Over the past few weeks, owing to a somewhat unusual work situation where I’ve had a job lined up to start but have encountered a number of unusual delays of the actual start date for that job, which means I’ve been basically sitting around (mostly) waiting for someone to sort out some obscure piece of paperwork or another. In theory, all that extra time would be great for catching up on my video games or something like that, but for some reason I’m just not finding myself all that interested in playing video games right now. That’s not to say that I’ve given them up entirely or anything like that, but as is the case with many other tasks that I am not particularly good at, I am finding that I might just be better off letting someone else do it for me.
These days, it’s a pretty natural thing for people to get someone else to do things they aren’t good at. I’m pretty sure that if I tried to cut my own hair the results would be disastrous, so I get someone else to do it for me. The same goes for getting someone to work on my car if it needs to be fixed or maintained (I do know a few things here and there about cars, but I am far from an expert on the subject.) Fortunately I have a father who is much better at this stuff than I am, which is helpful in the rare cases when I do need something major done. So when you think about it, if you aren’t good at video games, why not get someone else to play them for you? Twitch.tv is a website that allows people to livestream themselves playing video games. Although most people on the site are playing to just a handful of people, there are a few that have managed to build sizable followings. As with virtually any significantly large site on the Internet, communities tend to spring up and self-organize over time. I watch about 5 or 6 different streamers on a regular basis, and find that their communities tend to be largely a reflection of the streamer and the type of people they attract. Streamers who are in Twitch’s partner program can sell subscriptions for about $5 per month (the actual amount they get of that varies depending on the number of subscribers they have) which allow access to a set of custom chat emotes specific to that stream, but usable in anyone’s stream if you have access to them. Spamming emotes seems to be a favorite pastime of Twitch viewers everywhere, so a particularly good set of them can earn a pretty good following by itself (there’s at least 1 or 2 people I subscribe 2 mostly to get the emotes to use elsewhere.) Then again, there are some streams where the community can be downright toxic. Those are the ones I usually just stay away from.
Although it was well before my time, a longtime mainstay of morning television in Seattle was the JP Patches show, which aired on KIRO from 1958 to 1981 (although Chris Wedes, the actor who played JP Patches, continued to make public appearances until 2011, before passing away in 2012.) One of the more famous segments on the show was what was known as the ICU2TV, in which the show’s titular clown used a device to “see” through people’s TVs and to wish children viewing the show a happy birthday. Of course, this was impossible given the one-way nature of television (although these days it seems like people are perfectly justified in wondering if their TVs are spying on them) and it was just a trick, typically the result of parents sending requests to the station for their kids’ birthdays to be recognized on the air through the ICU2TV. Of course, this was over 50 years ago, these days with modern communications technology two-way video conversations have become commonplace. Although a streamer on Twitch doesn’t have the capability to see you while they’re streaming unless you were to set it up in advance, it is still very easy to interact with them while they’re streaming. And a lot of the better streamers take time to interact with the chat in nearly real time (there is typically about a 15-20 second delay from when something happens to when it shows on the stream.) Communities tend to form naturally over time, and in the livestreaming community it’s usually pretty clear that the community surrounding a streamer is a pretty clear reflection of the streamer themself. A lot of streamers have well-behaved communities that contribute to the experience (a good set of chat moderators certainly helps.)
All this still leaves the question: Why just watch video games when you can just play them yourself? Even before I started watching stuff on Twitch, I’ve had what I like to call the “YouTube Rule” when it comes to video games. For years now there have been various people on YouTube who have done “Lets Plays” as they play through various games and add their own commentary along the way (unsurprisingly, some of these people have become rather successful Twitch streamers as well.) In addition to those, there are also people who have uploaded just straight playthroughs of a lot of games as well without any additional commentary. Basically, you can find someone playing just about any game you might be interested in on YouTube if you look. Which is where the YouTube rule comes in: In my experience, if you can get 90% of the entertainment value out of a particular game from watching someone else play it, there’s probably no reason to play it yourself.
A lot of the same holds true for Twitch streams, but at the same time there are other factors involved here too: I’ve also found that there are a number of games that are more entertaining to watch than to play. For example, one of my favorite streamers (KashBryant) has devoted most of his stream in the last few months to playing Evolve, a game that came out earlier this year which is a shooter that pits 4 players playing as hunters against one player playing as a giant havoc-wreaking monster. I’ve actually spent a lot of time watching this game, and have found it rather entertaining. The only problem with this game is that even though I’ve enjoyed watching it, I really don’t have any particular inclination to actually play it myself. I’d rather spend the time just watching high-level players who actually know what they’re doing rather than trying to stumble through it myself. And then there games (mostly stuff in some of the “finicky niche gamer” categories I tend to inhabit) where some of the people playing on Twitch are just amazing at them. Another streamer (KevinDDR, a vague acquaintance of mine from before he made a big splash playing Tetris at AGDQ 2015) has skills I just can’t possibly come close to at some of the games I enjoy but thoroughly suck at. Then again, some of the games he’s playing simply aren’t for everyone (especially because a lot of them are on imported arcade PCBs that cost hundreds of dollars, not to mention the need for an arcade cabinet to play them on) and he also brings many years of practice to get where he is (to give you some idea, he was only the sixth Grand Master in the world in Tetris the Grand Master 3 when he accomplished this earlier this year, for a game that has been out for many years.) At this point I might be inclined to actually try the games if I can ever get my hands on them, but there’s no way I will ever be that good at them.
Basically, what it comes down to is just another form of outsourcing, albeit on a much smaller level than what usually happens. In a way, I’m offloading work that I’m not good at to someone else who is an expert at it, which frees me up to do other things (another of the many things that multiple monitors are good for) and it allows me to experience most of the content of various games I might be interested in seeing but not actually playing without having to play them. If there’s a particular game I might be on the fence about I can just go find someone else playing it and decide whether or not it’s worth spending the money on it (these days it seems like more often than not the answer is no) and the only cost is a few bucks here and there to subscribe to someone’s channel if I enjoy their content and feel an inexplicable desire to spam their chat emotes.
Not a bad deal really. Most of the entertainment value of video games without the cost or any of the pesky interactivity. Tell me again why I’d actually want to play the stuff myself?