Games aren’t always for the playing. What with Let’s Plays and Twitch streams and debrief podcasts, it’s possible to have fun with a game without ever picking up a controller. It’s a different kind of fun, but it can be just as satisfying.
Sometimes the theme of a game might sound interesting, but the gameplay surrounding it is poor. Or the concept of a game sounds great, but the complexity of its systems is too much to handle. Enjoyment by proxy becomes the only way to partake.
I’ve experienced this with a number of games recently. Being terrible at multitasking, I’ve resisted the temptation to jump into Stardew Valley, despite how wonderful the game looks. I know what it would do to me; just watching videos of other people playing it whips my mind into a frenzy of schedules and stress. Given enough time, I could probably wrap my head around it, but the cost of admission is simply too steep.
And yet, even though I’m not playing it, I love Stardew Valley. Seeing the fervour of the community, hearing the wild stories of Old Master Cannoli and the evil of Joja Mart, watching so many people band together around a game not centred on violence; every mention of Stardew Valley brings a smile to my face.
The assembly-line simulator Factorio falls into a similar category. One look at the game’s intricate contraptions and I knew I was way out of my depth. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from watching videos of machines mining iron ore to feed into other machines that smelt it into iron plate that other machines then use for producing iron gears which are ultimately used to make more machines that mine iron - seriously, just watch it for yourself.
At the other end of the spectrum lies Devil Daggers. The twitchy shooter draws heavily from Quake, and I’ve just never had the reflexes for that level of chaos. Nevertheless, when it first came out, I got sucked into the competitive back-and-forth between friends and critics, as well as the fascination surrounding the unfathomable scores at the top of the leaderboard. It was fun just to watch those far more talented than I dig deeper and deeper into the brutally fast game.
Loving a game you’ve never played might sound antithetical, but the medium is more than just interaction. A baseball fan need never take to the plate; a snowboarding pundit need never set foot on a mountain. Appreciating something from the outside can be satisfying in its own right. I’m sure you have your own examples; leave them in the comments below!
Matt Sayer is 50% gamer, 50% writer, 50% programmer, and 100% terrible at maths. You can read more of his articles over at Unwinnable as well as right here, friend him on Steam here or tweet him cat photos at @sezonguitar