Look, but don't touch
Sometimes it's nice to just sit back and watch someone else play. Maybe it's because you're desperate to see how they'll handle a scene you've already played, maybe it's because they have incredible skillz, with a Z. Whatever the reason, not every video game needs to be played firsthand to be enjoyed.
With that in mind, we've picked out 10 of the best examples of those special games that are just as much fun to watch as they are to play.
The Last of Us
Full of scares, drama and tenderness, the adventures of Joel and Ellie making their way through a dilapidated Boston makes for fantastic viewing as well as playing. Set 20 years after the outbreak of a highly contagious cordyceps virus that's left the human population quarantined and isolated in small areas, The Last of Us is captivating from start to finish. While it's graphically impressive with its ruined buildings and incredible facial animations, it's the relationships you form with the characters that make this so watchable.
Despite the monstrous nature of the virus and the human hosts is takes over, the story is very much centered on the humans who live through it. Immediately relatable and likeable, you can't help but become invested in their fates even if you're not the one with the controller deciding them.
Super Mario Maker
An oddball choice this, but with so many diverse and insane stages to download, you can have a great night-in watching the concentration face of a loved one as they attempt to make it through an onslaught of Goombas fired from cannons while jumping from precarious floating platforms in Super Mario Maker.
It may be bright and colorful, but this isn't the same gentle Mario that guides you through courses and slowly builds up your skills. Oh no, this Mario is a high-octane endurance athlete that's subjected to ever more devious creations built by the general public. And by general I mean frustratingly talented and criminally insane because oh my god how do you even make a stage that does that?! It's even fascinating to watch as you gaze in furrow-browed concentration, trying to figure out how everything works.
A single screenshot is enough to showcase just how beautiful Firewatch is, so just imagine what it's like when the game is in motion. It's a little difficult to appreciate how stunning it is when you're in control and having to get shit done, but you get the perfect vantage point if you're on the other half of the sofa as you're able to take it all in.
Bonus points if you also advise whoever has the controller on which decisions they make, because your choices are definitely better than theirs. But most importantly you get to be the designated Turtle-spotter, scouting the horizon for potential pets to take back to your tower. You also get dibs on naming it.
Street Fighter 5
Street Fighter 5 is like watching handsome cartoons brutalize each other. Who wouldn't want that? In fact, it's almost better to watch than it is to play, which is saying something considering it plays immaculately. Instead of hating yourself for whiffing the one chance to nail your Critical Art, you can hoot along with your friends knowing you'll never experience the damp, shivery embrace of failure. Brrr.
It's a spectacle even if you don't care about fighting games, but more amazing once you understand Street Fighter 5's electrifying roshambo of foot, fist and fireball. Forget about learning moves, $200 fightsticks and callousing your delicate hands with repeated hadoukens: pop yourself down next to us, and earn your black belt in couchjitsu.
YouTubers can build entire careers around people wanting to watch them play Minecraft so there's no reason why you can't at least gain the approval of one couch-sharing sibling/partner/pet guinea pig by letting them watch you play.
It's the element of the unknown in the randomly-generated world of Minecraft that makes it so great for spectators; you never know if you'll strike diamonds (or is that just Lapis Lazuli in a flattering light?), discover an underground library, or just a cave full of skeletons that chase you until one wayward arrow accidentally pushes you down a ravine and into a lava pool, burning you and all of your belongings into a crisp. Hey, at least you spotted some Obsidian while you were down there, even if you no longer own the diamond pickaxe needed to obtain it.
Layers of Fear
Horror is a safe bet for a spectator game at the best of times. You don't need to play to jump and, when you're enjoying the experience with a friend, the scares are doubled as you react to each other. Where Layers of Fear edges ahead is the way it gets to you: weird visual tricks leave you uncertain and edgy around everything. Did that lamp twitch? Was that door there before? WHY ARE THE WALLS CRYING?
Because of these tricks and its unpredictable mechanics the jump scares are even more powerful. The signposting is less obvious and the rhythms harder to see. Where more traditional horror games occasionally give you clues as to whats coming Layers leaves you a nervous wreck within minutes thanks to its ungraspable signposting. It's great on its own, but with company you can share the shocks and laugh about it afterwards.
Metal Gear Solid 5
When you've got a director who has a flare for the cinematic like Kojima does you'll always end up with a game that makes for satisfying viewing. Throw in a huge world filled with a vast range of ways to get through it, some fantastic dialogue and a cute dog in a stealth suit, and you've got yourself a new movie night.
Each mission in Metal Gear Solid 5 is helpfully siphoned off into chapters complete with title cards and end credits so it feels even more like you're watching a series of small films stringed together. Not to mention you'll also get to scope the field for animals and agents to steal for your own private zoo and Mother Base by strapping a giant Fulton balloon to them and yanking them into the sky. Wheeeeee!
There are two reasons to watch someone playing Flower. The first is obvious - it's a beautiful game that gently blows primary colors into your face, and soothes you with a soft, instrumental soundtrack. It's like watching one of those BBC planet earth documentaries after a night out on the sauce: mesmerizing. Secondly - the person actually playing the game is guaranteed to look like a total wombat.
Thanks to Sony's insistence on making the game SIXAXIS control only, maneuvering a plucky petal around the landscape forces you to unnaturally contort your body, as if you're performing some complex act of plumbing or attempting to steer a wasp away from a small child. Combine the two and you have both beauty and comedy. What more could you ask for?
A left-field choice this given it's a relatively small Indie game, but it's also a fiendishly competitive one that's great for a whole room of people to enjoy. Up to four people can fling arrows at each other in heated battles, but anyone else in the room will also get a lot of joy out of watching their friend circle fall apart as someone unexpectedly takes out their boyfriend or girlfriend with a bomb arrow and starts an argument.
It's as much a test of how much you value your relationships as it is a perfectly balanced sport. Will you side with the victim of unplanned regicide, or with the craftiness of whoever took the shot? Hey, it was a fair move after all...
Dark Souls (any of them)
The Dark Souls series makes for fantastic viewing mostly because it means you don't have to play it yourself. It's notoriously unforgiving to master, so many miss out on the intricacies of its beautiful ruins and deep lore that makes it feel like it's all set in an epic fantasy novel you haven't read yet, because they just can't reach it. You don't need to worry about that if you've got someone else to do it for you.
Drink in all of those hidden nuances and item descriptions that point to a rich playground of betrayal and drama underneath all of the killing and dying. So much dying. Marvel at the skill as the person you're watching finally, finally manages to kill the Four Kings only to discover they've taken too long and there's actually five of them. And now they're dead. Nevermind, the whole gaunt Hollow look is all the rage on the catwalks.