For the last few years, a large part of my media consumption has shifted. It used to be when I had a spare bit of time, I’d stick on a movie, tv show or fire up the old gamesbox to while away a few hours in the warm glow of a television screen.
Now though, more and more of my spare time is engaged in watching other people play video games. This always seemed a bit of a weird concept for me, since watching my friends mangle their way through a level in TimeSplitters was one of the most painful and boring experiences of my life. I can remember thinking “God will you just die Adam so I can have a go at sniping the monkeys”. Now though, I can happily sit through hours of watching someone else play a game, not having that bizarre finger-twitching compulsion to yank the controller out of their hand and push them off the sofa. I’ve been fascinated as to why and when this sea change came about. So let’s talk about that shall we?
The rise of the internet is to blame, no doubt. In the wondrous way in which it can connect people across the globe, no matter if they’re in Southern California, Georgia or even a rainswept moore in northern England, people are connected through the internet. It’s a powerful tool, for both good and bad, but that ability to completely tailor the content you get with the people who share a love and passion of what it is you do as well is one of the most amazing benefits of the new age of global connectivity. Not only can we now play games with people half a world away, but we can watch the games that might spark our interest.
No expense, no time invested into playing a game you might end up hating, just the ability to watch someone you consider entertaining playing a game. Given the added cost, both in money laid down and time sunk into a particularly long game, this is for many people an excellent way to get a much more well-rounded impression of a video game rather than the older, more traditional written review. Plus they’re much more entertaining. I can’t remember laughing so much at someone dying over and over and over, their reactions shrieking into the microphone, headset being flung across the room. That’s not the sort of thing that’s easy to get across in a written piece. Even now, I can describe to you the time in Bloodborne that I was coerced into singing in various American accents while fighting each of the bosses about how much I loved the work of Sean Murray and Peter Molyneux – it doesn’t have quite the same impact as being there live really though.
Anyone will tell you though, that was an…experience you have to see to fully appreciate.
What I think is the most relevant and important thing though, whether you’re getting a pure form of entertainment, or even an impetuous to purchase a game through watching them, streaming does have it’s roots firmly embedded in the sense of community of being someone who enjoys video games. Ever since it’s inception, gaming’s always been seen as a weird outsider-y hobby that only people with nothing better to do partake in.
Whether or not that’s true on an individual level is completely irrelevant, the sense of community has withstood the test of time more than anything else. Even now, when video games are the most popular and wide-reaching form of media consumption in the world, there’s still a sense that we’re all partaking in a fringe hobby that most people just don’t get. That sense of camaraderie and friendship over getting onto overwatch, or watching someone get completely spooked out by a horror game has replaced sitting next to my best friend on the sofa itching for a go of beating a level in crash team racing. The only difference is the form of the sofa. And to me, that’s an amazing thing.