What Games Do You Like To Watch?

What Games Do You Like To Watch?

When you live in a house with other gamers, sometimes you have to be content with watching them play rather than playing yourself. So what makes for a good game to watch?

It’s a topic Nels Anderson, a programmer at Hothead Games, explores on his blog. Anderson identifies three aspects he feels are crucial in determining whether a game someone else is playing can still be entertaining to watch.

1. The Nature of the Challenge – that is, what is the player tasked with doing?

It’s important, Anderson argues, that it’s obvious what the player is meant to be doing. It’s much easier for the observer to engage with the action if the player is pursuing a specific goal, say, collecting a star, defeating a boss or solving a puzzle.

2. Camera Perspective – that is, how is the game viewed?

Anderson feels that first-person viewpoints can become disorientating for the observer, while a third-person perspective provides a focal point. It makes sense, as it’s much more comfortable to watch someone else than to see the world through their eyes.

3. Limited Systemic Information – that is, how much of the game is on the screen?

Perhaps the most interesting point is Anderson’s reference to how much of a game takes place in the player’s head as opposed to on the screen. He cites strategy games where the player’s enjoyment derives from mulling over the myriad possibilities as being boring to an observer who cannot access those thought processes.

For me, third-person adventures and platformers make for ideal games to watch. I can see, looking at Anderson’s three areas, that something like Super Mario Galaxy ticks all the boxes. As an observer, you can appreciate where the player is trying to go, plot your own path to get there, and empathise with each failed jump or close shave.

A more puzzle-focused platformer such as Braid also makes for compelling viewing as you can gain as much enjoyment as the player in devising solutions to each obstacle. You may not be implementing those solutions directly, but you can offer suggestions and participate in the process.

Proving the validity of Anderson’s theory is Grand Theft Auto. Rockstar’s sandbox can be hilarious when you’re passing the controller back and forth, alternating turns with a friend. It’s got the third-person camera, it’s got defined mission objectives and requires little abstract thinking.

Yet it can be extremely dull outside of a specific mission when the person you’re watching is just roaming aimlessly around the city. Set your own goals – see who can make the highest jump or who can survive the longest six-star wanted level – and suddenly it becomes far more entertaining for the observer as they’re now invested in what happens. That is, the experience is no longer confined to the player’s head.

Has Anderson nailed the requirements for a good game to watch? And what are some of your favourite games to watch others play?

Follow the link below to read Anderson’s blog post in full.

Watch Me Play [Above49]


  • I don’t like watching people play games because it makes me bored and frustrated (because I want to play).

  • Two recent games I found that are excellent to watch are Heavy Rain and Alan Wake.

    Heavy Rain was great to watch as it has (imo) a great storyline that was really engaging and a good setting.

    Alan Wake again, has a great storyline and setting. I think what’s great about these games is that it’s very linear, where have to just keep on progressing on and on. I mean, yeah, it is fun to switch between us to play GTA IV, but if it’s a game I just have to watch only, it’s more fun when there isn’t freedom to do stuff, where you just keep progressing. Just watching someone play an open world game however, just gets boring. Also, puzzle games are also good. First time my cousin played Portal, we’d discuss different ways to do this and that, with a lot of controller switching.

    • Further to this, I have actually built up a collection of video game cinematics that include the excellent Heavy Rain and Alan Wake as a couple of its cornerstones.

      I love watching games in this manner, but purely for the story. Not so much a fan of watching gameplay, especially roaming-open-world gameplay.

      [You can get the vids from VideoGamesHeaven or GameAnyone (google them) if you’re interested.]

  • I find puzzle-y stuff like Braid and Portal are best, because the person watching can be just as involved in solving the problems even if they’re not actually holding the controller.

  • I live in a flat with 2 other gamers and sometimes it can be difficult to get control of the TV. The day Uncharted 2 was released, I had to twist the arm of one flatmate to let me play for an hour. He agreed, but he insisted that he wanted to watch a TV show afterwards, so my game time was limited.

    Three hours later I glanced across to the couch where he was sitting and I remarked that he could have the TV back if he wanted it. His eyes glued to the screen, he was quick to assure me that he was thoroughly enjoying just watching me play. The story had really grabbed him. He enjoyed it so much, that he insisted that he be there to watch while I played the whole game!

    For him the experience was more about the story and the characters than the gameplay, plus the sense of camaraderie that we both shared while figuring out the puzzles and and challenges together.

    It reminded me somewhat of the oldschool feeling of teamwork and shoulder punching that you had when playing games splitscreen on one TV (Goldeneye is a perfect example), which I feel is completely lacking in modern day multiplayer over the ‘net. Playing Uncharted 2 with my flatmate gave me a real sense of nostalgia.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

    • Exactly the same for me. My brother doesn’t enjoy videogames at all, but he saw me playing uncharted and sat down to watch, and was still there six hours later, unable to claw his way from the screen (I must admit, I couldn’t stop playing either)

      As yet there has not been anyway near the pulling power that uncharted 2 has. Kudos to naughty dog!

