Lately, I’ve been finding myself spending a lot more time on YouTube. I wish that I could say it was because I was creating new and interesting content for others to enjoy, but the truth of the matter is that I’ve become addicted to some of the gaming personalities on YouTube. Watching Let’s Plays was something that I used to only do if I were stuck or if for some reason I was unable to get my hands on a game. I used to only watch them when they didn’t have commentary since I used to find a lot of the early commentary either annoying or something I was unable to relate to.
It was only recently after the viral videos of Five Nights at Freddy’s that I started watching anyone play. Why? Originally it was just because I had looked at the game, saw that it was about animatronics that walked around at night, and had a very loud internal “NOPE.” After watching Markiplier play through the game, I started watching for the reactions that people had to the game and then after that, used the tactics I’d garnered from other Let’s Players to try and play the game for myself.
I’m probably running fifty kilometers behind the bandwagon right now with the explosion of Twitch’s popularity and the fact that PewDiePie is not only the most subscribed channel on YouTube, but is about 10 million subscribers above anyone else. The last thing that any of you needs is me explaining the popularity of Let’s Players when the evidence is there for everyone to see. So, instead, I’d like to talk about the reason why the popularity of Let’s Players is a good development for gaming.
There are definitely gamers who are confused by the way that people like watching YouTubers who are playing video games. Brian Crecente wrote in Polygon that the surge of demand for YouTubers like PewDiePie left him confused and “sad for tomorrow’s gamers.” The argument against the multitude of Let’s Players and the popularity of their videos can basically be boiled down to a single statement: it doesn’t make sense to watch someone playing a video game when you can go play it yourself.
Crecente even goes so far as to say that the younger gaming audience would rather spend their time watching these videos of gaming than play any games themselves. If I agreed with his point, then I would have thought the same thing. What a shame it is that people aren’t playing the games for themselves! The big problem with this supposition is that it assumes that if there’s a game out there that you’re interested in, you’ll be able to play it. Never mind the fact that consoles are so expensive that not many people can afford to own more than one, there are plenty of reasons why someone would rather watch a YouTuber go through a game than play it themselves.
Aside from the obvious reasons like the commentary can be funny or that you can learn from their tactics, there are some pretty good reasons to start tuning into the gaming personalities on YouTube. Whether you’re looking for Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed (YOGSCAST Hannah), Garry’s Mod or horror games (theRPGminx), Minecraft or more horror games (YOGSCAST Kim), dating sims or Sherlock Holmes (PressHeartToContinue), or story-heavy, open-ended games (iHasCupquake), there’s a channel somewhere that has you covered and you’ll be able to find someone whose gaming style matches what you’re looking for.
And if you’re more vehemently against Let’s Players than most, if not all of the problems that could be brought up about Let’s Players in general can be solved by simply not watching the videos. So what reasons could there possibly be for someone to watch a Let’s Play video rather than play the game themselves?
Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit, shall we? There are consoles and then there are games exclusive to consoles. When I was obsessed with seeing Journey and The Last of Us, but had no access to a PS3, I watched Let’s Plays of them. Not everyone has the money to get the game themselves, but still want to get as close to the experience as they can.
There are games out there that are just dumb and some of them that are insulting on top of being dumb (I’m looking at you Don’t Be Nervous Talking to Girls.) Some of them I know that I won’t be able to play—but more on that later. The end result is that I’m not going to pay for the game, but I want to be able to check out other people playing it even if it’s just to see what kind of train wreck the game is.
I thought that this was an obvious one, but I’ve been told that it needs some clearing up. There are people who like certain genres, but don’t like to play them on their own. For example, I love the horror genre and even though there are a lot of horror games that I’ll play on my own, I don’t like playing first-person horror games. They get me a bit too ramped up to the point where it’s no longer fun for me to be playing them. So instead of playing games like Amnesia or Outlast, I’d rather watch other people do it.
This (in my mind at least) is the most important reason for Let’s Plays as there are gamers who aren’t able to play certain types of games. Whether it’s due to anxiety, flashing lights, triggers, physical disabilities, or anything else that could impede someone’s ability to play a video game, Let’s Players offer up the chance for someone to experience the game in a safe and positive way where they have less control over the in-game experience, but more control over the experience as a whole.
If you have anxiety, for example, it would be difficult for you to play a game like Five Nights at Freddy’s, which is basically a stress management simulator with jump scares. Horror games are to be expected, but no one stops to think about the fact that this anxiety can seep into other genres. What if your anxiety was set off by making important decisions under duress? How would you be able to enjoy games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, or even games like Papers, Please? Would those games be forever barred from you unless you could find someone else to play it while you were in the room? Well, not anymore thanks to all the Let’s Plays.
While there will always be naysayers on this, I’d like to argue that Let’s Plays and the people who host them are important. Let’s Plays allow for people to feel connected to the gaming world even if they hadn’t had the chance to play a game that day, and can pass along gaming news, information, and experiences through their commentary. They can introduce people to sides of gaming that they don’t often experience and even foster interest in games that people wouldn’t normally want to try. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call them cultural ambassadors, there’s no denying that Let’s Players have an impact on the popularity of certain games over other ones.