On the Couch with Matt: Watching Others Play Video Games
The couch is where I go to relax, destroy friends on Madden 17, try to get some light reading done and reminisce on how the 1990s began almost 30 years ago… Jesus… time flies.
The two companies you see above are not the only ways to watch other people play video games, but they are the most popular at the current time.
YouTube has started their own live-streaming service, but they are still finding most of their success in the video game world with videos (news, playthroughs, walkthroughs, comedic skits, montages, listicles, macinema) the “YouTubers” have been making for more than a decade now.
Twitch on the other hand has redefined the live-streaming functionalities within the video game universe. Just like a viewer can watch YouTube videos for 24 hours if they wish, people can hop onto Twitch and either check out their favorite streamers or find someone new at any point during the day. It’s an awesome concept that’s very well executed, if you ask me, and so much so that I always get sudden urges to potentially drop my current job and become a full-time Twitch streamer.
Yet, with how popular watching others play video games is, particularly with the spike in interest eSports has seen, there are many that still find the concept odd and pointless.
Introducing non-gamers to Twitch is never easy, and I’ve also found it tough to introduce periodic gamers to the service as well. Something about sitting and watch someone play a video game or getting paid to play video games and make videos, which is a level you can achieve on both Twitch and YouTube, is a foreign concept to them. This is probably because video games have been frowned upon as a hobby and a fad for several decades. And even though video games are swimmingly going through a new phase of their evolution, it still may take a little bit longer for the general public to fully accept the fact that people can now be paid for making YouTube videos and playing games on Twitch… all while thousands of people from all over the world watch them at various times throughout the day.
Perhaps I can help with explaining why live-streaming and YouTubing has become so popular so quickly. I’ll stay away from reasons that go along the lines of, “Oh, the internet has taken over people’s live, so it was only a matter of time.” That’s a relatively easy way of explaining it, but it still doesn’t hit the psychological or emotion aspects of our reasons for watching people play video games.
From my point of view, I think the rise of Twitch and YouTube’s gaming department (besides having corporate backing) can be credited to the pocket of society called: the lonely video gamers. Yes, the lonely, pathetic nerds that used to be heavily teased are the reason for the foundations of Twitch and Gaming videos. I can validate this because I am one of them… a lonely, pathetic nerd, not a reason for the foundations.
You see, most gamers started playing video games because they weren’t popular with peers/classmates/society. That’s not necessarily always the case in this decade, but back in the 90s and early 2000s, the outcasts and the neglected needed avenues to express themselves other than the most popular ones: sports & student council. Some turned to books. Others turned to theater or painting or music. But those were still very generic in the minds of the special few, so… they turned to video games.
We, the neglected gamers, started developing relationships with the characters we were playing/interacting with, as well as completely immersing ourselves into the games’ universes. Remember how popular “Dungeons & Dragons” and other role-playing board games were? Video games basically replaced D&D, taking many of its players along with it, but I’ll be honest, D&D is still a blast to play. I actually want to do it more often…
Anyways, through our developing relationships with these video game characters, we found the “friends” and avenues we needed to exist, while still being anti-social and rejected by society. Was this sad and heartbreaking? Sure, but then Link and I would go save Princess Zelda and everything would be okay.
Everything changed with the invention of online multiplayer. Local (or Lan) multiplayer had been around since video games were invented, and for a long time it gave you the only/best sense of friendly camaraderie you could achieve with video games, even though your screen might be split into separate windows or the game didn’t control the same as it did when you were playing by yourself. Yes, local multiplayer was fun to play with fellow nerds and rejects, but there wasn’t anything as enthralling as having your first online video game experience, especially since it was awesome not to have your screen split or a friend trying to cheat by peeking at your controller. My first online experience was with a video game called “Starsiege: Tribes.” If you know what that is, then I applaud you dearly.
From that point, friendships were no longer being made with the characters we were playing. They were being made with our fellow teammates and enemies, who were real people. The sense of camaraderie we were deprived of in our younger years and school years was now making its first appearance in our lives, and it was absolutely stellar. It helped us understand why people played sports or joined the academic team or wanted to get elected to the student council. But all of those avenues were boring and stupid to us, especially when video games presented the option of not staying after school or needing to go to a friends house to have fun.
Everything was great for awhile, but then we got older, and playing games together got more and more difficult. School and jobs got in the way, and soon my good gaming friends could only play in the morning and I could only play at night. It sucked, but that’s the way the world works, so what’s the next best thing you can do when you can’t play games with your friends.
You watch them play, which still keeps that sense of camaraderie and companionship alive.
