Hold my hand, Bro.

The ReDeads in Ocarina of Time scared the hell of out me when I was eight. It was probably the moaning. Give it a listen; it’s still pretty unsettling. At the time, I was so afraid that I’d put off playing the game just to avoid running through future Hyrule Town square while those ghouls scream and groan. My little brother was too afraid to play the game at all, but that didn’t stop him from watching me play. Having an audience was comforting. With my brother watching the ReDeads felt less scary–manageable even. Eight year old me wouldn’t have had the guts to finish that game if not for the shared experience of playing with my brother. It’s hardly a unique phenomenon; the same thing’s been happening for decades as family and friends tackle scary movies and games together in the living room. Thanks to Let’s Plays, that fraternal experience of enduring horror together is more attainable than ever, but in a drastically less meaningful flavor.

The most popular Let’s Player, PewDiePie has over 31 million subscribers to his channel. Audiences that large can be difficult to conceive of, so here’s some perspective: For the past six months, PewDiePie has gained about 30,000 subscribers daily. That means that every day he’s reeling in almost twice as many perennial viewers as SkippySigmatic’s audience and my audience combined. The equivalent of 10% of the United States’ population is seated in PewDiePie’s virtual living room, and 30,000 new faces pile in each day. Now PewDiePie’s demographic information isn’t publicly available, but looking at any one of his comments section shows that he owes much of his success to young teenagers and adolescents.

http://puu.sh/cojpQ/fe54be99b2.pngThese adolescents–like the stone cold maniac on the left–are putty in an LPer’s hands. They’re amused by meme screaming and sing-songs. They may consider Minecraft to be their favorite video game. You know what, that’s all okay. If you reflected honestly on your interests as a twelve year old you’d probably want to kick your own ass.

Most interesting about these whippersnappers is that they’re not only jumping on “kids stuff” for the Let’s Plays they watch. I mean yes, Happy Wheels is one of the most Let’s Played games in the world and all, but kids also flock to horror games like Amnesia in massive numbers. In fact, it was PewDiePie’s Amnesia Let’s Play that cast him into the limelight to begin with.

For a child or young adolescent, a game like Amnesia might be too intimidating to play at all. So they do exactly what my younger brother did with me: they sit down with their “Bro” and tackle the fear together. Adults do it too: they might not be too afraid to play horror games on face, but watching a Let’s Play of a scary game carries the same appeal as putting on a horror movie with friends.

But are the experiences really comparable? You’d be hard pressed to argue that watching a stranger react to a horror game as one of 31 million “Bros” is equivalent to being in the same room as a flesh-and-blood brother, experiencing the game together in real-time. There’s a wonderful social and emotional dynamic realized by a few pals playing video games side by side.

That dynamic is exactly what made the GameGrumps popular in the first place. JonTron and Egoraptor were friends who played video games together, and sappy as it sounds it was touching to watch. Recall that in most GameGrumps Let’s Plays only one of the hosts actually plays the game; the other sits on a couch with them and talks. The same is true of Two Best Friends Play–these channels were and still are popular because that dynamic is awesome: both to watch and to experience in person.

But this heartwarming authenticity all too often falls to pieces with time and fame. PewDiePie’s output consists almost entirely of meme-screaming and lolsorandom “jokes.” Jon left the GameGrumps, and now it feels more like a commercialized product than ever, with the laughter feeling more and more forced by the episode. Yes, millions of kids still enjoy these Let’s Plays, but keep in mind that kids and adolescents are still developing the sort of discerning judgement and critical taste that you and I take for granted.

It isn’t apparent to a “Grump” how commercialized the GameGrumps brand has become. It’s not obvious to a conscript in the “Bro Army” how horrendously unfunny PewDiePie’s fractured-English screaming is. People of all ages are drawn to these sorts of Let’s Play channels by the cooperative closeness they invoke, but adults with mature sensibilities are driven away, forcing the lowest common denominator of taste and humor lower yet.

Not to say that all fans of PewDiePie or the GameGrumps are children though. Many are adults, but said adults are hardly paragons of well-adjusted maturity. The YouTube channel Silvermania produced a pretty depressing video that illuminates this fact all too uncomfortably.

Poor taste is usually pretty harmless though. Why should I care if people want to watch awful Let’s Plays?

It’s because Let’s Plays are such a poor substitute for the real thing. If eight year old me had a PewDiePie let’s play of Ocarina of Time to go watch, I can’t say that my brother and I would have ever shared that experience we both remember so fondly.

Let’s Plays tap into the same pool of emotional synchronicity as playing a game with your best friend by your side, but often in the cynical spirit of meme-propelled commercialism. Cynical or no, not even the best Let’s Play can hope to match the feeling of tanking some scares with your buddies in real life, and I can only hope that the growth of Let’s Plays doesn’t crowd that sort of experience out of our lives.

About the Author


Firebrand shitter.



What’s your take on Something Awfuls LP’s, if you’ve seen any? or generally LPs that aim for a more informative approach in the line of “Here’s something you may not have known about this game”?


I don’t think maturity has much to do with your sense of humor; I’m sure plenty of well-adjusted people knowledgeable in their own fields who find stuff like Garfield funny; not because they are idiots but because they simply don’t care enough about comedy to experience a wide range of it and develop different tastes. They just reach for the simplest, nearest light-hearted entertainment to brighten up their day. There’s even the universal idea of “dad jokes” being terrible.

I do believe that LPs are doing something pretty shitty to “nerd culture” though. I have a friend who pretty much stopped playing games completely and just watches Two Best Friends Play and stuff like that all day. I want to say they’re something for friendless lonely people, but a lot of the people who like them don’t seem to be the basement-dwelling, antisocial type; I think it’s more of an online cultural hivemind thing. People watch LPs because it’s the ‘in thing’ not really asking themselves ‘why am I wasting my time with this dumb shit instead of playing a game with my friends?”

