The increasing popularity of gaming on YouTube

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The very many controllers that every gamer will recognise

It’s no secret that I am a watcher of YouTube, whether it be general videos or content created by someone I am subscribed to. The majority of the channels that have earned my loyalty through subscription are under the gaming category, but I do watch other types of channels such as art, cosplay, music, science and even beauty. The last of which I am generally not interested in, but I’ll get onto that later. Having stumbled across YouTube in 2006 or 2007, I didn’t expect it to become the platform that it is today. I did not anticipate myself watching more YouTube than television, but it’s not just me. Statistics show that gaming channels on YouTube are rapidly growing in popularity. PewDiePie, the most subscribed channel, currently holds over a tremendous 39 million subscribers and fast approaching the 40 million milestone, and it is also a gaming channel. There’s been a lot of debates around why gaming content is so popular, and as an avid viewer I’d like to try my hand at explaining it.

I first came across PewDiePie in the summer of 2013 after taking to the internet to check out The Last of Us (2013). I had heard of him through friends and I thought why not? Initially, I found his commentary to be obnoxious and more often than not I found myself wanting to mute him somehow so I could concentrate on the game. However, the more I watched his videos, the funnier I found him. I started to watch him rather than the games that he was playing because I found him entertaining. After a while he wasn’t just PewDiePie, he was Felix Kjellberg (and shame on the presenter at the Teen Choice Awards for purposely stumbling over his surname. If we can learn how to say Zack Galifianakis’s name, then Kjellberg shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Scripted or not, it was done distastefully). Felix is a Swedish guy in his mid 20s simply making videos of him having fun while playing video games. It was through him that I found several more gaming channels that I still watch and enjoy even today, such as CinnamonToastKen, Markiplier, Cryaotic, JackSepticEye, Ohmwrecker etc. Watching PewDiePie play cooperatively with other YouTubers was also fun to witness as it reminded me of stupid times that I have had in the past with friends or family while playing video games. The antics that these YouTubers get up to is hilarious, and the jokes that come out of these game sessions are memorable to say the least.

So, why watch gaming content on YouTube? What drew me to YouTube was my lack of owning a PS3, so I couldn’t play The Last of Us. I wanted to see what the gameplay was like and debate whether or not I was missing out on this game. Turns out that I was, but I have it on PS4 now so it’s all good. Only, I probably wouldn’t have bought the Remastered edition if I hadn’t first seen the content on YouTube. Of course, after watching some videos I did also play the game round my boyfriend’s house to get a feel for it, but it was all due to YouTube that I even took a real interest in the game. I paid just under £40 for The Last of Us Remastered (2014), and that isn’t exactly cheap. While games are getting better (in some cases), the prices are getting higher. It feels like more of an investment when buying video games now, and if I’m going to part with that much money then the game that I am purchasing better be worth it. How else will I know if the game is worth the money? Reviews are always a good place to start, but sometimes the visual aid of watching someone experience it for the first time is a better indication of if the game is worth buying or not.

I mentioned before that I am subscribed to some beauty channels, even though things like clothing and makeup don’t really concern me too much. The reason why I decided to subscribe to these channels was because of the people behind them. Marzia Bisognin, also known as CutiePieMarzia, is PewDiePie’s girlfriend and also a very successful YouTuber. Her style is very girly and cute (in complete contrast to my own), but her bubbly personality and aesthetically pleasing editing skills in her videos shine through above everything else. A similar concept applies to the gaming channels that I am subscribed to. Markiplier (Mark Fischbach) for example is very loud during his gameplay videos, but his incessant ramblings are extremely humorous. While he might not be everyone’s favourite, I find him hilarious simply because of his commentary. His trains of thought are a wonder to behold and his dedication to YouTube is inspiring. Cryaotic (whose identity remains a mystery) is a lot more calm and collected than other YouTubers, and his content is somewhat more difficult to watch as it takes more effort to get through his longer playthroughs. Each of them are unique and entertaining in their own way and depending on the type of mood I am in, I will watch a different channel.

