Not everyone likes gaming. Picture the scene: you’re with a perfect new partner who shares many of your likes and interests, but upon asking if they prefer shooters or RPGs, they respond with, “Oh, I don’t really play games, though I enjoy Candy Crush—does that count?”
Before you say goodbye and resign yourself to an old age surrounded by cats, remember that some PC titles are as much fun to watch as to play, even for non-gamers. They might even encourage your other half to dip a toe into the world of gaming. Before you know it, you’ll be organizing raids together and arguing about which is the best Fallout—or you might be single. Still, it’s worth a shot.
Some gaming genres are much more watchable than others. Spending hours moving sliders and clicking on stats in a grand strategy game might be enjoyable for the player, but it’s as exciting as looking at an Excel spreadsheet for all but the biggest fans.
Here are some of the best games non-gamers can enjoy watching, sorted by category. You'll probably notice horrors are recurring theme; they're certainly good viewing material, and as most of these games don't provide the player with weapons, make for an incredibly tense experience.
By far the best genre for non-gamers to watch. These cinematic pieces of art have come a long way from the FMV-filled garbage of the 90s, with the modern incarnations a lot closer to the dream of being able to “control a movie” while offering more interactivity than crap such as Star Trek: Borg.
Few companies do interactive storytelling quite like Quantic Dream. Their biggest games have long been PlayStation exclusives, but PC gamers rejoiced when they landed on the platform in 2019. We’re starting with its most recent and successful entry called Detroit: Become Human.
D:BH features all the hallmarks of cinematic games: difficult choices with long-felt consequences, lots of quick-time events, and a great story—three stories, in fact. The flow charts that follow each chapter are great at illustrating how things could have turned out, encouraging a replay.
Viewers get a movie-like experience that focuses on the prejudice faced by androids of the future, enhanced by the accurate recreation of actors such as Jesse Williams, Clancy Brown, and Lance Henriksen. You genuinely care for the characters, and while there are plenty of civil rights allegories that might not sit comfortably with some, it remains one of the best titles in the genre.
The thriller, originally released on the PlayStation 2 back in 2010, was another to hit the PC in 2019. It was pretty revolutionary eleven years ago, winning a slew of awards and becoming one of the best reasons to buy a PlayStation.
While not as technically advanced as Become Human, Heavy Rain is a great whodunit story about child abduction that will keep viewers guessing—almost certainly incorrectly—the Origami killer’s identity right until the end. It’s supremely satisfying to get the “best” ending, and features a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in a motion picture.
While not without technical problems and at least one chin-stroking plot hole, Heavy Rain is an absorbing, emotional experience. Don’t be put off by its age; this remains a great game that’s fun to play and watch.
If Quantic Dream is the Intel of the cinematic genre, Supermassive Games is AMD. The British studio threw down the gauntlet in 2015 when it released the excellent Until Dawn, helping many PS4 owners convince their non-gaming partners that buying the console would be a good idea. Sadly, that title remains exclusive to the console, but the company released the similar Dark Pictures Anthology on PC, starting with Man of Medan.
Mostly set on a spooky ship, the game lets you pick response options based on characters’ “head” or their “heart,” or you can say nothing. As with Until Dawn, the objective is to keep as many people alive until the ending, of which there are several. Losing people is genuinely disappointing, especially those you become attached to.
Man of Medan isn’t quite on par with Until Dawn, some of the quick-time events are as difficult as those from Indigo Prophecy, and the big reveal might leave you slightly disappointed, but those negatives don’t detract from what is essentially a playable Blumhouse movie.
Part two of the Dark Pictures Anthology is less like Ghost Ship and more like The Witch meets Silent Hill. It shares most of the previous entry's features, gameplay elements, and mechanics, though there are a few improvements.
The semi-tank controls are now gone, thank God, and the intensity of the quick-time events has been toned down. It also contains quite a few jump scares to go with the foreboding tension, along with six different endings. Another reason to buy is Will Poulter (We’re the Millers, Detroit, The Maze Runner), who is excellent in pretty much everything he appears in.