Also the idea that Something Awful goon LPs are inherently superior is the lamest goddamn shit and goon LPers who are elitist about their status as “goon LPers” are some of the most obnoxious people online. Slowbeef is pretty much the kind of deeply broken individual you’d expect him to be, given that he spends his time mocking literal children with barely any Youtube views for not talking over video games the >right< way. "I'm not taking this stuff seriously at all!" the main says, only to turn away and write an emotional wall of text dead-seriously, defending himself because a guy on a podcast made fun of his place in the "Let's Play Community". Then he will write a goddamned tl;dr thesis on how the Holy Art Of Talking Over Video Games was created by SA goons.


I agree, I think a lot of people can develop a snooty attitude when it comes to what type of comedy. It’s not that different from the attitude of ‘Only serious games for serious gamers, like myself, are worthy of being called pushing the medium forward’ that was touched on in the ‘Separating gameplay from Art’ video.

I agree, although I think convenience and the type of game it is may fall into it also. I’ve watched several LPs of visual novel games, like 999 and Dangan Ronpa, just because they are there online, easy to see it instantly, and I don’t feel like I would be losing a lot through watching them as opposed to playing them. I don’t really do the same with games that require a greater amount of player input (like say MGR) as I feel if you just watched an LP of those, you loose a lot of the enjoyment you can have with the mechanics. One of the few LP’s I’ve really enjoyed is the Developer commentary lps of the Ratchet and Clank games (at least 2 and 3 anyway, I haven’t been keeping up with 1), where they give some background as to what challenges they faced developing the game and what bits got cut and altered. It probably helps that they (Mike and Tony) are pretty chill and funny through most of it and I’m a big fan of the original trilogy, so it’s interesting to hear their insight.

Yeah the way some of the SA LPer’s act is pretty silly. I’ve seen plenty of LP’s on their LPArchive that are pretty much the exact standard they claim to discourage (eg. Not knowing shit about the game, playing like a moron, Talking over cutscenes) but they still seem to get added to the archive because they are part of ‘the great community of SA, where nothing is bad and no-one is sad’. What you mentioned about Slowbeef is spot on but I think what irritates me more about his attitude is that it never seems to be enough for him, and some of his friends, to simply dislike something. It’s not enough to say “I don’t find Pewdiepie funny”, instead it’s : “Pewdiepies jokes aren’t jokes because they don’t follow my vague definition of what jokes mean to me and I believe that it’s shallow escapism that stops any form of growth unlike my glorious LPs of the great plays of Beethoven. It’s also completely fine to make worn-out jokes about peadophilia though and anyone who disagrees is clearly a jealous hater who loves Pewdiepie”. A real bastion of constructive thought.


That’s when I decided to finally unfollow Slowbef, actually. I used to be a huge RP fan in 2008; hell I even followed Retsupurae before it was even called Retsupurae, when goons were planning an LP mocking series. But the hypocrisy of basically calling Pewdiepie a creepy fucker for saying “I got raped” whenever he got killed in a video game and going on a rant about ‘the use of the word rape in the gaming community’ (he got moralizing over some guy naming his character ‘rapist’ in an arcade game), only to then to joke about how funny it would be if the >real, living child< of an LPer was raped by his uncle… that shit is just deeply hypocritical.

Obviously not all LPs are worthless; I just mean overall. Occasionally there's something where the commentary actually adds something worthwhile, but generally I feel that people watch them because… it's the cool thing to do.

Two SA LPs I really liked were the Ouendan ones; the guy was genuinely informative in a way that simply going to Wikipedia wouldn't be (he talked about the Japanese cultural context behind all the stories) and the fake speech bubble translations were genuinely funny.


What’s your take on Something Awful LP’s? or generally LPs that do a more informative style in the line of “Here’s something you may not have known about this game…”


For me I’ve always watched let’s players to see their personal reactions/opinions on games, rather than trying to get the ‘sitting on the couch together’ vibe. It’s pretty clear that though that to many of pewdiepie’s subscribers, he’s just a substitute friend. I think this is also due to how massive online gaming on consoles has become. People often just stay at home and play together over the internet instead of physically visiting each other, so a lot of people don’t have much experience of sitting together playing a game.

The Redeads under the private cabin in Wind Waker were also terrifying. The idea of being in tiny rooms that were deep underground with those things was too much for me at the time. I didn’t have a bro to help me through it though. I just had to git gud.


I think for me LPs were always more akin to a talk show. I enjoyed the people involved and enjoyed hearing them talk. It’s never been about the game, but unlike a talk show the interest wanes. It’s all well and good to enjoy your favourite personalities, be they on television or YouTube, in small 20 minute segments.

However as LPs got more and more popular, the people making them became self aware of that fact and the material focused further and further from the game. It didn’t matter that the game was secondary to the people playing them beforehand, once the LPers themselves became aware of that, everything changed.

On a personal anecdote, the only time I can play Alien: Isolation is either with my little brother IRL, because he’s my best friend, or on Twitch or Hitbox, and the reason for that is that streaming now is what LPs used to be. Streaming feels much more personal and interaction between audiences is instant and gratifying. Making YouTube videos is a business now, and even though most of us still do it for fun, the fact that people are making money doing it, and that we likely never will, reminds us of just how much we’re wasting our time.

That right there is what I think we’re hitting at here. YouTube itself is so different than before, LPs aren’t like the ones we used to find on SomethingAwful. That’s why it can’t replace that feeling we had playing games with our brothers or friends, and it’s why no matter how much we talk about it, that feeling isn’t coming back.


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