Academic journal article English Journal

Game Changers: Making New Meanings and New Media with Video Games

Academic journal article English Journal

Game Changers: Making New Meanings and New Media with Video Games

Article excerpt

Over the past year, I have spent many hours talking with young people about digital media. In focus groups and interviews, we have discussed their media consumption and production, with a particular focus on remixed digital texts. I entered these dialogues expecting to hear about remix genres such as fan fiction, musical mash-ups, fan videos, and machinima. But surprisingly, the genre that has come up most frequently is the Let's Play video. What exactly is a Let's Play video? I asked participants the first time the phrase was used. I had only a vague sense it had something to do with video games. And then, after they explained, I had a rush of questions: How are they made? Where do you watch them? Why do you watch them? And what makes them so interesting?

It turns out these young people have introduced me not only to a unique hybrid of digital gameplay and video but also to one of the most popular forms of online digital entertainment. Currently, more than 50 of the top 100 YouTube channels feature gameplay, a popularity largely fuelled by young audiences. Let's Play videos (often known simply as LPs) typically include gameplay footage accompanied by simultaneous commentary recorded by the player. That commentary may be audio recorded or, occasionally, video recorded to capture the player's emotional and physical reactions. (See Figure 1.) To watch an LP is, essentially, to watch another person play a video game.

Let's Play videos are as diverse as games themselves. An LP may promote, review, satirize, or narrate a game. An LP creator may demonstrate how to play a game expertly, or, for the sake of humor, may play in a comical or counterintuitive way. The content of LP commentaries is equally broad and may include praise, critique, recommendations, exclamations, questions, instructions, shouts, sighs, whispers, and groans. While early LPs were often created to draw attention to independent games, LPs now span a range of genres (e.g., shooter, roleplaying, action, and sandbox games) and include titles from independent and mainstream game publishers. Perhaps the single thread that holds together these diverse texts is the particular ethos of the LP community, a community that values creators who are personal and interactive, engaging in dialogue with their viewers and encouraging sociability in their audience.

Another notable feature of the LP is the profit and fame it can generate for its (usually young) producers. While the vast majority of LP creators do not see any revenue, a small handful have made huge profits. In 2014, for example, the 24-year-old Swedish gamer Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg (known as PewDiePie) was reported to have earned more than $7 million from his Let's Play YouTube channel (Schiesser). Indeed, some LP creators like PewDiePie have become online personalities in their own right, with huge audiences and wellorganized fan groups.

Let's Play videos have recently received a great deal of media attention, mostly focused on the popularity of the genre and the profits being made. "This Guy Makes Millions Playing Video Games on YouTube" reads a headline in The Atlantic (Zoia), while a Guardian headline describes Let's Play videos as "The YouTube Phenomenon That's Bigger than One Direction" (McConnell). But the youth I spoke with suggest there's more to LPs than their popularity and profitability. Many of them expressed a philosophical interest in issues raised by the LP's unique origins. "Do people get the same sort of experience from watching a game over Let's Plays as they do from actually playing it?" mused one participant. "A video isn't a game. It's very different from the experience of real play." Another participant argued that "appropriation is the way people create things. Nobody would be making Let's Plays without the original game. That doesn't mean it's any less unique or creative." Another student ventured that many young people watched LPs to learn how to be better game players. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.