Why Watch People Play Video Games?

Jimmy Kimmel doesn’t understand why anyone who likes video games would voluntarily choose to watch other people play video games. He likened the phenomenon to “going to a restaurant and having someone eat your food for you.” Not quite accurate, but it’s a late night talk show. Comedy (and thus, exaggeration), not accuracy, is the goal.

But then, it’s not like his sentiments are uncommon. Video games becoming socially accepted at all is still a recent thing. It used to be you could be called a nerd (because that was bad back then) and made fun of for liking games, and that was from people in our own age group. Older generations would probably have a harder time understanding it, much like it’s hard for them to understand “the Google” or the concept of using a computer without getting infected with spyware every other week because you keep using Internet Explorer even though I totally put Chrome on there just yesterday and told you where to find it and you keep uninstalling the security software I put on there to keep you safe for god knows what reason can you just please just not have a technological disaster for a whole month oh my god.

Anyway. Gamers got mad about this (possibly understandable) and some started sending death threats (totally not understandable), but maybe it’s more productive for gamers to explain to the world why watching someone play games is an enjoyable thing to do and not a sign of intellectual deficiency. That is, for those who are interested. Some won’t ever be, and that’s okay. I don’t understand how game shows or reality TV are entertaining but I’m not judging anyone for that very much.

  1. It’s a form of entertainment like any other. If you watch other people do just about anything at all ever for entertainment, you already have your answer. Watching people do things for entertainment is what we do. There’s a video of a guy bodyslamming a cactus out there on YouTube, and people love it, even though he’s just hurting himself. Actually, probably because he’s hurting himself. You see? We’re a weird species. Why focus on video games? Why not cactus bodyslammers? You don’t understand video games? Well I don’t understand your priorities.
  2. We watch for the personality. The people who get lots of viewers usually do so because they offer something that others don’t: personality. Anyone can play a video game, but not everyone can be entertaining. Entertaining streamers are funny, intelligent and interact with their viewers. Unlike watching something on TV, we have some influence in how the stream goes, affecting everything from the direction of the conversation to the choices the streamer makes in game. But in a lot of cases I will watch some of my favorite streamers regardless of what they’re playing, because I’m confident those people can make any game entertaining. Because of that added element, you’re not just watching a game, you’re watching an experience.
  3. Gamers are good. Many people who stream video games do it for a living or at least money on the side, and to do that they need to spend quite a lot of time gaming. Because of that, they get really, really good. This isn’t the case for everyone, but plenty of pro players stream, and it’s fun to watch your favorite game be played by people who know every in and out, the people who compete to be the best in the world.
  4. It’s a social experience. Just like watching sports with your friends or in a stadium, watching streams is something you get to do with other people. Sure I can play single-player games all I want, but sometimes I want to be around other people and discuss the game and how it’s being played. This ain’t for small groups of people either — the 2014 League of Legends world championship hit 27 million unique viewers. That’s roughly the same as the NBA Finals and Daytona 500 combined. (And that wasn’t even League’s highest viewership — it had 32 million the year before.)
  5. Games get expensive. Watching streams is beneficial in multiple ways: it lets us experience games we can’t afford to have, and watching them be played is a way to help us make informed decisions about what we want to purchase.
  6. You’re watching something you like. If you like sports, you may watch them. If you like game shows, you may watch them. Watching someone play a game is the same as any other hobby or passion; you’re watching someone do something you love to do too. It’s neat to see other people enjoy what you do, critique it and praise it, and to watch how what they do differs from what you do.
  7. It’s fun. This, really, should be the only justification needed. Watching other people play a game can be fun. It’s not for everyone, but neither is anything. But the important thing to note is that just because it’s using an unfamiliar medium or because it’s based in technology doesn’t mean it has to be difficult to grasp. It’s an entertaining pastime that’s more interactive than television and more unique than anything else; every gamer has their own style, and that’s fun to witness.

People who don’t understand games in the first place probably won’t understand why people like watching other people play games. I would recommend getting interested in the medium before studying how people use it and play with it; once you’ve thoroughly enjoyed your first video game, you might understand why some people might then want to go see others play it and see what they have to say.

