Let’s Plays Are as Fun as Ever: Why We Still Love Watching Other People Play VideogamesGames Features YouTube
“Hey everybody, it’s Chuggaaconroy!” “Hey, I’m grump!” “I’m not so grump!” “And we’re the Game Grumps!” I’ve heard these two phrases so much that they’re practically drilled into my brain.
That’s because both phrases open all episodes of two of my favorite let’s play channels, Chugaaconroy and the Game Grumps, both of which I’ve watched religiously for years. I figured I would grow out of watching them at some point, but at 22, I still watch these channels nearly every day. Time I could be spending watching any of the amazing TV shows or movies out there, or actually playing a videogame myself, is spent daily watching at least half an hour of other people play videogames for my entertainment.
There are a couple reasons why I choose to spend my time watching let’s plays. For one, they’re typically low-impact. TV shows and movies have all this complicated plot going on that requires my attention, and of course playing a videogame myself requires all the thought and focus that doing so entails. Watching a let’s play takes next to no focus, as it’s just one or two voices talking alongside a videogame, and so it’s soothing to my ADHD brain.
Another reason I continue to watch let’s plays to this day is definitely the parasocial element. Watching half an hour of these people’s content for nearly a decade now means that I’ve seen approximately a bajillion hours of them talking (for more real math, I calculated that half an hour per day for 10 years would be 1,825 hours, or around two and a half months). I’ve probably spent more time “hanging out” with Emile, Danny and Arin than many of my real-life friends, and although it’s a bit embarrassing to admit, these people I’ve never met do feel like friends to me every time I click on one of their videos. If they ever decided to stop making videos, it would feel like losing a friend.
Finally, let’s plays are a great sleep aid. I could never fall asleep to a show or movie out of fear of missing the plot, but you’re not missing anything particularly groundbreaking with most let’s plays. The same goes for putting one on in the background while I do something else. Although it can mean more than that to me, let’s plays often serve the purpose of being noise for me to listen to while doing something else.
As far as let’s plays go, I feel that Chuggaaconroy and the Game Grumps make a pretty good pairing. Chuggaaconroy’s videos are detail-oriented and focused on every minute element of the game he’s playing, and he’ll often make fancy graphics to give even more detail on the stats of a Pokémon, Splatoon weapon, or whatever else is in the game. With few exceptions, his content is wholesome fun, with very little swearing or inappropriate content.
Contrast that with the Game Grumps, which feels more like an improvised comedy show with gaming on top of it than a show focused on videogames. Danny and Arin will often go for long stretches of time without acknowledging the game they’re playing, talking about their lives and joking around. Although the two use lots of crass humor, their conversations can occasionally go to some deep places, with one episode of their playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker standing out as an especially profound discussion about mental health and OCD, thanks to Danny opening up about his past. For the most part, however, the show feels like two buddies shooting the shit in the best possible way, and I laugh out loud to almost every video the two put out.
Let’s play channels are definitely past their prime. Back in the early days of YouTube, a change was made in the algorithm that prioritized watch time, meaning that longform content, such as let’s plays, got a boost. That change has since changed again, multiple times, meaning that let’s play channels are no longer as lucrative as they used to be. Still, that makes me even more grateful that my two favorite let’s play channels have continued to stick around.They’ve both been doing this for a long time, too, with the Game Grumps having passed their 10-year anniversary and Chuggaaconroy having made let’s plays for nearly 15 years. In YouTube time, that’s ancient.
I get why people may not understand the appeal of let’s plays, or why they might view watching them as a waste of time. Ultimately, it’s not an especially premium type of entertainment, and doing the math on how much of my life has been spent watching them was an unwelcome reminder of my own mortality. But as someone who grew up with them, I could never give them up. I love getting to see videogames through another perspective and having that time to unwind. Other people watch vapid reality TV shows for stupid fun. I watch let’s plays.
Joseph Stanichar is a freelance writer who specializes in videogames and pop culture. He’s written for publications such as Game Informer, Twinfinite and Looper. He’s on Twitter @JosephStanichar.