Just in the month of July, over 1.5 billion hours of streams were watched on Twitch (https://twitchtracker.com/statistics). There are millions of streamers playing hundreds of games every day, and the culture of watching video games being played online has never been bigger. It’s quite fantastic how a new market has opened up and allowed a new form of content creation, something that would have been niche at best just a decade ago.
Most of the top games that are streamed are either competitive (Fortnite, League of Legends) or involve sandboxes and roleplaying (GTA V, Minecraft). But there is also a large contingent of games being streamed that are linear narrative experiences, and that’s what I want to talk about – and I know I am going to date myself a little with this.
Actually playing any given video game, no matter how linear or limited in game design, cannot be replaced by simply viewing it on a stream. In fact, I would argue that with any video game, watching a stream is simply an ancillary experience that is not comparable to actually playing it. On the surface, that seems obvious, but there are plenty of reasons why people would rather watch a stream rather than play a game.
I recently played a game called Wide Ocean, Big Jacket. It’s a short, almost entirely linear narrative experience. I found it very charming and well written. Despite the interaction being nothing more than walking around and pressing a single button to interact and advance dialogue, I felt connected to it specifically because I was the one walking around and pressing the button to interact. The simple act of interaction gives choice, even if that choice is limited, and that’s an integral part of the game playing experience.
As such, I don’t believe that watching a stream enables one to be an informed person who can comment on the quality of a game. I remember when The Last of Us 2 first came out, there were many, many comments talking about the game before it even hit store shelves specifically because they had watched streams. Even though it seems like you can comment on the story without playing, taking away interaction removes the emotional connection you get through your controller to the game.
I understand that not every game is accessible and yet someone might still want a taste of it. I have spent far too long watching 360 degree camera videos of roller coasters at theme parks I cannot get to (especially now!). But I would never comment on the quality of any of these coasters, only on the quality of the video watching experience. Because while I can see and hear what it’s like to be on the coaster, I can’t feel it. And in the same way, watching a stream denies the viewer the most important part of what makes a game – interaction.
Thoughts? Am I just behind on the times? Perhaps it’s a grey area and it depends on the game. Do you feel like some games are better streamed or should every game be played if possible? And does watching a stream of a game give you the knowledge to be able to speak about the game as if you played it yourself?
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