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

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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.

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.

I think the big question is "how you define a story?". You can go with the clinical description, ie based solely on the script and how well it is written. Or you can go with the emotional connection with the story as how well you felt connected to it.

The former can be gained without playing the game while the latter cannot and both can be contrary to one another. For example:
The Last Of Us has a weak story: An old guy and a girl travel to a location for 95% of the plot, learning about each other in a pretty predictable way until finally he kills some people for her safety and they run away. But it has a very good way of getting you to care about the characters themselves making it extremely memorable.
Meanwhile, Dark Souls 2 has the opposite problem. It's plot is extremely well crafted with a lot of inner stories and tragedies put within. But the emotional connection is lacking as you don't really know what you are doing most of the time and doesn't have a context for events.

Should you comment on a book's story after reading the dust jacket? I would say no.

Hawki:
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

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

Yoshi178:
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

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

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.

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.

Pyrian:
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.

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!

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.

Yes. Completely fair.

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

No, it's totally unfair.

That said i don't generally give a damn about story anyway...i play games because i like the playing part (gameplay), not the excuse for the genocide i'm commiting (story) :p

I say nay. Even in games that are linear and isolate gameplay from story, what you miss out on is some of the context (in the form of difficulty and how it feels to navigate levels) and a lot of the pacing. It's like reading only the cliff notes to a novella. Will it get you through an eighth grade reading essay? Maybe. But ten minutes into a book club discussion and people will start giving you funny looks.

trunkage:
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

If it makes you feel any better, I had much the same feeling about her. She comes across as utterly selfish and is more then happy to dick anyone else over if it gets her what she wants at the moment.

So yeah, I went with Triss. That and the fact there's this whole "But we used to be together" stick Yenn pulls, except I(not having read the books) and Geralt(having amnesia) don;t remember much of that and her character was more or less persona non grata for the first two games. Triss, for all of her faults, at least was a part of the previous 2 games.

As for the OP, I'm gonna go with sometimes. In some games the story needs player interaction to really feel a part of it and just reading about it doesn't really have the same impact. Final Fantasy games have silly plots most of the time, but combined with gameplay somehow feel compelling. OTOH, some games the story is so isolated from the gameplay that it really doesn't matter. Painkiller's story was entirely relegated to the 4 or 5 cutscenes in the entire game and had almost nothing to do with gameplay. A lot of early video games(especially the ones where the entire plot is in the manual or relegated to the beginning and ending text crawls) can also be judged without having to play them.

The original Metal Gear(from 1987 or so), has a plot that can fit on a postcard and the only real point of interest in the whole thing comes pretty much at the very end(Big Boss, your CO, was actually the bad guy the whole time and betrays you). Playing it doesn't actually make this plot any more interesting(because there isn't really any plot beyond that).

RelativityMan:
I say nay. Even in games that are linear and isolate gameplay from story, what you miss out on is some of the context (in the form of difficulty and how it feels to navigate levels) and a lot of the pacing. It's like reading only the cliff notes to a novella. Will it get you through an eighth grade reading essay? Maybe. But ten minutes into a book club discussion and people will start giving you funny looks.

No, your analogy is wrong. It's more like listening to the audiobook. You don't get certain aspects of the medium, like intentional typos, italics, paragraph layout, font sizes, or what-have-you, and you get some inflection from the reader that may not be part of the actual book. Are you going to say that people who listen to audiobooks can't comment on the story?

Only in a very general sense, and your opinion should be served with a pinch of salt.

Dalisclock:

trunkage:
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

If it makes you feel any better, I had much the same feeling about her. She comes across as utterly selfish and is more then happy to dick anyone else over if it gets her what she wants at the moment.

I actually like that she's a couple of steps short of being a powerful villain, and that Geralt is sorta doomed to love her. The game in general makes Geralt come across as being powerless to make any sort of change in this world, dispite being a badass, so I enjoy extending this to his love life. And you can tell Yennefer truly does love Geralt, but that she also finds her own ambitions more important than that.

Drathnoxis:
[...]It's more like listening to the audiobook. You don't get certain aspects of the medium, like intentional typos, italics, paragraph layout, font sizes, or what-have-you, and you get some inflection from the reader that may not be part of the actual book. [...]

Pretty much this.

In many instances someone watching a gameplay is going to 'get' more of the story than the player, who often has other concerns as gameplay elements, sadly, often get in the way of (poorly timed) story elements. You don't have to watch very many Youtube vids or Twitch streams to see a player miss major story elements entirely -- oftentimes to their, or their viewers, great frustration -- because they were too busy with whatever the game had them doing at the time.

I honestly can't think of any instances where the reverse would be apt to happen to any meaningful degree -- I don't consider multiple playthroughs relevant as you can also watch multiple playthroughs -- so I'm not sure it couldn't be successfully argued that a person watching a playthrough will often be in a better position to comment on the story than the actual player.

Although, to be honest, I think this says more about the sorry state of storytelling in games than it does about anything else.

Hmm....

It really depends.

Sometimes a story thing can be so bad that you can instantly form a judgement on it because it's something that completely butchers the experience (*coughOtherMcough*), but as a general rule, you should play a thing before judging the story. Games are, after all, an interactive medium, and the gameplay often served to reinforce the story.

That said, I would agree with whoever you disagreed with about Starcraft 2, although maybe not about the same things (I dunno what your conversation was about). As someone who spent a lot of my teen years in love with the lore of the original games, the new trilogy gets so, so, SO much wrong with the Zerg and Protoss that unless I get Legacy of the Void for free like I got Heart of the Swarm for free (or I get it for like 5 bucks), I don't think I want to finish the new trilogy. :(

Bad Jim:

Pyrian:
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.

