Look, but don't touch
Strip video games back to their most basic of basics and you get the following equation: press button to make something happen. Its the demand for interactivity that separates games from most other forms of entertainment. So why on earth would you just want to sit back and watch someone else having all the fun? Surely that defeats the object?
Well, yes, in most cases its frustrating watching someone else play. You transplant your own emotions onto them, willing them to do things the way youd do them. However, sometimes it is fun to sit back and watch someone else play. Maybe its because youre desperate to see how theyll handle a scene youve already played, maybe its because you think theyll look like a twat. Whatever. Here are the 10 best examples of those special games that are just as much fun to watch as 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 thats left the human population quarantined and isolated in small areas, The Last of Us is captivating from start to finish. While its graphically impressive with its ruined buildings and incredible facial animations, its 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 cant help but become invested in their fates even if youre 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 colourful, but this isnt 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 thats 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?! Its 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 its like when the game is in motion. Its a little difficult to appreciate how stunning it is when youre in control and having to get shit done, but you get the perfect vantage point if youre on the other half of the sofa as youre 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 brutalise each other. Who wouldnt want that? In fact, its 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 youll never experience the damp, shivery embrace of failure. Brrr.
Its a spectacle even if you dont care about fighting games, but more amazing once you understand Street Fighter 5s 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 theres no reason why you cant at least gain the approval of one couch-sharing sibling/partner/pet guinea pig by letting them watch you play.
Its the element of the unknown in the randomly-generated world of Minecraft that makes it so great for spectators; you never know if youll 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 dont need to play to jump and, when youre 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. Its great on its own, but with company you can share the shocks and laugh about it afterwards.
Metal Gear Solid 5
When youve got a director who has a flare for the cinematic like Kojima does youll 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 youve 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 youre watching a series of small films stringed together. Not to mention youll also get to scope the field for animals and agents to steal for your own private zoo and Motherbase 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 colours 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: mesmerising. 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, manoeuvring 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 leftfield choice this given its a relatively small Indie game, but its also a fiendishly competitive one thats 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.
Its 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 dont have to play it yourself. Its notoriously unforgiving to master so many miss out on the intricacies of its beautiful ruins and deep lore that makes it feel like its all set in an epic fantasy novel you havent read yet, because they just cant reach it. You dont need to worry about that if youve 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 youre watching finally, finally manages to kill the Four Kings only to discover they've taken too long and theres actually five of them. And now they're dead. Nevermind, the whole gaunt Hollow look is all the rage on the catwalks.