My infatuation with watching video games began at a young age when my brother would play “Final Fantasy VII.” I was too young to understand how to play, but that didn’t slow down my infatuation with the game. We still created a sense of camaraderie and companionship, even though we weren’t “playing” the game together. After we beat that game, we moved onto “Metal Gear Solid” and then to another game and to another, so on and so forth. Once I got older, my brother started watching me play games and/or we would trade off the controller every time one of us died. Was this the classic way to play “multiplayer” or to be brothers? No but I guarantee you we weren’t the only ones doing it.
The invention of Twitch and YouTube solidifies that.
YouTube was then created and so was Justin TV (which eventually turned into Twitch), and us nerds and rejects were now even older with more and more responsibilities falling into our laps. Video games soon became infrequent hobbies instead of our avenues. The gym and the opposite sex became the new ones. We might’ve gone to college or got jobs that had several co-workers, but the sense of camaraderie we had with our online gaming friends couldn’t be matched by anything or anyone else… so, naturally, we missed the companionship. Just like how former high school sports legends and student council members miss their old friends/teammates. It’s the same thing… but they couldn’t watch their friends do what they love unless those friends made it to the professional level (NFL, NHL, MLB, Government, Washington D.C.)
With Twitch and YouTube, we can watch our old gaming friends (if we kept in touch) or find new people to watch. We can create friendships with people. Yes, it’s over the internet, but we still have to luxury of doing so, which is cool because we were never given the chance to really make so-called “proper” friendships in middle school and high school… even college in some cases. I remember, during the mornings back in high school, all the popular kids would gather in pacts around the cafeteria, developing/creating their own senses of camaraderie and companionship. Being an outcast, I noticed this and wanted to do the same with real people, but no matter how hard I’d try nothing seemed to work … so all my friends, the gaming ones, were at different schools and jobs around the country/world during the day, and I had to wait until I got home from school to talk to them.
Twitch allows us to gather in our own pacts to watch our friends play games when they are streaming. So, think of Twitch as our cafeteria, and we’re all just making up for lost time. It also allows us to watch our new friends, who we meet while playing “Destiny” or “Call of Duty” or something, that might stream as well, so when you have to work or have to take care of other responsibilities, you can hop on Twitch and build your new relationship. Is it the same as playing with them? No, but that sense of companionship is still there, which is what is sought after in the long run.
That’s why we do this… this “fad” of watching others play games. For those that turned to gaming many years ago or are just turning to it right now, we need doses of friendship, nostalgia and fun just like every human being does. The best part is we, the gamers, can grab those doses any time we want, hence why so many people return to Twitch and YouTube on a daily basis. Most streamers treat their streams/channels like their own televisions shows, but instead of weekly episodes, they provide daily ones, more often than not. Many non-gamers find this fact (the fact that someone streams themselves gaming every day) very weird, but those same people rarely have a negative opinion about returning to HBO, FX, NBC, ABC, SyFy, etc. on a weekly basis.
But really… is it so weird that thousands of people are sitting and watching other people play video games? With how expensive gaming is now, it’s actually cheaper to watch others. And to be honest, some games are better to watch than to play. It’s actually the perfect way to pre-screen a game before finally deciding whether or not to buy it. Also, it’s the perfect place for new developers to test a new game and receive feedback… Hollywood does the same thing with their movies, you know “Advanced Screenings,” but the public’s feedback doesn’t really seem to dictate anything anymore.
A friend of mine once gave me his opinion about the Twitch-era and said, “Yeah, but sitting and watching someone do something is pretty lazy and weird.” I just stared at him and asked, “So, going to the movies and sitting in a dark room with a whole bunch of random people isn’t lazy and weird?” He argued that it wasn’t since you’re only in a movie theater for 2-3 hours at the most, claiming Twitch viewers/streamers are on the website for an average of 8 hours at a time. My response was saying there’s nothing requiring you to watch Twitch for a certain amount of hours and also nothing requiring you to see only one movie at a time… so his argument was not valid.
In conclusion, many people will find us strange for many more years. Yes, having 11,000 people watch you play “Hearthstone” is outrageous and weird, but I guarantee you 95% of those viewers are happy because they are watching. The sense of camaraderie they require may not be the same as mine or someone else’s, but that’s okay because that’s why the Video Game Gods created several different genres and games, so that anyone and everyone can find something they enjoy if they choose to do so.
It’s not rocket science. People watch and re-watch their favorite shows and movies or listen to their favorite albums and songs because it makes them happy. People that consistently watch Twitch and YouTube are the same exact way. Is watching/playing video games an addiction? No, 95% of society listens to music while they drive or exercise or work or whatever. Do they call listening to music an addiction?
We all have our reasons for doing things that make us happy, and no reason is incorrect… unless you’re hurting people… don’t do that.
Right now, the Twitch and YouTube video game era may still be abnormal and undesirable to many people. Movies, television, radio and the initial release of video games were received the exact same way. It’s only a matter of time until everyone understands why we watch these people play video games. By that time, some new fad that will change the face of society will come out, and it will be going through the same mess.