In August 2013, Swedish gamer Felix Kjellberg—also known as “PewDiePie”—became the most-subscribed channel on YouTube. His popularity proliferated with his “Let’s Play” videos, which involve playthroughs of video games, typically with commentary and while on camera. For years, video game playthroughs dominated a niche community, but remained outside mainstream circles. Kjellberg, alongside hundreds of other popular video game streamers, is helping to widen that circle.
But why would you watch other people play video games when you could just play them yourself? Whether gaming streams are an occasional amusement or a part of your daily routine, this question is probably one you’ve heard before. There are various reasons why people stream video games, and not everyone will have the same one.
While video games are fun, sometimes they can also be frustrating. Whether you’re stuck on a puzzle or keep dying from a sniper you can’t even see, watching others play can help you solve the problem or, if they’re highly skilled, offer some tips and tricks to imitate. With the content creator’s commentary, you’ll often see the process of how they get through a game’s challenges for the first time. Some gamers stream specifically to educate and help others get better at a game.
Different streams exist, such as “speedruns,” in which people hold records for the fastest time to complete a game, also add entertainment and leaves audiences with a sense of awe, marveling at a skill level they can only dream of. There’s an inherent fascination in watching people at the peak of their profession. It’s why we’re glued to the Olympics or that one kid who’s really quick at solving Rubik’s cubes. It’s an amusing conflict of rage, satisfaction, and admiration as you’re left wondering how someone could get through the hardest levels of Cuphead in one try when you’re too ashamed to even reveal your death count.
Streaming can also help a person make a decision when they’re still on the fence about buying a new game. Seeing snippets of gameplay—its visuals, mechanics, and storyline—can show firsthand what you may or may not like. They also act as an alternative for people who currently can’t afford the game or simply don’t want to buy it. In this way, no one is left out and everyone gets to enjoy the game’s storyline, regardless of if they’ve played it or not.
Whether people watch playthroughs for practical reasons or escapism, the by-product is often feeling a sense of community. For both the content creator on one side of the screen and the viewer on the other, this communal interaction is a central allure of streaming. Even if they you don’t them in real life, there’s emotional value in the connection you share. You can look forward to new videos or scheduled streams and get comfort knowing they aren’t alone if they don’t want to be. They feel like they’re alongside the gamer as they witness shocking plot twists or impending consequences of one path over another in a choose-your-own-adventure game such as Dawn or Life is Strange.
If something interesting happens in a game, people enjoying sharing it on social media. And because of streaming platforms such as Twitch, video gamers can put their content on a worldwide stage and make a name for themselves while doing what they love. Sharing and receiving is what makes streaming beneficial to both the content creator and viewer.
Since PewDiePie broke records for playing video games, streaming platforms continue to surge in popularity. While Twitch offers opportunities to stream other hobbies such as music or crafts, gaming leads the platform’s content. In 2020, Twitch had 3.8 million broadcasters over February and 1.44 million concurrent viewers on average the same month of that year. As technology advances and new video games emerge, streaming isn’t just surviving, but thriving, in our modern era.