Let’s Play is what gamers call the concept of playing through a video game and recording it so other gamers can watch and learn. It’s wildly popular. There’s an entire YouTube channel devoted to it at Gaming.YouTube.com, and one of YouTube’s biggest stars, the Swedish comedian who calls himself PewDiePie, is a Let’s Play commentator.
Slamming Let’s Play culture is a sure-fire way to piss off gamers. Just ask onetime Las Vegan Jimmy Kimmel, whose recent slam against the Let’s Play YouTube channel—the “we-should-all-be-very-ashamed-of-ourselves-for-failing-as-parents channel,” as he put it in a monologue on Jimmy Kimmel Live—earned him the wrath of gamers everywhere.
Kimmel hasn’t revisited the topic since September, when the late-night host spent eight painfully awkward minutes in a reconcilatory attempt at Let’s Playing under the supervision of two other YouTubers. Meanwhile, more and more people are watching Let’s Play videos on their consoles, like a geekier ESPN. Here are a few reasons why we watch.
We want to learn. Anyone who’s ever played Call of Duty knows what it’s like to get your ass kicked once you’ve fallen into a spawn trap. (And if you say you don’t, you’re lying, because we’ve seen your kill/death ratio.) We learn from experience, both ours and someone else’s, so there’s no shame in studying team deathmatches and free-for-alls. Your team will thank you later.
We’re afraid to play the game. Some of the best narratives are hidden in the dark recesses of a horror game. Case in point: The Silent Hill series. Its earlier games (titles 1-3) bleed tension and atmosphere and have storylines that stick with you well after the credits roll. Some of us just can’t spare the extra set of underwear.
We love the commentary. Most viewers have a top 10 list of Let’s Players to which they’re subscribed. Maybe your favorite commentator quips along with the characters during cut scenes. Maybe your commentator pores over every detail of the story. Or maybe your commentator just plays. Whatever the case, we defend our Let’s Player picks like a fantasy football roster.
We enjoy challenges. Within the first 10 minutes of From Software’s action-role playing game Dark Souls, you will probably die. The developer has a talent for creating games so ruthless that they’ve inspired their own death count websites. A challenge of this scale isn’t for everybody, and that’s where Let’s Plays come in. We want to live that hair-pulling journey vicariously through the player. Some of us may never tick the difficulty mode past normal, but that shouldn’t stop us from wanting the experience.
We’re on the fence about the game. Gamers want to see what they’re about to spend their cold hard cash on, and a four-minute review by IGN isn’t going to cut it. A game review might pique our interest, but a dedicated Let’s Player will make the sale.
We’re invested in the story; not the gameplay. Some titles are less like a video game and more like a feature film. Take Until Dawn, for example: It’s as close to a campy horror flick as you’re going to get without forking over latte money. The storyline is nail-bitingly good in that “will he escape the sanatorium with all five of his fingers?” kind of way. Many gamers come for the plot, because save for the occasional quick time events, there’s virtually no gameplay here. Let’s Play videos allow Until Dawn to live up to its full potential as an interactive movie we’ve been waiting to see.
Honorary mention: We’re broke. We can’t afford every game or every game system that we want. But we are taking donations. Especially from you, Jimmy Kimmel.
Editor’s Note: We originally reported YouTube.com/User/LetsPlay as the gaming channel being referred to by Kimmel, but it is actually Gaming.YouTube.com.