Ahhh, Let's Plays. Not necessarily the bread and butter of #YouTube, but nobody can deny they represent some of the most popular video content going right now. A good chunk of the most subscribed-to channels are #LetsPlay channels, in which content creators show off anything to audiences, from AAA to indie titles, and offer insightful, often hilarious commentary. Out of all the genres of games that Let's Players give their audiences, horror seems to be the most popular of all.
Don't believe me? Well, if you check out the list of videos from Markiplier, Jacksepticeye, LordMinion777, Cryaotic and Game Grumps, at least one horror game is in the top five most viewed. Not to mention all the other horror reaction compilations populating YouTube, amassing hundreds of thousands of views.
Check out the clip below of one YouTuber's reaction while playing horror survival game Amnesia: The Dark Descent, courtesy of FibbleFy.
So what is society's fascination with watching people play terrifying games? From what I've observed, there are a couple of reasons why we enjoy this so much.
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We're All A Little Sadistic
Have you ever heard of the German word "schadenfreude"? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it means:
Enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.
Schadenfreude is the reason why we laugh when we see a video of somebody taking a football to the groin, or why some of us secretly love hearing the latest dirt on Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump. Humans naturally derive happiness from other people's misfortunes, because they make us feel better about the bad things that happen to us. Messed up, isn't it?
This, I believe, carries over to horror Let's Plays. Yes, we all love our favorite gamers and we like to see them happy, but there's something that's just kind of hilarious about watching them flinch and cry out whenever a #jumpscare pops up on screen. It makes us feel a little better about the fact that the game scared us, too, because we think, "Well, at least I didn't scream like that." Whether we want to admit it or not, the reason it's so entertaining to watch a grown adult squeal and cry when they're killed by a virtual monster is because their embarrassment validates our own. Isn't psychology fun?
Seeing YouTuber Freak Out Shifts Focus To Them
Usually, if you're looking up a Call of Duty or an #Overwatch playthrough, it's because you're interested in the game and want to learn new secrets or strategies. If you look up an Outlast or a P.T. playthrough, it's usually because you want to see a YouTuber (sometimes a particular YouTuber) wet their pants. And that's not wrong — in fact, it's part of what's kept the horror Let's Play so popular, even now.
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This focus on the YouTuber over the game is beneficial to both parties. The viewer gets to be entertained by their favorite Let's Player screaming and crying, and the Let's Player gets the benefit of watching their view count skyrocket — all for the affordable price of looking like a wuss for 15 minutes. The deal is struck, the interest is there, and a bit of camaraderie is created between the YouTuber and the viewer, with both parties having to suffer through a harrowing experience until the video ends. Bringing the community a little bit closer together by focusing on the YouTuber's extreme reactions entices devoted subscribers' excitement and keeps those horror Let's Plays alive and kicking.
We're Too Scared To Play The Games Alone
At least, some of us are. I know there are plenty of you out there who could probably play any horror game on planet Earth without batting an eyelash. Good for you. But us mere mortals sometimes get too spooked while playing #Outlast or #EvilDead, and we need a companion to accompany us during the experience. If, like me, you have no friends, Let's Players are a pretty close second, and thus you end up watching their videos.
Which, like the previous point, is a way of bringing the community together. Most people that prefer watching Let's Plays to playing the video games enjoy the YouTubers' jokey commentary and fun style. #Horror games can inspire this desire for companionship even more strongly, since misery loves company and no one wants to endure a jump scare alone.
At the very least, when you're watching a Let's Play of a horror game, you can make the screen smaller or fast-forward through the video to find out where the jump scares will be and brace yourself for the worst of them.
Let's Plays also offer a great way to enjoy games that you can't afford or are unsure of whether or not you want to play. They also offer an in to the gamer community for likeminded people who share your passions and interests. And among this laughter and community-building, horror Let's Plays are arguably the most popular genre, simply due to curiosity and a desire to see someone poop their pants over a video game. And there's no harm in that. Entertainment is entertainment, and it's especially good when it's free to watch.
What's your favorite game genre for watching a Let's Play?
[Image: Jacksepticeye thumbnail of an Oculus Rift horror game]