When it comes down to classical conditioning in Psychology, a thought or action occurs when there are the appropriate stimuli often enough to warrant the expected outcome. In layman’s terms, if you see a jogger go down your street every day at 7am on your way to work, you will expect to see them until you become shocked when they do not.
This isn’t a psychology website though, we need video games! Pew pew! When it comes to experiencing games, however, psychology is a huge part of maintaining enjoyment out of that last game you played. However, ever since Youtube’s release in 2006, more and more people have stopped playing games they were hesitant or strictly against trying, and began to watch “video game champions” of the internet playing it for them, and often claiming they have full exposure to the game in question. Most of the people who claim they enjoy Amnesia: The Dark Descent are almost certainly folks who saw it through the lens of Youtuber Pewdiepie or Markiplier screaming through their own terrors.
However, do people who watch Lets Play videos instead of playing the game themselves gain the same experience?
In a nutshell, no, unfortunately. If that was the case no one would be buying games and would be strictly enjoying LPs on YouTube with the same amount of joy as someone who bought every game they could. A fantastic dream, to be sure, but the psychology comes to play the moment you make the choice to watch instead of playing. By surrendering control over the gameplay, you become relaxed and poised as you accept that you are the passenger to this story, where choices will be made “in your name” and that the conductor hopefully has the right idea or at least a pleasant personality. The atmosphere of a horror game, for example, that was meant to horrify you with terrifying ambiance and isolation is now accompanied by a kind fellow who is going to move for you and agree that this place is awful. Companionship can kill fear if they can both justify the lack of need for anxiety. Having both people exist and, to some extent, establish a social link helps relieve pending dread by proximity alone. So when your Lets Player screams as a zombie shoots out of the woodwork to attack them you might have jumped a bit, but it’s a children’s playground compared to what would have happened if you were caught by yourself playing in a dark room.
That’s a cruel comparison to make, however; maybe most of the people who watched Amnesia through a Lets Play would never in their life play it themselves, and we should be grateful that they had a chance to experience it too, even if they only get a fraction of what the game intended. What about games that people could easily play but they’re on the fence as to whether or not they want to buy it, though? Reviews are important, but companies have recognized the power of “influencers”, or people who reached to the masses through their attractive personalities using streaming or recording video games. If a poorly created game is praised by your favorite influencer as the best thing since sliced cheese, will you watch it and agree with them, or will you quickly establish contrasting opinions along the way?
Much as I would personally hope to develop your own opinions, you’re not likely to watch an entire game and say you dislike it when your favorite Lets Player is talking about how cool it is. For example, I personally believe that the PC game Five Nights At Freddy’s is an average game that was done on a cheap budget and simplified for the sake of getting it out the door. It is also fairly scary but easy to learn patterns and anticipate. However, people who chose to watch others play it instead of getting adjusted to it themselves think that this game belongs in the Hall of Fame in gaming history thanks to every high ranking LPer playing it and screaming at octaves only ostriches can achieve. Hearing people talk about how great the game is but “I never played it, but I watched someone play it and it’s sooooo good” is very discordant when it comes to video game discussion and be very upsetting.
Enough of my blathering, though; what do you think? Do you feel that watching can be the same as playing the game in the right circumstances? Let me know in the comments below or tag us on Twitter @PSVG.