Sci&Tech Editor Sophie Webb likens YouTube Gaming to early fandoms and subscribes to the idea of the community fostered

Written by Sophie Webb
sci&tech editor studying msc youth mental health :)

The paradigm of “gaming YouTube” likely originated in the murky depths of 2008, at which point commentary videos of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare began to appear. YouTube was still in its infancy and thus it was not yet clear in which ways it would soon evolve. Over the ensuing years, YouTube emerged into the mainstream as an entertainment platform in its own right, and the popularity of “the gaming side of YouTube” had a great deal to do with this.

Viewing and subscribing figures suggest enduring engagement with gaming creators

After all, for a period of several years, the YouTube creator with the most subscribers was PewDiePie, a controversial figure but no doubt one of the pioneers of the genre. Other YouTubers to find early success included individuals such as Markiplier, and channels such as Smosh and Machinima. Even in the 2020s, viewing and subscribing figures suggest enduring engagement with gaming creators on the platform: in 2020, we watched 100 billion hours of gaming-related YouTube content, which is double what we watched in 2018. Admittedly, most of us were trapped indoors in 2020 with little else to do, but that does not take away from gaming YouTube’s final form as a pillar of modern-day online entertainment.

There are a number of reasons why the genre could have gained such popularity. The first is the entertaining nature of the videos and their creators. Even “serious” games such as those in the horror or battle genres usually allow for a sense of comedy and fun to come across in YouTube playthroughs – especially if the commentator is committed to taking a humorous approach. The content is also varied in form: YouTube gamers cover the newest games in short, digestible videos that we can watch at our leisure. Or, they indulge us in longform play-alongs of prestige games such as God of War. The tone and the form of the content we consume is for us to choose at will. 

Gaming YouTube can provide a stress-free distraction from life

A second reason is the common desire to live vicariously through other people. After all, the colloquial name for YouTube playthroughs is “Let’s Plays” – implying more than one person, a sense of “let’s play together”. My earliest experiences of Let’s Plays were of Super Mario Galaxy and Final Fantasy X – whenever I got stuck on challenging boss fights in my childhood games, I could head to YouTube to see how it was done. Watching other people play games allows us to enjoy our favourites while switching off our own brains; gone is the need to concentrate, as we are not in control. Gaming YouTube can provide a stress-free distraction from life, as experiencing games becomes akin to the meditative state of watching TV. 

There are also those of us out there with coordination difficulties such as dyspraxia, who enjoy games but struggle with the physical act of playing them. This was certainly my experience growing up; without YouTube playthroughs, I would have never experienced the full story mode of The Last of Us, which I gave up playing after weeks of battling with the controls. Another accessibility issue in gaming is finance: with dozens of consoles on the market, and the most popular games spread across them, it takes money to experience everything the gaming world has to offer. Watching YouTube gamers is a vastly cheaper alternative to buying a PlayStation 5 to play the newest releases.

Fandoms were built around the more personable names of gaming YouTube

Another major contributor to gaming YouTube’s longevity is its sense of community. After all, it isn’t only the games themselves which attract viewers, but the commentary aspect – as fandoms were built around the more personable names of gaming YouTube, such as Markiplier and Jacksepticeye, these fandoms spawned identities of their own and would readily interact with each other. Crossovers and collaborations between YouTubers are major events, as evidenced by the millions raised as part of charity livestreams. Gaming YouTube has, for years, brought like-minded people together to appreciate the work of their favourite creators. The success of gaming YouTube appears unlikely to subside anytime soon, given the way it entertains, it distracts, it makes gaming accessible – it may even lead us to forge connections with others. All without having to lift a controller.

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