It's even more fun to watch
Since the early days of arcade hits like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, people have enjoyed watching electronic games over players' shoulders. Now that we have Twitch and YouTube "Let's Plays," anyone can cast a game to the Web, and anyone can watch them play.
So if you'd like to spend some time gaming vicariously, check out these options for spectator fun. We'll start with the biggest duo in existence today.
Dota 2/League of Legends
To fans of the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre, these Dota 2 and League of Legends are like night and day—but to a newcomer looking on from the outside, they seem identical.
Their similarity doesn’t stop them from being two of the most popular games to watch on Twitch, or from spawning arena-size competitions with hefty prize pools totaling well over $1 million. The U.S. government even classifies players as professional athletes and provides them with visas to stay and play.
The games' steep learning curve and somewhat hostile community make them much more fun to watch than to play.
Minecraft is probably the most popular “Let’s Play” game, with a near-infinite supply of videos of players performing a near-infinite number of activities.
Every map is randomly generated, so there’s no shortage of crazy stories, interesting explorations, and new things to see. Tune in and watch people share their journey as they take to the forests, jungles, and oceans.
The other half of Minecraft consists of constructing magnificent structures, secret hillside bases, and functioning computers. Check out what the most creative minds are doing.
World of Warcraft
Watching people run around and kill hordes of rats to collect loot may sound pretty boring, but the professional level of play in World of Warcraft makes it exciting.
Whether witnessing epic raids on the largest dungeons or top-tier competitive play, fans can’t get enough of the rush and chaos.
Jumping in for the first time is a daunting task: Start as a level-one, gearless runt, and you'd better be prepared to put in many years’ worth of game time before you amount to anything. It’s a lot more fun to skip all that and just watch the exciting parts.
The Walking Dead
Telltale’s game version of The Walking Dead gives you a bonus look into the undead universe.
It’s largely a point-and-click adventure with a few key choices, but whether you’re in the driver's seat or a backseat gamer, this game is a blast to watch. The characters, setting, and thematic tension draw you in, make you part of the unfolding story, and then rip out your heart with nightmarish outcomes based on the player’s decisions.
Another bonus: If you aren’t playing, you can’t be blamed for your favorite character’s death.
Starcraft II brought eSports into the mainstream with intriguing player personalities, big prize pools, and jaw-dropping tactics.
With enough practice and tireless refinement of strategy, anyone can go pro. In fact, professional Starcraft II players distinguish themselves by keeping their cool amid the game’s chaos, micromanagement, and grand scale.
The blistering pace, multitiered attacks, and metastrategies put chess to shame and make fans cheer even louder. For most observers, watching the experts play is the most enjoyable way to experience the game.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
When Amnesia: The Dark Descent debuted, a multitude of gamers pledged that they would play it all night long—at full volume and in the dark. Their helpless screams and jumpy reactions made for some serious late-night entertainment.
This game is truly terrifying, but it's less excruciating to sit back and watch than to play the defenseless hero. As the horrid monster stalks the halls, the hero spends a lot of time running in panic, breathing heavily, and performing wardrobe changes.
Go ahead and mock the player for hiding in the closet, but deep down you know you'd be doing the exact same thing.
Fighting games have always been great for spectators, from Street Fighter II in the arcade to crazy Mortal Kombat fatalities at a slumber party. Divekick, a two-button (dive and kick) fighting game, skips the boring 99 percent of the fight and jumps right to the final, pulse-pounding moment.
The first fighter to land a blow wins the round. The only way to move is to jump and kick, which vaults you backward. This technique is also the only way to attack and evade.
Despite the simple and humorous gameplay, the game gets complicated, with 13 characters, each possessing different jump heights, attributes, and special powers. Rounds may last less than 10 seconds, but you won’t be able to look away.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Counter-Strike originated in 1999 as a modification to Half-Life. Now, 15 years later, the first-person shooter is still going strong in the competitive scene.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive pits terrorists against counterterrorists in tense, quick gunplay. A team achieves victory only when the opposing team is dead or when the terrorists successfully detonate a bomb in a target location. That formula has stood the test of time and improved, with updated graphics, physics, and maps.
Once you’re dead, of course, you’re out for the round, and dying is easy. If can’t handle your weapon like a professional, you'll be spending a lot of time sitting and watching the rest of the game—so you might as well enjoy the show!
DayZ consists of running through a forest, lying prone on hills, patiently peering through a scope, and shuffling through inventory screens to scavenge for supplies. It’s monotonous, to say the least. However, the few nuggets of real entertainment in the zombie wasteland make this a game you can't help watching.
Some survivors roam the world to role-play superheroes, creepy serial killers, or morbid game show hosts. Others form alliances to help protect the weak and fend off bandits. The rest get into as much trouble as they can by ambushing unsuspecting players and treating them like walking treasure chests.
It's amazing to see what creative players who have no specific, fixed end-goal will come up with, and that one moment of shocked surprise amply repays a full day of watching.
Everyone loves a murder mystery. Rockstar’s L.A. Noire is full of clues, interrogations, and realistic facial animations to satisfy the detective in you.
There’s an occasional shootout or car chase, but players spend most of their screen time searching crime scenes for clues and watching suspects' facial expressions to determine whether they’re lying. If you don’t have the controller in your hand, no worries: You still get to have all the fun of guessing who the murderer is and watching the story unfold as each gritty secret comes to light.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Blizzard went with something different this time around: a free-to-play collectible card game, similar to Magic: The Gathering. The competitive deck-building spawned lots of tournament opportunities—and no shortage of viewers.
Though most of the gameplay consists of drafting cards, slowly strategizing your hand, and attacking on a two-dimensional battlefield with simple animations, Hearthstone has managed to claim a high rank on Twitch every month since the beta started.