Let’s Play videos can be appealing for a variety of reasons. Sometimes you watch them because you like the personality of the presenter. Other times you want to get tips or tricks and seek a video walkthrough. And often gameplay videos are engaging because someone is trying to pull off a particularly impressive challenge, like, say, playing Dark Souls 3 with a controller made from bananas, or speedrunning a title to near perfection.
YouTuber StealthGamerBR’s videos don’t fit any of these criteria, yet they may be my favourite of the bunch. As the name implies, StealthGamerBR specialises in stealth adventures. That’s kind of their thing. What’s interesting about StealthGamerBR’s videos is that they’re not conventional challenge runs with stringent rules, but rather compiled under a different guiding principle: What would be most entertaining to watch?
So with Hitman or Dishonored 2, for example, they don’t simply try to not get spotted, or take out everyone non-lethally (which results in a higher score). Nor do they go for a goofy DIY challenge like slaying every NPC on the map.
Instead, they take a more methodical approach, sacrificing score and salient goals in favour of thrilling setpieces. Their most recent Hitman video, for example, has Agent 47 carving a preposterously bloody path through a Hokkaido hospital, all without raising an alarm. Yet their score is still significantly dinged for slaughtering so many civilians, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the thrill of the adventure and the on-the-fly ingenuity of how they deal with said threats. Katana through the back of the skull? Check. Toss a guard off a railing while they pause for a moment to admire the view? Check. Increase the temperature in a sauna to unsafe levels then lock your target inside to roast? Check and check.
In a strange way, StealthGamerBR’s gameplay videos are less like video game playthroughs than they are slapstick comedy romps. There’s more than a hint of Buster Keaton, or more recently Jackie Chan, in these videos as StealthGamerBR skillfully demonstrates all the silly, often impressive, tricks hidden in the furthest reaches of a game’s possibility space.
To wit: In their last Dishonored 2 video they at one point use telekinesis to pick up a rat, then throw it way up into the sky, only for the vermin to land on an unsuspecting guard and knock him out. The action hero then leaps on top of the unconscious goon (using their body to cushion their fall) and stabs them to death upon landing – essentially nullifying that showy rat-tossing business. Is this practical? Of course not. But practicality is overrated. Very little of what anyone does in an action flick is practical, but the ridiculous nature of comically escalating problems is what makes an action scene so thrilling. Is it practical for Chow Yun Fat to dual wield pistols and fire off all his rounds in quick succession while diving out of harm’s way? Of course not. Is it funny, exhilarating and cool to watch? You bet!
That’s a lesson StealthGamerBR has taken to heart. With video games looking better than ever and gameplay videos at the height of their popularity, there’s a lot of room for player expression. We see this all the time from Grand Theft Auto physics tests to weird Skyrim exploits that leave NPCs oblivious to crime so long as they have an upside down pot covering their head. These are doubtlessly amusing anecdotes, but they’re more clips than fully fleshed out shorts.
StealthGamerBR’s videos may not have coherent plots beyond whatever half-baked potboiler a game’s developer endows the source material with (usually something forgettable), but they don’t need a three-act narrative structure when they have a lead who’s constantly surprising the viewer with new and exciting ways to kill people. In this way StealthGamerBR playing Hitman or Dishonored isn’t much different from street performers juggling, unicycling, and magic tricking their way into the curious (and hopefully generous) minds of those milling about in their proximity. And much like a street performer, StealthGamerBR finances their craft through donations.
In a weird way, there’s a strong thematic connection between what StealthGamerBR does in their videos and what they do in real life. In their videos, a person uses various mundane objects and the environment around them in fresh and exciting ways. That’s also what StealthGamerBR is doing with what’s available to them in real life: video games. Relative to knife juggling, fire-breathing or acrobatics, getting really good at stealth video games – then using that skill creatively – seems like a rather resourceful way to draw an audience.
Forget the tired debate about whether video games can be art; with these videos StealthGamerBR has proven that the mere act of playing someone else’s work can be transformed into harrowing performance art. And a vast majority of the time StealthGamerBR has a killer act.
An interesting read via Eurogamer.net