  • The wanted level marathon for Grand Theft Auto is a staple favourite when i have mates over, Cheat to whatever level of weapons you wish and find somewhere to barricade yourself in, you have 5 minutes to find a pigeon hole before you have to kill your first victim and keep running.

  • Final Fantasy.

    Doesn’t matter which one, because I always start
    one but never finish the games myself.
    I always end up watching what happened next at my
    friends place.

  • My sister watched me play all the way through Uncharted 2 and Heavy Rain. Possibly because they are borderline movies, but they also fit into this criteria.

  • Point 3 is intersting. I think it’s a quite valid point, but I don’t think this excludes certain genres entirely.

    I personally quite enjoy watching a Starcraft II, though the commentary usually helps. The one distinct memory I have of watching a game though, was actually watching a friend and my little brother play against each other in the first Dawn of War. It was such an entertaining see-saw battle that even if moment to moment I might not be able to work out what one or the other was planning to do it was fun working out strategies and seeing the choices each of them made unfolding.

  • I enjoy watching my husband play Half Life 2, because it’s so cinematic. The story is engaging and the game play is interesting to watch. I won’t play the game myself, either, so it’s how I experience it.

  • For many years with one console, one tv I found myself and my brother watching each other play from time to time. I’d watch by brother play some of his crazy sport titles like Tony Hawk or Coolborders and enjoy watching him pull off crazy moves without having to go through the bother of having to unlock the stuff.

    My brother would watch the cutscenes of whatever RPG’s I was playing at the time as he enjoyed the watching the top notch visuals without have to slog through a story of agnsty teens.

    Now when I vist my brother I may see him playing Skate or a racing game of some description which these days are prettier than most RPG’s. My brother also sees me sometimes and shakes his haid in disbelief that I have the patience to master the twitch play of Bayonetta and still slog though games about angsty teens saving japan.

  • Gotta agree with the POV point, I get nauseous watching people play FPS, particularly COD and Bioshock.
    Part of it, I think, is because I’m a long-time FPS fan and I’m used to being in control.
    When the view doesn’t move the way I think it will, or not as soon as I expect it to, it screws with my sense of place.
    But I’m just guessing on that point. I used to get motion sick and this feels similar, that’s all.

  • I have to say that the best games to watch are the ones with the best stories running the plot. The other day my dad was watching me play Mass Effect 2, and remarked on how good it looked and sat down to watch, only to get up after an hour to get a drink and come back.

    For me, although Andersons points are valid, for me I’d say the rich interactive games make good games to watch.

    Mass Effect 1 and 2 have copious amounts of user interactive dialogue which further the story to make a game just a random series of events, but there are other games as well. One of my mates said that his girl sat down and started watching him play one day, and she started to complain because he wasn’t progressing the story fast enough (she really wanted to know what was going to happen next).

    Story telling and good interactivity that relates the situation back to the player. GTA has similar lines as does Assasins Creed (although a little less often).

  • I pretty much agree with him.

    I like watching 3rd person shooters. My partners friends came round on the weekend an i let the boyfriend try War for Cybertron, and i was quite happy watching him and listening to the transformers banter.

    banter is big thing in watchability.. there has to be stuff going on to make watching the game more like a TV show…

    Of course i always prefer to be the one playing.

  • My girlfriend was enthralled in watching me play Heavy Rain whilst I could absolutely not stand playing it. After each scene I would try to quit but yeah, you know how it goes, I played on.

    • That’s so disturbing that I might even try it next time. 😛

      Anyway, I like if I can help sometimes. Like when my brother and I were younger, he played Super Mario 64 and I was his guide. Kind of like a less-annoying Navi. 😛

  • Only games my wife was ever remotely interested in watching was Heavy Rain and Katamari Damacy. Shadow of the Colossus was a crowd pleaser a few years ago too. Combination of cinematic POV and excellent concept. Genius game.

  • My sister instantly sucks at any video game while I’m watching her (but she’s usually better than me when I’m not watching).

    I could watch her struggle through a really easy part of, say, Super Mario Galaxy for an hour, then at another time I find that she’s blitzed through half a dozen levels I couldn’t do while I’m gone…

    But for those moments while I’m watching, hilarity =D

    Umm, also I like to watch professional Super Smash Bros and StarCraft replays =D

  • Team fortress two is exceedingly pretty to watch. When not actually playing you are free to admire its spectacular appearance, instead of focusing on killing gits.

    I constantly re-amaze myself by spectating or watching someone else play.

  • As a kid I always loved watching my brother play games, any games really. I liked watching more than playing. When I think back to it I liked RPGs better than Street Fighter or games like Mario Brothers simply because they were like reading books (if they had a decent enough story, which wasn’t a problem in the SNES era).

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