Just as Fun to Watch

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L.B. Jeffries talks to "Boner", a gamer who has managed to build a following simply by allowing an internet audience to watch him play.

Have you ever had that friend who was just fun to watch when they played video games? That person who you'd just hand the controller over to when you couldn't beat the last boss and you wanted to see the game's ending? Or that friend who always seemed to get the latest games and you'd head over to their place to see if it was worth playing?

So did I. So do most gamers of all ages today.

Even though we all have our different reasons for doing it, there is a certain experience that comes from watching a video game be played. It's a strange combination of sports spectacle, movie fun, and a way to hang out with friends. So it should be no surprise that Bonersgames, a website featuring YouTube playthroughs of dozens of games, can now boast a fanbase in the thousands.

Starting out as a way to pass the time, Boner (he insisted I stick with the name) wanted to have something to read while he was at work. So he started posting all of his sessions with Grand Theft Auto on YouTube, and within a couple of days his view count blew up. After he ran out of Grand Theft Auto missions to post, he started hunting for other titles to play, and eventually put together a website to make the games easier to navigate. With 32 titles and counting, the website is an impressive library of video games played from start to finish.

Why play Haze when you can watch it?

So how do you develop a following on the internet for beating video games? Boner explains his take on the whole phenomenon: "There's the casual viewer, the stumped gamer and the financially challenged gamer. I try to appeal to all types. For the casual viewer, I'll do silly stuff like stare at CGI boobs or throw chairs at a dog for no apparent reason. For the stumped gamer, I make sure to show exactly how they can beat the level/mission in question, and for the financially challenged gamer I make sure to leave in all cut scenes and a complete story." It's a combined appeal that works, with his latest play through of the PS3 exclusive Haze already over 16,000 views. He's edited in quirky sound bites and comments to the cornier dialogue, kept the cutscenes intact, and really gives people a chance to see the game in action for themselves.

Boner himself tends to prefer single player over online, liking the patterns and learning curve of mastering a game more than the unpredictability of human opponents. He explains, "Keep in mind that 90 percent of the games I record, it's my first time playing the game. I like to see the progression of my skills throughout each game, which is one of the main reasons I record my first play through. I use Sony Vegas 7.0 to edit out the deaths and display the level smoothly. Some people don't understand the concept of video editing and simply think that I NEVER die in games, but I die plenty. Typically with any game I upload, I start out fairly noob-ish and by the middle/end I get in my groove and can do some showing off for the people who like to see good game play. I think the fact that I don't master games before I record them has attributed to my success on YouTube and with my sites. I think it makes me a more relatable gamer."

You won't see this for a while if you watch Boner's take
on Gears of War from the beginning.

It's a habit that pans out in a lot of interesting ways for his videos. The first couple of videos for a game will involve a lot of ducking and pacing tactics. You won't see a fancy move like the chainsaw bayonet from Gears of War get heavy use until Boner is well into the game. What's interesting is that for the viewer, it makes both the anticipation and satisfaction of the move more fun when it finally comes.

The response from fans themselves is just as varied as the audiences Boner tries to appeal to. Some send e-mails asking how the controls play or giving their own tips for a game. His favorites though, are the thank you notes. He writes, "I love those. Especially when someone writes in saying they've been stuck on a level for 2 years and finally beat it thanks to my video! I know it's trivial because it's just video games, but I like feeling helpful. I think everyone does, right?" He tries to bring his audience in on the fun as well, by posting fan videos or taking requests for games. The main criteria for which titles he'll run through are still how much he likes the game and how well it plays.

The most surprising thing about the fans is just how varied they really are. Watching the fanpic video gives one the impression that most of the viewers are typical gamers. But here's one fan e-mail Boner received, that puts his impact in an entirely different light: "I would just like to say on behalf of 3rd battalion 2nd Marines you do a great job we love watching your videos it gives us something to do in our down time when we are not out on a patrol or something we are currently deployed in Iraq right now."

Manhunt! Seriously!

With all those games under his belt, Boner's choice of favorite games is somewhat ironic. He notes, "Probably Rockstar's Manhunt. It was actually different and fairly original. Just about every other game has essentially the same plot that I've seen in countless other movies and games: heroes, bad guys, aliens or virus' and the end of the world. In Manhunt, everyone's a bad guy. It reminded me of The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger, except Cash isn't even an anti-hero. He's simply a very pissed off murderer." If you've never played the game before, Manhunt is about a snuff director kidnapping a murderer from deathrow and forcing him to kill people for his movies. For someone who posts video game playthroughs on the internet, it's a fitting choice for a favorite game.

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