the story experience. Even when the game's story is mainly through cutscenes and scripted conversations, gameplay and gameplay pacing adds a lot to how you absorb the story.
 

Hawki

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Hawki said:
is only watching a playthrough of a game an equivalent experience to playing it storywise?
For traditional single player video games my answer would be generally, yes. Hardly any break from standard inputs.
Aside from those watchers only really lose out on making the inputs and problem solving aspects. Rhythm/fighting/puzzle games come to mind for lost experiences on the watchers front

100% playthroughs can even result in the watcher actually experiencing more of the game than the player

And does watching rather playing a game give one an equal platform to discussing it as someone who has?
Why not? Tic-tac-toe has 255,168 unique outcomes. Don't need to play/watch them all to discuss the game with equal footing with others
 

dscross

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It depends on the game, I think. You could get away with watching certain games that are mainly story driven. Not others. But in the main, I?d side with you that if something is produced as a game, it was intended to be experienced like that and you won?t necessarily feel the same emotions if you are not immersed in gameplay.

It bothers me when I debate something about a game when the other person hasn?t played it. It?s happened to me a couple of times and my feeling is they didn not fully experience it how it was meant to be experienced so their opinions are automatically not worth as much to me.
 

jademunky

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I think for a game like Starcraft, it is perfectly legitimate to judge the story based on watching it on youtube. If it were a game like Witcher 3 or Torment: Tides of Numenera, I would say no because the story will vary so much from person-to-person that it does need to be experienced directly to be appreciated.

It's the difference between "The Story" (which Starcraft is) and a game that lets you tell "Your Story."
 

Warhound

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Depends on the game really.

You can get a short ways into the story of a game like Spec Ops: The Line before realizing how forcefully moralizing the story is, and realizing what its trying to make you do and judge it based on that.
 

Pyrian

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I think it's conceivable that there are games where the story is so intertwined with the gameplay aspect that simply watching it cannot do it justice. The StarCraft series are definitely not among them, however.
 

EscapistAccount

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I think that in this case her stance was reasonable, some games really need you to play them yourself to fully get them but Starcraft 2 has a pretty stark delineation between the story and the gameplay.
 

CaitSeith

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Yes, but one should specify it. Let's Play isn't just the game being played. It's also the player reacting to it; and that can bring a different perception to the audience (specially for those who have never played it).
 

Yoshi178

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i played the opening of uncharted 2 and the story's opening at least was pretty boring and predictable.

i don't know if the story gets any better, but i didn't feel like bothering to sit around waiting to find out.
 

CaitSeith

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Yoshi178 said:
i played the opening of uncharted 2 and the story's opening at least was pretty boring and predictable.

i don't know if the story gets any better, but i didn't feel like bothering to sit around waiting to find out.
[image width="200"]http://s2.quickmeme.com/img/98/9871f3e38d4a4f0c44dfbdefaaa1ddc648309f440a41b04cfffdbd294057a9e6.jpg[/IMG]

Someone commented without reading the OP! Oh, the irony...
 

CriticalGaming

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I don't think you can criticize anything you haven't looked into. If you haven't played the game, or at least haven't watched it on Youtube, then I don't think you can reasonably talk about a story. A lot of game stories only work in the context of the game itself, so even getting snipets of the story here and there based on previews and clips, means you miss a lot out on context.

Now it is FULLY understandable to make a fair judgement based on whether you would LIKE or be interested in a given story based on previews and teasers. Because that is a different animal. A lot of people think impressions means criticism, but a lot of people are stupid so....

For example, I couldn't tell you anything about Death's Stranding, nor could I make any kind of judgement on the game itself. Hell, nobody can at this point. BUT, what I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, is that the game is not even remotely interesting to me and I will not be picking it up.
 

-Dragmire-

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I'll echo those saying that it depends on the game. Many games don't mesh story and gameplay well/at all so the story experience can be simply watched and that person, to me, would be on equal ground when arguing the merits of the story.

How a person arranges their units/base layout and how they strategize in Command&Conquer does not give their opinion on the story more weight than a person who just watches it.
 

Bad Jim

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Pyrian said:
I think it's conceivable that there are games where the story is so intertwined with the gameplay aspect that simply watching it cannot do it justice. The StarCraft series are definitely not among them, however.
There are however missions where you have to make a choice.

For example Safe Haven, where a bunch of colonists have been infected with a zerg virus and the Protoss come to exterminate them. Dr Ariel Hanson convinces Raynor to stop the Protoss, which allows her time to develop a cure. Or you can do the Haven's Fall mission and side with the Protoss, and if you do this you'll find that Dr Hanson was infested all along.

So your choice is justified either way, and you only see this if you follow both missions. This is quite likely if you are actually playing the game, as it is easy to play the other mission through the mission archives. But if you are watching a Let's Play, the streamer will probably only play one and not the other.
 

Drathnoxis

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Yes, if I've watched a whole let's play I've essentially played the game vicariously. I don't make the decisions, but I feel the impact along with the let's player. The emotional highs, the lows, the grind, the frustration, I go through it all as well. The game is still being interacted with, and I'm seeing the results of those interactions regardless of if I'm the one who pressed the button. I've pretty much gotten an experience that's a carbon copy of the one the person playing the game did, so if it's fair for them to comment on the story, then it's fair for me.

Happy new year!
 

Neurotic Void Melody

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It's just the story. Of course you can make a judgement, anyone can. Like if you heard the soundtrack along with it, you could judge that too. It would be less feasible to judge the controls, or frame rate, technical issues etc etc. But the story is still right there available to take in and think about. It's kind of weird to me that people should be denied their opinion for this.
 

Trunkage

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I'd agree that Lets Plays gives you a good idea of what happened. But there is a proviso. The lets player could influence your opinion.

When I played The Witcher 3, I was utterly repulsed by Yennefer. She is a Supervilllan and her actions disgust me. And this is a game with the Bloody Baron and Whorseon Junior.

I was suprised to find out that I seem to be the only one so annoyed by her. If I did a lets play, I could imagine having a negative impact on someone's impression of the game. I could imagine many streamers affecting opinions like this