Let’s Plays: Why are they so popular?

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You might have heard of the term ‘Let’s Play’ already, and if you haven’t you probably know the concept by another name. Yes, his is about YouTube gamers, but don’t just click away yet, even if you aren’t into this sort of stuff the social scientist in you might like this!

A Let’s Play is a video recording or video stream of one or multiple people playing a video game. This format has gotten extremely popular thanks to online video streaming websites like Twitch and YouTube. In fact, 11 of the 20 most popular youtube channels are Let’s Play channels and the most popular youtuber Felix Kjellberg, better known as Pewdiepie, is a Let’s Player. He has a whopping 44 million subscribers and is closing in on 45 million. He was also listed as one of the top 100 most influential people in Time magazine.

This information makes it pretty clear: Let’s Plays are big. They are not a niche in the ‘nerd’ sub-culture anymore, they’ve become pretty mainstream and the concept is known to the masses. But why are they popular? That’s what I’m trying to discover and explain in this article. Sure, people know about Let’s Plays, but a lot of people don’t watch them and don’t see the appeal.

I, as a Let’s Play watcher, asked around and got some answers as to why people watch these videos and enjoy them.

First of all, let me start of by saying that I think the most important reason as to why Let’s Plays are so big is that they’re appealing to a lot of different age categories. They’re not only popular in the teenage and adolescent demographic. I teach some classes to 10 year old kids as a part-time job and asked them what’s popular nowadays for kids their age to do. Unanimous answer: Minecraft. Like, seriously, these kids know everything about Minecraft, and where do they get their information? Youtube Let’s Play channels.

Let’s Play channels are often used as guides to video games and there’s multiple youtubers gaining subscribers by making walkthroughs for this purpose. It’s easier to watch someone guide you through a tough part of a game than to read guide about it after all.

Not all people watch these videos for ‘educational’ purposes though, most adults (read: students and random people of the internet) I interviewed did not watch theme merely as walkthroughs.

A lot of the people I asked told me they started watching Let’s Plays either because they didn’t have the money to buy the games or were too nervous to play scary games themselves (to be totally honest, I’m part of the second category..). They still wanted to experience these games because the story or gameplay had their interest. Thanks to Let’s Plays people can enjoy an immersive video game without spending loads of money on it or getting a heart attack because of rising stress-levels.

But this is not why people keep coming back to the Let’s Plays, when push comes to shove, it’s the youtubers themselves that make the difference.

Basically everybody who reacted to my question of why they were watching Let’s Plays told me they loved the commentary. Often people loved to watch funny or heartfelt reactions to important moments in the game, but Let’s Players also often tell stories during their gaming sessions and a lot of people seemed to like this. I’ve even had some friends tell me they listen to episodes of Game Grumps (another very big Let’s Play channel) without even looking at the screen, just because the conversations are really funny and interesting.

People like feeling included in this big thing, when you hear your favorite Let’s Players talk in a video, it’s almost like you’re there with them. The community is also an important reason why people keep coming back, so many people liking and talking about a thing you enjoy feels good. It’s almost like you’re talking to your co-workers or friends about the newest Game of Thrones episode.

If you like to experience what I just talked about and try watching a Let’s Play video, I included some videos of my favorite YouTube channels below. Have fun!

  • Game Grumps: a channel with lot’s of talking alternated by some clever jokes, some childish jokes and some genuine rage moments. Never fails to make me laugh. 
  • Yogscast: dorky British guys playing mostly minecraft. I actually especially enjoyed their Dungeons & Dragons sessions, so even though that’s not a video game I will link to those because it’s hilarious. 
  • Cryaotic: his smooth and sultry voice and the ability to shut his mouth when there’s in-game dialogue makes him the perfect Let’s Player to watch story-heavy games. I usually watch his videos when I want to relax. He’s also mysterious because nobody has ever seen his face (I’m dead serious). 

By Mijntje Boon

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