The Let’s Play Phenomenon and Why It’s Not Stupid

Let's Play recording star making a video
What's a Let’s Play video? Why are they popular? Should you care? Video production pro lesson: if people are watching, dont discount it. Here's what you need to know.

Let’s Play [noun]: A widespread social media phenomenon in which a visual walkthrough of a video game or game series is paired with comedic or informative commentary from the player.

At first glance this may sound like another YouTube fad, but considering that Let’s Play videos have been around since YouTube was born, it’s safe to say that this is more than just a trend. In fact, Let’s Plays have become so popular that other platforms, such as the live streaming site Twitch, have been developed to optimize the gaming experience. This rise in popularity has also turned gaming into a full-time job. Swedish gamer, Felix Kjellberg, more commonly known as Pewdiepie, is cited by the Wall Street Journal as making up to $4 million a year with almost 30 million subscribers on YouTube.

“That’s ridiculous. He’s just playing video games. Why would you watch someone play a video game when you could just play it yourself?”

Alright. Let’s unpack this argument.

To begin, Let’s Players are not the first to popularize watching an event that the viewer could participate in themselves. Many people love watching sporting events instead of participating in the game themselves. Of course, some might argue, “I’m not athletic. I watch sports to see others do what I can’t.” Sure video games are nowhere near as physically strenuous as sports games are, but that doesn’t mean there is no skill involved. Many game mechanics require coordination, memory, timing, speed and problem solving skills. It is much more than mindless button pressing. For this reason, many will turn to their favorite Let’s Player for guidance on how to beat a tricky level in the game or even to marvel at the player’s dexterity.

Another huge factor of Let’s Plays that the aforementioned argument neglects is entertainment value. Let’s Players are entertainers. Maybe watching someone play video games and make commentary isn’t your cup of tea, but for millions of people, it is. Let’s Players are the equivalent of sports commentators in the gaming world, providing both valuable insights and humorous banter. I have often found that I care less about the game itself and more about the narrative that my favorite YouTube gamers will provide.

Additionally, for some of us, watching Let’s Plays is a taste of childhood nostalgia. Firstly, it can be fun and exciting to see someone else play a game you grew up playing. Sure, you could always replay the game yourself, but by watching someone else, your favorite game is given new life. The viewer can enjoy the game from a fresh perspective while reliving fond memories. Secondly, for those of us who grew up mostly watching others play video games, there is a sort of learned affection for watching others play. My coworker, Collin, refers to this as “younger sibling syndrome.” For me it was “younger cousin syndrome,” but the long-lasting effects are still the same. After watching my cousin play Super Mario 64 for years, I have found that I still prefer watching over playing this game.

Let’s Plays aren’t for everyone, but millions of people have embraced the phenomenon as a welcome escape from reality and a way to relive old games in new ways. The reality is, as long as video games are around, there will always be an adrenalized Let’s Player ready to capture their encounter with a game.

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