The final twist is likely to be polarizing, but this remains Supermassive Games’ best title since Until Dawn. Let’s hope the trilogy’s third entry, House of Ashes, is even better when it arrives later this year.
Indigo Prophecy, known as Fahrenheit outside of North America, is another title from Quantic Dream’s stable. This one is a bit closer to a traditional game while still offering a cinematic experience for those watching. It’s also completely bananas.
You know Indigo Prophecy is a bit eccentric when David Cage himself—well, a likeness using his name—walks you through the tutorial. You rarely see a company founder explaining how to play their game via the medium of a virtual movie set, yet here we are.
Things don’t get any less weird: Mayan sacrifices, rogue AIs, and a quest for eternal life are part of what can often be a bewildering plot. But it’s definitely entertaining, with plenty of movie-style split-screen shots.
There’s even a particularly unerotic sex scene that looks like two crash test dummies humping, along with what must surely be the longest quick-time event chain in gaming history.
Episodic games mimic TV shows by arriving in smaller sections across their release period, making them ideal viewing. Their distinguishing feature tends to be the choice/consequence mechanic.
Most of Telltale Games’ back catalog
The demise of Telltale Games back in 2018 was a sad event. The company had been the master of episodic gaming, turning numerous famous franchises into series that leave you sweating as the decision timers fly down, reminding you that “someone will remember that.”
Here are top Telltale titles (in particular order) that we wholeheartedly recommend:
- The Walking Dead: The TellTale Definitive Series (all 19 episodes)
- Tales from the Borderlands
- The Wolf Among Us
- Batman: The Telltale Series
- Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
The Walking Dead is generally regarded as Telltale’s best, though Tales from the Borderlands, Minecraft: Story Mode, Batman, The Wolf Among Us, and Guardians of the Galaxy are all great.
If you’re a fan of whatever it’s based on, you’ll likely love Telltale’s take.
French developer Dontnod showed that it could do episodic games just as well as Telltale with its Life is Strange series. The first entry is arguably the best, following the story of Max Caulfield and her ability to rewind time.
The time mechanic helps differentiate Life is Strange from similar titles. And while some stealth sections can be a bit arduous and the end is polarizing, the overall story is emotional and memorable.
The prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, is a nice addition for those who enjoyed the first game. Time manipulation is gone, though, replaced with a “Backtalk” ability that can improve or worsen situations.
Dontnod followed Before the Storm with Life is Strange 2. It starts a bit slow before improving, and the focus on political themes could invoke some debates between player and watchers. Or fights.
These are all about the story. While the same could be said about every game featured here, narrative-driven titles focus less on the choice/consequence mechanic and more on telling a memorable yarn.
A first-person game about a fire lookout in Shoshone National Forest during 1989 might not sound interesting, but the characters, dialogue, story, and relationship between protagonist Henry and his supervisor Delilah, which takes place entirely over walkie-talkie, are exceptional.
In addition to the other elements that make Firewatch such a watchable experience, it’s got a lovely art style, emotional impact, and a mystery that adds to the rising tension. You’ll find few other titles, if any, with better voice acting, helping it feel more like a mainstream piece of entertainment than a traditional game.
As is the case with many titles in this feature, the ending could disappoint, but that’s about the only negative.
Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch won a slew of nominations and awards following its release in 2017, and it's easy to see why. The player explores the labyrinthine Finch family home, uncovering what could be a curse that has caused all but one child of each generation to die.
Each allegorical tale about how the family member met their demise is told in a magical way, despite the grim subject matter. Some people use the pejorative ‘walking simulator’ with these types of games, but there’s interaction beyond just moving and watching, with each vignette offering something different for players.
In addition to being beautiful, haunting, and memorable, Edith Finch’s two-hour length makes it ideal for non-participants sick of Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Anything that starts with the words, “this game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand” gives you an idea of what’s ahead. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter throws together several elements: puzzles, exploration, and, yes, walking.
There’s a good horror story to be found here, and the graphics and environments still look stunning seven years after its release; it's often like walking around the inside of a haunted postcard. You get around 4 to 6 hours of play, so viewers shouldn’t get bored.
