Games are many things, multipurpose readers, and they require many talents to produce. The artists, coders, writers, playtesters, musicians, designers, financial oversight (not that kind of oversight), and many more positions all come together to create a single game. Games are in many ways a mash-up of many other forms of entertainment, and it should come as little surprise that those individual aspects can be enjoyed separately. Much like the soundtrack to a movie, games offer more than just one way to entertain people. While games can also have astounding soundtracks to be appreciated in on their own, games are increasingly entering the realm of performance entertainment.
Let’s Plays have been dominating internet traffic for several years now, since their initial boom in popularity around 2008 or so. YouTube was still a private company, video limits were still ten minutes long for most users, and monetization was not really something on the minds on most people uploading their “vlogs” about how work was rough that day. Flash forward to 2015 and YouTube is now owned by Google, and the majority of viewed content released on it is videogame Let’s Plays and not personal video journals. The “you” in YouTube largely implied that people would post personal original content, but now the site is dominated by collaborative professional content aimed at either generating ad revenue or promoting offsite sales of things like music albums.
So among the this transformation has come the surge in demand for Let’s Play style content, putting games in a passive light in much the same way e-sports initiatives have been doing by creating spectator games like League of Legends or Starcraft II. Along with YouTube videos, there are also videogame streams on sites like Twitch and Hitbox which offer more interaction with the performing player and the excitement of live play. It all seems to go against what games were initially conceived to be, which is an activity in which one or more players would actively participate. Instead, streams and Let’s Plays turn them into a passive form of entertainment that can come in many flavors.
There are, of course, standard Let’s Plays which call back to the initial rise in popularity and contain no commentary. The player uploads a video of them playing a particular game, sometimes all of it, and nothing more. But the most popular content is what has progressed out of those initial quiet videos, it is what has made the Let’s Play format a serious money maker for some, and it is a more produced show with (attempted) comedic commentary from one or more people. Right under officially posted music videos, Let’s Plays generate the most traffic on YouTube and people like Felix ‘PewDiePie’ Kjellberg have made millions playing and commenting on games, though he remains quite the exception at the moment. Others have achieved considerable fame with similar content and have made at least enough money to make their Let’s Plays a primary source of income. With originators of the format like James ‘Angry Video Game Nerd’ Rolfe making some of the earliest successes with a show discussing normal gameplay of old games, today there are countless channels doing some variation on the idea.
Games as a show, as passive entertainment, was something I instantly enjoyed. In fact I had to step back and realize that this was a completely new thing, at least new in how readily available it was, since I had immersed myself in various Let’s Play shows and streams in such a short amount of time. In the years and decades past there have been some children’s shows that focused on games or on players competing in a traditional TV game show setting, but that is barely comparable to what is on offer today. And while it demonstrates that games can be enjoyed in various ways, these shows are also diverse. The most popular shows are of a comedic player or duo that crack jokes and have funny reactions to things happening in the game. But the ones I gravitate to are the more informed, while sometimes funny, shows that operate as a critique or examination of a game.
Some of these shows focus on presenting everything in the game to the viewers, and some focus more on demonstrating the strengths and weaknesses of a game. They function more as an in depth video review than as a recurring show with specific daily or weekly releases. These shows give the most merit to this format beyond being just another piece of entertainment popular today that happens to be about games, these shows are centrally about games and their composition or their merit. And what remains ideal about a lot of these Let’s Plays is that they are independent and largely unmolested by game creators. While both of those things are changing (more and more LPs are now sponsored by YouTube channel networks, and more game devs like Nintendo are imposing restrictions on how their games can be shown), many of these changes do not impact the smaller teams of people looking to make a mark and have fun doing it.
Now, give me your word on the Let’s Play dominance of late. I know some, like our Dear Leader, have expressed disinterest in the past about passively watching something that could be actively played. As I have said, I always enjoyed the idea, even before the internet I enjoyed just watching my older brother play games. So let us play indeed, here in the comments! I said play, damn it!