Last updated on December 12, 2020
Why do people like watching other people play video games online?
Much has been written about the curiosity of things like Twitch. A service allowing players to stream video of them playing a game to the web from an Xbox One, Playstation 4 or Windows PC.
It allows others to watch that player and comment in a chat box or follow along with the action. Why do we do this? And more importantly, why do we watch others?
It’s different for a lot of people. Recently, I found myself among hundreds of thousands of people watching Bungie show game-play from their new House of Wolves expansion to Destiny. It was a first-look at the new aspects of the game. What better way to see what it had in store for me, than to watch people play it?
Streaming video games can be a marketing tool. It’s better than a trailer. Instead of pre-rendered footage or marketing clips, it is real game-play by real people. So it will show off the product exactly as it is.
Back in the dark ages of the Nintendo Entertainment System and later the Super NES, the talk of the lunch room and hallways were tips and tricks for Mario, Zelda and Metroid. Many of the secrets in the game came to us by word-of-mouth and friend-of-a-friend eyewitness accounts. Many of the feats are not real but there was no way to know.
I spent a lot of my youth at GameFAQs. A site dedicated to walk-through and FAQs about all different games. When I’d get stuck in a Final Fantasy quest, or need a refresher about where I was in the story, I’d consult the fan-compiled .txt files and ASCII artwork.
Today, I can spend 30 seconds and look up anything on YouTube and find a recorded stream of the person doing exactly what I’m trying to do. Where is this item? How do I complete that quest? How do I get to this specific area in a game with no map? It’s all there and it’s only seconds away.
What’s the analog?
Why do we watch non-competitive video gaming streams? I’ve done it too. it’s not like watching sports, what’s the analog?
— Evil Genius (@AlexMorse) May 28, 2015
A friend on Twitter asked about the analog to watching people play video games online. He’s done it. I’ve done it. And I think it’s sitting next to a friend or sibling on a couch and watching them play something where you had to take turns.
My brother and I spent hours playing through Final Fantasy II and III on the SNES. We’d take turns playing quests and helping each other through. There was nothing for the second person to do but watch and follow the story.
Early computer games like Command&Conquer could be played by two people. Over our blazing 26400bps modem, one of us would play the game, using the mouse and the other would spam our competitor with the text chat or enter keyboard commands.
We’d work as a team even though only one of us was really playing the game. There is something extremely social for me about playing games that stems from those long afternoon and nights of gaming with my brother.
We had a serious obsession with NBA JAM and would compile long lists of our records in notebooks. Most dunks, steals or three-pointers. How much could we blow the other team out? Could we hold them scoreless?
Gaming is a social activity. I love cooperative games more than anything else. There’s nothing better than joining a team in person or online and working together to complete a quest or help a friend through a tricky part of the game.
I play with a core group of friends that work all varying shifts. When I get home in the evenings, they’ll just have gone to work and I will start a Twitch stream and share my game with them.
It’s nice to chat with them over the game, even if they can’t respond in kind. I leave the chat window open on the side of my screen so we can talk. Which is a perfectly fun asynchronous way to chat while we’re both doing something else.
It’s no different from chatting over text message or a phone call with a distracted second party. It’s nice to hear a friendly voice when you’re stuck working on tedious tasks like data entry.
Streaming games can be a lot of fun and it’s not limited to video games. Wil Wheaton hosts a show called TableTop where he invites friends to play board games. It’s a stellar show with explanations of the games beforehand and clarification throughout. It’s informed a lot of my board game purchases as my wife and I explore our growing love affair with them.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Dice Tower. My wife has watched hour of videos from them. They put together lists of games in all sorts of categories and play styles. It’s a great intro to a genre of games or if you’re just looking for something passed Scrabble and Parcheesi.