The mine section is pretty tedious, but The Vanishing of Ethan Carter remains a top choice in this category.
Oxenfree is different from most of the first-person-view entries here, using a 2.5D perspective. It’s packed with dialogue choices, though the main focus remains the story, exploration, and puzzles.
Night School Studio’s 2016 release wears its 80s movie influences with pride: fans will spot similarities with everything from The Goonies to Poltergeist.
The supernatural plot is engaging, using the radio to communicate with the other side creepy, and the time loop mechanic cleverly used.
While Oxenfree doesn’t always get the pacing right, it’s only four hours long. And as with other games with conversation choices, there are plenty of opportunities for viewers to offer some input. Plus, there aren't "bad" options in the same way as most games.
Many games don’t fall into any of the above categories yet still offer some of the best viewing experiences around...
The most recent entry on this list was so successful that its development and promotion costs were covered within a few days of release. The Medium is incredibly atmospheric, managing to combine an engrossing, mature story with moments of horror and a few jump scares.
The movie-like experience is enhanced through the use of a unique split-screen mechanic that’s great to watch. It’s thick with a constant sense of dread, and uses a (semi) fixed camera position that will bring back fond memories for fans of 90s horrors such as Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil.
The puzzles aren’t too challenging, the story gripping, and some sections genuinely tense. Moreover, the numerous cutscenes help make it even more cinematic—Hollywood should really get working on a (hopefully non-shitty) adaptation.
A Plague Tale: Innocence manages to combine several genres—adventure, puzzler, stealth, action—into a single product, but the glue that holds it all together is the compelling story.
Set in 1349, the game follows Amicia and her younger brother Hugo as they run from the Inquisition in a disease-torn France, all while avoiding mysterious swarms of rats littering the landscape that want to eat them alive.
Much of A Plague Tale: Innocence feels as if you’re controlling characters in an oil painting. It’s beautiful to look at, and while the final boss is a bit out of step with the rest of the game, this remains one of the best examples of a title that looks gorgeous, is fun to play, and keeps watchers engaged.
Years before it made The Medium, Bloober Team was behind another horror game, a sort-of sequel to famous horror movie The Blair Witch Project.
A few “what do I do now?” sections in Blair Witch might prove a bit too much for ardent non-gamers, but familiarity (and fondness) for the source material, the cinematic scenes, and some scary moments help improve watchability.
With a runtime of around six hours and five different endings, Blair Witch is definitely worth considering for someone who dislikes games but likes horror movies.
While similar to Blair Witch, the Outlast series is less about an unnerving sense of dread and more about heart-stopping jump scares. There’s no fighting here, just being stealthy, fast, and good at hide & seek will keep you alive.
The big gameplay mechanic in these games is the camcorder’s night vision mode—a requirement in areas of total darkness. Players need a supply of batteries or else the device runs out of juice, which keeps the terror running high. Finding your camcorder is flat upon hearing something approaching can be genuinely frightening.
Not everyone likes jump scares, and some in the Outlast games may leave you needed a change of pants—problematic if a potential love interest is watching you play at the time.
Gone Home: An excellent game in the same mold as Edith Finch. It might require a little too much reading for some non-participants.
Assassin’s Creed Origins / AC Odyssey / AC Valhalla & Red Dead Redemption 2: Many modern open-world games resemble very long movies, and these titles from Ubisoft and Rockstar are some of the most cinematic around. They look amazing, but too much traveling, collecting things, minor side-quests, and activities can be tedious for viewers.
Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes: Efficient inventory management and pushing blocks around doesn’t make fascinating viewing material, but there are plenty of scary, impressive moments that could appeal to lovers of George Romero as well as lapsed gamers who played the originals.
Observer: Yet another Bloober Team horror, this one starring the late Rutger Hauer. It’s an excellent game, mixing cyberpunk and horror in a detailed world, but some lengthy sections don’t make for the best viewing-only experience.
Did we miss any of your favorites? Tell us how we did.