When I worked in unemployment, I needed background noise in order to break the silence, to be able to focus on the tedium. Radio and music stopped working after a while because eventually they just became part of the tedious silence.
That was when I resorted to YouTube.
Now when I’m working on chores, or when I’ve ran too many mental circles around story elements, I’ll load YouTube on my phone and listen to YouTubers’ movie reviews, or writers relay their writing tips and tricks. But my favorite genre of YouTube are Let’s Plays, where YouTubers record their own videogame play-through as well as their reactions.
Some of my friends criticize me for watching Let’s Play videos, since being exposed to them ruins my chance at enjoying these games as a player. If I had copious free time and income, then I would totally play the hell out of these games myself. Until I become a vampire, food and time are precious. And if I did choose to buy a video game, then I want to make sure that my money is not wasted. I want to be sure that the game captivates me with compelling characters, an intricate narrative, and polished gameplay mechanics. Go ahead and play, Let’s Play.
I don’t watch Let’s Plays just for the game; the YouTuber themselves add to the game with their reactions. Their presence creates an atmosphere of someone nearby, engaging in a casual activity in the room. The noise keeps me from overthinking the piece. Because I’m hearing and thus focusing on the words of another, I visualize the story’s sequence of events. The casual nature of Let’s Plays also keeps my own writing session lighthearted; with silence and even music, I sometimes focus too much on how to construct the sentence, and not drafting the story. I forget that I do not need to create the perfect balance of story and style in the first draft, and it is near impossible to do so without some form of divine intervention. Let’s Plays keep me from getting fixated on technical execution, and they also serve as a reminder of the very human who creates a masterful work. I’m really just watching someone sitting in their videogame den, recording and editing without thinking of the impact of some greater meaning to their work. Their work just happens to be enjoyed by the public, which keeps me humble about my own creations.
But I can only write to videos I’ve already watched. If I’m watching a video for the first time, then my mind focuses too much on that and not writing. I also can’t listen to the more boisterous Let’s Players like Markiplier or Jacksepticeye while I am writing, since their personalities are what draw people to the game. Instead I watch quieter Youtubers such as Cryaotic, who may speak once in a while, but ultimately allows the game to speak for itself.
My exception to this rule is during my off time. Although I’m not actively thinking about my writing as I am watching Let’s Plays, the story is unconsciously processing. When least expected, an issue will figure itself out when I focus on these videos.
Many YouTube artists play multiple videogame genres, appealing to a multitude of fans. I feel like I’m getting to know a person without the messy trial and error of interaction, and them playing the game promotes it to their fan bases, providing PR for the game creators.
The YouTuber Jacksepticeye worded the interaction well during his playthrough of the game The Beginner’s Guide. These YouTube videos are snippets of the creator’s life that they choose for us to see. “When you get the full compilation of everything, is that when you begin to understand who this person is that you’re watching,” he explained.
Like pulling textual evidence from a piece of literature in order to support a hypothesis, the different videos help the viewer understand the YouTuber as a rounded person, and not some perfect being. But like how a character or idea can exist only by the evidence given in the source material, we can only know the individual through the “snippets” that they allow us to see. The effect is like what reality television promised, but never delivered.
Only recently are people recognizing this as a field to make money, and companies are realizing the promotion of their product provided by Lets Players. But the companies need to believe that the Let’s Player’s online draw is great enough to offer a sponsorship, otherwise the company is losing money.
The motivation for a Let’s Player to post content with no guarantee of success, says a lot about artists, or just people in general. There must be a willingness to share, to reach out to others about a game that he or she felt compelled to record. There must be a drive to entertain others, and to think that one is entertaining enough to record and post online. With such a huge margin for error I believe there’s a selflessness to Let’s Playing.
I also think these videos say something about the difficulty I face whenever I need to write. Instead of distracting myself with the lives of over 300 friends on Facebook, I occupy myself with a single person. I mentioned that these videos give the illusion of being connected to another, which in a sense keeps me from being fully alienated from the up to date information that the internet provides. With how quickly we receive information today, the lack of statuses and articles makes me fidget. Maybe Let’s Play videos are a happy medium between silence and too much information, like a Diet Infodump. They are a wavelength that fuels my subconscious, keeps my Muses awake.
Youtube Let’s Plays are a lesser evil in the sense that I should perhaps be totally isolated in order to engage my craft. But the videos serve as a reminder of why my stories are worth sharing. If a Let’s Player can attract a following with video editing, sound effects and the right reactions to pivotal game play moments, then there is a crowd for a well written story.