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The Let’s Plays are out. The video game culture essay is in

Over the past decade, long-form video essays have grown in popularity – arguably entering a boom alone. Viewers can easily search for a video essay on just about any topic they want, from deep dives into film, theme park history, fashion, and everything in between. With so much offering of video essays, one subgenre that has found its way is the video game culture essay.

These particular game videos are a style of visual essay that gives both the creators behind them and viewers the space to explore video games in new ways that go beyond what we expect in a review. of video games. This flavor of video tends to dig deeper into a niche topic that the creator is most interested in – whether it’s a theme, a specific character, or even the impact of artistic choices on the game.

These game reviews have managed to find their own place in the larger world of video game reviews while maintaining a fairly uniform coexistence with the traditional game review format. Both offer individual reflections and insight into video games while not actively harming the other.

To better understand this grounding and coexistence, I spoke with two creators who have done playtesting on culture. They explained what exactly drives them to share their unique points of view through this format and what attracts both gaming essays and reviews for viewers.

The draw for the video game trial

Understanding what initially drives a creator to get into writing essays about video game culture can give us insight into why they found such a strong foothold in the gaming space to begin with. There’s something to be said for knowing the passion behind something. For Maria (also known as eurothug4000) and Daryl talks about the gamesthe initial interest in discussing more specialized topics related to video games stemmed from outside influences.

Maria, who has been creating videos on YouTube since 2018, shared that her experience studying art during her A-Levels served as inspiration for discussions about art direction and the aesthetics she has in his video essays.

“I had a very good teacher throughout these years,” Maria told Digital Trends. “There was one exercise, in particular, that she had the class do when analyzing artists’ works, which would basically be a good old-fashioned brainstorming diagram. We would have the painting or photography in the center and write down whatever comes to mind while watching it – texture, mood, content, etc. It’s something I do in my mind when watching games, it’s just a natural process so deeply ingrained in my brain – I can’t help it!

“Trials give players and creators a chance to find beauty in the mundane, clarity in complexity…”

Daryl Talks Games started on YouTube in 2009. But as a longtime gamer with an interest in psychology, he knew he wanted to get back into making videos eventually. Today, he does “essays centered on ‘the interplay between psychology, video games, video game design, and life.'” His inspiration came from Mark Brown’s Game Creator’s Toolkita channel that dives into all aspects of game design.

“I was captivated by his ability to explain things I had never noticed in games and how fascinating it was to learn why games work from a design perspective,” he said. he told Digital Trends. “I came across his channel in my senior year of undergrad and since I was studying psychology I found myself making connections between a lot of the points he was making and the things I was learning. in class. I pretty much just said, ‘Let me try the whole essay, but my thing will be psychology.’ Since I wasn’t interested in grad school and a bachelor’s degree in psychology pretty much only qualifies you to be a YouTuber, I kept making videos!”

Both creators approach their game reviews through a new lens that gives them the ability to explore games in a way that goes beyond the bounds of standard review.

Niche topics in a not-so-new format

With the wide range of possible topics that creators can explore in their playtests, it’s no surprise that creators choose to look at hyper-specific things that hold their interest, like space in games that players encounter between a spawn point and the boss. .

Niche Topics offer viewers the chance to see what creators see in a game that goes beyond just a cursory read or answer the question that many reviewers turn to: is it a game? which I would like to play?

“They are just documentaries, but smaller, with more personality and in a way, related to a very specialized subject. I have a whole sanity essay on this particular one secondary character in Deltarune. Jacob Geller has an entire video exploring games that specifically save their most interesting bits for last,” says Daryl Talks Games. “I think myself and others who do this enjoy it so much because creatively the sky is the limit. Trials give gamers and creators a chance to find beauty in the mundane, clarity in complexity, and generally just a chance to enjoy games on a deeper level than if we just played them and moved on. thing.

This ability to explore and enjoy games a little deeper in playtests certainly gives viewers another way to watch and experience the games they play, almost stripping away some layers in a sense. As a result, some playtests tend to span a long territory, often exceeding the 30-minute mark. Ladyknightthebrave has a an hour and a half look at the Last of Us serieswhile some of Tim Rogers videos are about as long as an HBO miniseries.

Maria, who started producing game reviews, eventually realized that she liked to dig deeper into this style of play.

“Most of the time, I focus on the inspirations behind certain games that contribute to their art style,” says Maria. “For example, Demon’s Souls‘ background in dark fantasy and its similarities to the works of Frank Frazetta, or the cultural aspects behind Resident Evil Village which I rarely see in games. In Kuon (PS2), even the save mechanic is contextualized by having a little ritual involved instead of just a menu with a save button. While I love how the game worlds look, it’s really impressive to me when they can fit their mechanics into them, because it makes me feel even more engaged.

Coexistence with traditional game reviews

Game trials and game reviews have come to a rather unique coexistence. And while viewers and creators may prefer one form of game commentary over the other, Maria and Daryl Talks Games insisted that the two serve slightly different purposes at the end of the day – even if they both work to answer questions.

“These are only documentaries, but smaller”

“A review, in my mind, is letting someone know if they want to buy the game for themselves, or just seeing what other people generally think about it,” Maria says. “A video trial can offer the same thing, but ultimately it’s about learning something new, whether it’s the game, someone’s personal experience, or even something. seemingly unrelated thing. Many of my videos have me researching all sorts of random topics. I’ve learned about Italian horror cinema, camp fashion, and even the origin of CPR dolls, to name a few. just a few!

“There are a lot of reviews for the game Omori there, but I’m certainly the only one to offer a detailed analysis of how this exemplifies dissociative amnesia. said Daryl Talks Game.

This slight difference in overall purpose distinguishes game trials and reviews from each other, but also connects them. Creators and viewers can easily choose which of the two they want to create and watch respectively.

“We all see and play games differently, which means everyone has their own experience,” Daryl says of the coexistence of game trials and reviews. “For some, the mechanics are more interesting, for others, it’s the music, for some, that’s it! Just about any genre of gaming video will be important to someone and it will never be impossible for a person to watch only one type of gaming video.”

In a space that could easily have been dominated by one or the other, gaming reviews have managed to find a unique coexistence alongside gaming reviews while maintaining their own individual draw. Creators like Maria and Daryl Talks Games find great joy in the diverse ways they can discuss games in their essays, sharing particular insights and discussions on topics that are important to them, while deepening the collective toolkit. that we use to understand games.

Interview responses have been edited slightly for clarity.

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