Over the past couple of weeks, I've spent a lot of time watching Let's Play videos on Youtube. In my defense, I just discovered jacksepticeye, and he's such a sweetheart, and he has so many videos, and it makes me happy to watch them while cleaning or knitting or lazing about... but still, I've had plenty of moments where I've thought, "Am I really spending hours watching a stranger play video games??" Because it's kind of weird, right? Let's Plays -- in which Youtubers record themselves playing video games -- are the most popular type of videos on Youtube (the most popular Let's Player, Pewdiepie, has over 45 million subscribers). But video games are meant to be played, not watched. Why would so many people bypass that key part of video games and enjoy watching a random person playing them instead??
In my opinion, it all comes down to that desire to share experiences. I think there are two types of people in the world: the people who want to soak in a movie in silence, and the people who want to comment on it as they watch. I'm very much in the second camp -- movies are way more fun when you can keep up a running commentary with your friends. And Let's Plays offer a similar experience of video games for those of us in that second group.
If the video is of a game you aren't familiar with, then you want to see what happens next, and you want to share that first time experience with a Youtuber who is cracking jokes or laughing or getting emotional, enhancing the experience. And if you are familiar with the game, Let's Plays are all about reliving it vicariously through another person's first reactions. This is why I'm addicted to Let's Plays of Undertale in particular -- there are so many hilarious and shocking and heartbreaking moments that I can't wait to see the player respond to.
Really, it's like the appeal of compilations of Red Wedding reactions a couple of years ago. There's fun in seeing someone else's shock or delight at something that previously shocked or delighted us. We can't experience it for the first time again, but we can relive that feeling through them.
Of course, Let's Plays all come down to the Youtuber's personality. I guess there must be people who watch 100% for the games, but if I only cared about the games, I'd just be playing them myself. It has to be a game that grips me and that I want to experience more of, but in the end, it's mostly about who's playing it. Let's Plays create the illusion of hanging out with a friend and experiencing a video game story together. So the Youtuber has to seem like someone you would want to hang out with.
And why watch a video of a game you've never played, instead of playing it yourself? Well, because some games are inaccessible to some people -- I can't play Until Dawn or Uncharted 4, for example, because I don't have a PS4. Sometimes people love video games but can't afford every one they want to play. Sometimes people want to check it out a bit before they buy. And sometimes, it's not about the game at all. Sometimes you'd never play the game yourself, but laughing with someone else over it is fun. It's all about the commentary of the person playing.
Still, it's an incredibly weird phenomenon, and I've no idea how anyone first thought to do it. But as I get cosy on my sofa and watch jacksepticeye get emotional over Asriel in Undertale while I'm too sick to do much of anything myself, I kinda love it nonetheless.