Of course, if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. But you don’t have to enjoy something to understand it.

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11 thoughts on “Why Watch People Play Video Games?

  1. This is where having a 20-something still living in the house is beneficial. I get introduced to these trends and am able to ask all the questions I need. My kid watches this one dude as he plays Five Night’s at Bernies. I don’t have the fortitude to play most of the games on the market today so watching that guy as he navigates through is entertaining and I can vicariously enjoy gaming. It’s a win-win. :-).

    1. That’s another good point. You don’t even have to play games to like watching them. Much, I suppose, like you don’t have to like anything to watch others do it. This is especially true when you’re watching someone play a horror game. It’s no longer just a game, it’s kind of a horror experience. (I watched someone play through Amnesia, that was terrifying. I could never play it myself, so that was a better choice.)

      1. Good point! I was navigating the (now ex) husband through the first Resident Evil game – Id read the guide books, he’d play the game. Well, we were doing okay till the monster spiders hopped out, lol. So yeah, watching from a distance, especially the horror ones, is the only way to go for me.

      2. Oh lord. Monster spiders. That’s an awful combination of words. And yeah, video game spiders are done really well these days. And they’re EVERYWHERE. I start an MMO and I see webs and I know there’s trouble ahead.

  2. The reaction over this has been a little outrageous in my opinion (honestly, why do gamers give half a sh*t what Kimmel thinks of them?), but I agree with all of the points you’ve made. In my personal opinion, me watching a couple of guys play video games on YouTube is no stranger than my dad watching a bunch of dudes drive in a circle for 200 laps on TV. But no one would ever question the older generation for watching sports (is Nascar a sport?) because it’s something that people have been doing since TV became a thing.

    Our generation (the 30ish-year-olds) are the first ones who can truly enjoy watching others play video games, because to those of us who grew up with them they almost have the same appeal as a sports. It’s exciting to watch someone kick ass at it, and whereas athletes are these unattainable people, we can imagine the gamers on YouTube as being our buddy, someone we could actually sit down and play with. 🙂

    1. I think people are upset at Kimmel because he’s got a huge audience. He isn’t some bully at school no one cares about, and a lot of people are age are used to the mockery. And with the way he was talking, he was calling a whole generation of people stupid because they did something he didn’t understand. (It was a joke, sure, but when you hear this stuff all your life you kind of develop a knee-jerk reaction to it, I suppose.)

      I still don’t understand the threats or ill wishes or anything, though. It’s easy to express anger without resorting to stuff like that.

      As for whether NASCAR is a sport or not, I’m not sure. I asked Google and coincidentally saw an angry and impassioned article on why it is a sport and why everyone who says it’s not are wrong. I guess video games isn’t the only subject having some trouble.

      1. Every subject has its proponents and its skeptics. That’s just life. I think reality television is the worst possible form of entertainment, but other people love it. The key is just to not be assholes to each other about it. That’s the part that people amazingly don’t get.

        I totally understand what you’re saying though. I was teased and tormented my whole life for liking things like Star Wars and anime. I guess I just reached a point somewhere along the line where I just shrug and think, “What the hell do I care what you think about me?” in the face of comments like Kimmel’s. 🙂

  3. I couldn’t understand getting angry at that id actually think its kind of funny because while I do it I understand where he’s coming from. Watching gamers play games is way more fun than football to me it just is.

    1. Like I mentioned above, I think it’s because a lot of people have heard this type of mockery all their lives and it kind of builds up. And what Kimmel was implying, albeit humorously, was not just that he didn’t understand it, but that anyone who does it is kind of stupid.

  4. That’s my wife when I’m playing. I keep looking at her, like, “You want to play?” and she just says, “No, I’m having fun watching.” I don’t get it, I’d rather play than watch, but apparently a lot of people enjoy it. And I liked the sports comparisons. You really are watching someone else play a game, so why not with CGI?

    1. Basically! Kimmel argued it was like watching people play fantasy sports, not actual sports, but in the end you’re just sitting down watching people do something instead of doing it yourself. The difference is that watching sports is socially acceptable and watching people play games is weeeeiiiiiiiiird.

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