Sure, but do those choices have a massive effect on the story? I admit it has been a while since I played Wings of Liberty but I don't recall the decisions drastically changing the story in any way. It wouldn't even really be that hard to find someone who had played both and see what happens anyhow. And if all the game does is find a way to justify both decisions, what difference is there, really? There is zero consequence to choosing either one.

And this is the fundamental problem with moral choices in games. It's too difficult to actually alter the game in a radical way based on a decision made by the player so unless it's just one of several different endings or whatever, the choice usually only has minimal effects on the rest of the game as the game twists to accommodate whatever decision is made. Mass Effect sort of tried with the Alenko vs. Williams decision but all that really decided was who was going to pop up in your squad in the third game.

From my perspective, certainly not. Without spending time with characters and immersing myself in the world, I find it really hard to care about what's going on in a cut scene.

As a kid I can remember watching the final cutscene for MGS3: Snake Eater when my cousin completed it. I'd spent the last half an hour sitting through dialogue, a small boss battle and yet more dialogue and there was still no end in sight for it. I was thoroughly bored. That same cutscene two weeks later, after I'd played the game through, had a massive impact on me.

I could say the same about the "Succeeding You" cinematic from Frozen Throne. Having not played through Arthas' descent, with only other disjointed cinematics to go on, that scene, whilst still awesome to a younger me, just didn't have any weight to it until I'd played through the game. Because even though Warcraft and Starcraft are linear experiences, there's unit chatter and story elements in stages that help string the narrative together.

You won't even get that watching a Let's Play, because you've removed the interactive aspect from the medium.

I think it depends a lot on the game, but for the most part, yes, you can comment on the story without having played the game. I'm trying to think of games where playing it was integral for me to enjoy the story, and the only ones that comes to mind are Life is Strange and oddly, Dishonored. The first because it's about your choices and I think watching someone play it is not the same as doing it yourself; Dishonored because it was the world building and design and the lore that made me fall in love with it, not the mostly cookie cutter story and somewhat forgettable characters.

inu-kun:
I think the big question is "how you define a story?". You can go with the clinical description, ie based solely on the script and how well it is written. Or you can go with the emotional connection with the story as how well you felt connected to it.

I've got two types of definition:

1) Story, as in, being the same as the plot. So, for instance, a piece of fiction could have a good plot that's told terribly, and therefore still have a good story.

2) Story, as in, the culmination of numerous aspects of a work of fiction (plot, characters, worldbuilding, themes, character development, storytelling, etc.)

Usually it doesn't matter too much, but it can be helpful to make the distinction at times.

Myria:

In many instances someone watching a gameplay is going to 'get' more of the story than the player, who often has other concerns as gameplay elements, sadly, often get in the way of (poorly timed) story elements. You don't have to watch very many Youtube vids or Twitch streams to see a player miss major story elements entirely -- oftentimes to their, or their viewers, great frustration -- because they were too busy with whatever the game had them doing at the time.

I've seen players miss gameplay elements, but not story elements. Or at least, not miss them in the sense you're referring to them as, more just going by them. Off the top of my head, Doom 2016, where players would never bother with the lore logs. Course, then I got the game and discovered I wasn't missing out on much, so there is that.

aegix drakan:
Hmm....

It really depends.

Sometimes a story thing can be so bad that you can instantly form a judgement on it because it's something that completely butchers the experience (*coughOtherMcough*), but as a general rule, you should play a thing before judging the story. Games are, after all, an interactive medium, and the gameplay often served to reinforce the story.

I'll be frank, while I can't call Other M an example of stellar storytelling, its control scheme is the biggest nail in the coffin for me. I can play and enjoy Metroid games with barebones stories (e.g. Super Metroid and Zero Mission), because as sparse as their stories are, they're at least fun to play. I'd maintain that a good story can salvage poor gameplay and vice versa. However, Other M (and Hunters) lack in both these areas, while something like Fusion excels in both of them.

aegix drakan:

That said, I would agree with whoever you disagreed with about Starcraft 2, although maybe not about the same things (I dunno what your conversation was about). As someone who spent a lot of my teen years in love with the lore of the original games, the new trilogy gets so, so, SO much wrong with the Zerg and Protoss that unless I get Legacy of the Void for free like I got Heart of the Swarm for free (or I get it for like 5 bucks), I don't think I want to finish the new trilogy. :(

No one particular issue, just...well, I guess everything. Took at least three years for the bombshell to be dropped. I suppose I can trust her that she (and others) played SC1 like I did (would have been 9 when it came out), but often times it felt like we played completely different games.

Per the above statement of yours, I'd rather agree to disagree. Best thing I can say about spending time debating SC1/2 is that it gave me the heads up not to enter The Last Jedi debates/shitstorms.

I feel like the story is entirely fair game as long as you've done something like watch a full length let's play. Someone else brought up audiobooks above, maybe you'll miss out on some of the minute details, but you definitely understand the story itself.

I voted "yes", but only because it's just comenting. If I were going to review or place judgement on it expecting people to listen to me, then I'd have better played through it at least to know what the hell I'm judging.

Voted yes. I've not played The Last of Us, but I've watched an old flatmate of mine play through it from start to finish, seen the whole thing.

You can't get a full sense of the gameplay, but you can still get a general idea of it.

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