Why do we Watch Others Play?

Sandie Ellis delves into the appeal of let’s plays and livestreams.

Let’s plays and live streams have become very popular in the last decade, with big names sprouting up such as Alanah Pearce, Ninja, and Achievement Hunter, or streamers that are closer to home such as ElementEllie. When it comes to streaming, there is someone and something for everyone! Whether you’re a die-hard Resident Evil fan like myself who loved seeing Nicole Tompkins (Jill Valentine from RE3 remake) stream her way through the franchises’ games along with some big-hitter guests, or whether you love watching e-sports, streaming has become just as popular as a good Netflix series.

Streaming is a unique form of entertainment, and it thrives on the idea of spectatorship, but it’s more than that. It can be whatever you need it to be, whether that’s comforting or comedic. It can even be charitable. It can let you revisit a childhood game without having the essential equipment to do so. So why do we watch streamers? Well, there are multiple reasons really; the accessibility, the player-spectator bond that is often seen in real-life sports games, the sense of community and so much more. 

This parasocial relationship can be comforting for so many gamers as they just want to experience the playthrough with someone

One of the big reasons why streaming has always been so popular is because of its accessibility. These content creators have given so many gamers and non-gamers the opportunity to experience the games without commitment. Not everyone has a next-generation gaming console or can afford to drop an insane amount on the newest game, especially on a student budget! So being able to live vicariously through streamers can be an ideal solution. There are some games that I have never been fully sold on before purchasing. In such instances, I would turn to Alanah Pearce (@charalanahzard) to guide me. 

There is a strong sense of community that comes from streaming. This parasocial relationship can be comforting for so many gamers as they just want to experience the playthrough with someone – to hear their thoughts and views. Although a deeper way of looking at streaming, it’s a vital one! Speaking personally, my lockdown routine was having my morning coffee while watching Shannon Woodward (@ShannonIsLive) playing animal crossing…while also playing animal crossing myself. Sensory overload perhaps but it was comforting nonetheless. 

This parasocial relationship can often be viewed when we are looking at certain streamers and how impressionable they can be on younger players for instance. How they shape and mold young gamers into a new generation of rage-quitters, which of course happens to us all at times, but it’s one specific strand of streaming that sometimes defines the whole idea. Not all streamers are such, some merely play their cozy switch games with the joy of quiet spectatorship.

Let’s plays and live streams provide a wide variety of diverse content. Whether you want to watch someone stream the newest Nintendo Direct or watch someone play a grizzly horror game, I assure you, by going onto Twitch some evening you will find something that grabs your eye. It can be relaxing or harrowing, fun or intense - it can be anything you want it to be at any moment and that’s why we love it.