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Hey Guys - Are Let's Plays Stupid?

04/03/2016 10:47 GMT | Updated 04/03/2017 10:12 GMT

'Hey guys,' (to use the salutatory colloquialism of our favourite Let's Players). Millions of us are watching other people play video games on the internet. The top gaming YouTube channels dominate the overall top rankings (especially if you exclude the Vevo music channels). The top spot held by famous YouTube gamer PewDiePie has over 15 million subscribers more than second place. Tens of millions of viewers watch live stream game tournaments on sites such as Twitch and YouTube Gaming. And there are the thousands of other Let's Play channels who don't attract millions, but still attract hundreds and thousands of subscribers who watch their content.

Why do so many of us watch other people play video games? This has been asked a lot by those who have been surprised by these unprecedented figures. Commentators and the players themselves pretty much give the same answer: it's not so much the game they are playing, though this is of course an important aspect of it, but it's the feeling of community. You are not just watching someone play a game, you are socialising with them, laughing with them, exploring the game with them, and all that kind of stuff. They become your friend. That's understandable.

But not to some. For example, last year the comedian Jimmy Kimmel made a joke on his late night TV show about the absurdity of watching other people playing video games online. A whole load of abuse followed. One accusation that stood out was that he was ignorant. And that's the key thing the human race finds most offensive than anything: ignorance. He's an old fogey who doesn't understand young people.

Video games hold a unique position among other entertainment mediums, which is that, for so many of us, nothing else captures our memories of childhood as powerfully as games do. And we love them because they are a big part of the happiest times of our lives (as childhood usually is). We are the things we love; and it hurts when someone, who doesn't know much about them, attacks those things. This can produce the sort of reactionary retaliation the gaming community doesn't want to associate itself with: death threats, rape threats, and badly phrased insults. And this can apply to anything we love and feel passionate about. It could be a genre of music, or even something trivial like a TV show. It could even be the works of Dante or Cicero - philosophy, poetry, art, anything. It could be someone close to you. That's why those who make negative comments should think about the potential hurt their comments can cause.

But come on - it was just a joke about video games, right? Yes, but it was a joke from someone who confesses to not know a lot about them beyond the arcade golden age of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Gamers felt slighted about being mocked from someone who was "ignorant".

Not all of us felt slighted, though. Gamers should be careful about who they call ignorant (I'm sure gamers are ignorant of a lot of things, too). Even if old fogies are ignorant, they're not always wrong. Playing games is silly - and watching it even more so. Why? Because for every minute we spend playing games, we could be reading, playing an instrument, finishing that report due next week, exercising, or doing anything "more worthwhile". Games should not replace other hobbies, but we play them because we love them, and we watch other people play them because we like the communal aspect of enjoying games together. And we don't think there is anything wrong with loving games so much - some games are indeed worthy enough to be considered great art (as long as games don't replace other important parts of life). And games bring joy and alleviate a lot of loneliness. When fogeys call us stupid, we should just say, Yes, you're right, it is stupid (and also ask if fogeys themselves are doing better things), but it makes us feel good to play and watch them. Now go away because I'm trying to watch so-and-so finish this level.