Recently, Jimmy Kimmel made negative comments about the idea of watching people play video games on YouTube. With the main argument opening up a discussion about why bother watching someone else play a game when you could simply play it yourself, and I can sort of see his point. Asides from the abundance of reasons that I listed above (such as it being entertainment and potentially saving you money), why would I watch someone play a game on YouTube? I won’t lie, I’m not a massive fan of Jimmy Kimmel and the YouTubers that I watch produce funnier content than he does, so I already know that I’m not missing out on much. What is funny is that his videos concerning the gaming community have received the most amount of views on his entire channel. It could be assumed that Kimmel only decided to attack the gaming community as a way to gain more viewers, in which case he succeeded and it was a smart move. The best response that I have heard to counteract this argument is why do people watch sports when they could play it themselves? It’s hard to argue against that one. We’re not living vicariously through YouTubers when watching them play a video game, we are instead watching the actual person and being entertained by them. One of the most popular genres of video game to play is horror simply because people like to watch others being scared. PewDiePie almost exclusively played horror games in the earlier stages of his channel because people found his girlish squeals of terror funny to witness.

Kimmel then had YouTubers Markiplier and MissesMae on his show to play video games with them and talk about YouTube Gaming. However, it came across as forced and Kimmel appeared to be as indifferent and close minded as ever. Putting the apparent comedian aside, it is interesting to see that gaming channels are often not taken seriously simply because of their video content. It could be that traditional media, such as TV, find YouTube to be a threat. When TV was first established, it was feared that it would be the death of radio. After all, video did kill the radio star. Perhaps YouTube is the next step, but people like Kimmel are fearful of this as the platform is already dominated by YouTube stars such as Jenna Marbles, Smosh, Niga Higa, Zoella and, of course, PewDiePie. So, what’s the best way to subdue a section of YouTube that is proving to be popular? By not taking gaming channels seriously, the current figures in popular media can skew peoples views in an attempt to steer them away. They do this by calling gamers antisocial and playing on stereotypes surrounding ‘nerd’ culture. This might work for a while, but the majority of YouTube viewers are young to young adults, and soon TV personalities like Jimmy Kimmel will be preaching to the wrong crowd.

I have seen that many articles about internet celebrities like PewDiePie mainly consists of numbers. As in, how many subscribers he has and how much money he makes from YouTube. I won’t dwell on it for too long, but do we concern ourselves with how much money celebrities like Leonardo di Caprio or Angelina Jolie earn? I don’t understand why it’s so astounding to people that PewDiePie is making a living from making YouTube content, as are many other YouTubers. It’s also not as if he’s simply sitting on the money. PewDiePie has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities over the years and Markiplier hosts charity livestreams to raise money, while also chipping in his hard earned cash. I’m not saying that other celebrities do not donate to charity, but this part seems to be left out in a large number of articles about YouTube stars.

Watching others play video games has always come quite easily to me. I used to watch my brother play games like Devil May Cry and Prince of Persia on the PS2 because I was too young to play them myself. I used to help him with solving puzzles and figuring out where to go next, so it felt like a joint effort to me though I’m sure he would say that my input was more of a hindrance to him than helpful. Of course, there are plenty of video games in my own gaming repertoire, but the act of watching someone else play a game has never felt out of place for me. Just the other day, a friend of mine was playing Tomb Raider and another friend who is generally not too into video games was gesturing at the screen and screaming things like “There! Shoot him!”. While a YouTuber can’t hear you pointing out their mistakes during the video, it’s a similar concept. It feels like you’re progressing through the game together, and you can write hints, theories and the like in the (somewhat broken) comment section to interact with the YouTuber. Granted, they won’t always respond, but it’s always nice to be part of a passionate community.

So, why is it so popular? When it comes down to it, it’s the people behind the channels. They make mistakes, get scared, feel frustrated, crack jokes, the list goes on forever. They are simply people, and it makes them easily relatable. Especially those behind gaming channels. Everyone has at least played one video game in their life, and the way that people like PewDiePie express themselves when playing a game is quite accurate for most people. While it may be somewhat exaggerated, it does not make it any less genuine. Someone’s equivalent of PewDiePie shouting Swedish profanities at his computer screen could be like my friend getting borderline upset with Tomb Raider and curling up in his room on the floor in a mixture of exasperation and frustration. To play a game is to be invested in it, and when something goes wrong you will have a reaction to it. Watching someone else’s reactions, whether they be in the same room as you or through a screen, is always funny. I’m sure many others feel the same as I do or even have their own reasons, but I watch YouTubers, whatever their content, because they make me laugh and I will continue to watch them for that purpose.

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