Let's Plays have been around for a lot longer than I can properly remember. If you're willing to bend the definition a bit, this type of video has been around since the dawn of screen capturing software. Videos like walkthroughs, world records, and speedruns were heavily popular back when I was a youngster who sucked at video games and needed to watch somebody else play them to understand what I was supposed to do. Around five or six years ago, I noticed people started recording themselves playing video games, and because I was twelve years old at the time, I didn't really think anything of it. "Wow, that looks like fun!" I would think to myself, and I'm sure I was right. Back in 2010 I don't remember this type of video being as amusingly oversaturated as it currently is, and I'm sure it was a fun thing for gamers to show the world how their specific gaming experiences could compare with the rest of the world's. While I do know that YouTubers were already monetizing heavily at this time, I don't think the beginning of the decade was a point where the term "YouTuber" was given the status of "occupation." Now that YouTubers can make some serious coin out of sitting in front of a screen reacting to a video game, of course there are going to be a lot of people that try to get rich off of YouTube. People have always tried to milk the maximum dollar out of the minimum amount of work, and while we sit in the age of YouTube monetization, there will always be cynical people who cash in on casual watchers who just want to pass the time and watch a mindless YouTube video.
Let me start off by saying that I don't think my jaded nature reaches the full depths of this concept. While, for the most part, I despise Let's Plays and all the culture that follows it, I can't say this genre isn't without its exceptions. The first Let's Player I ever watched, penguinz0, is probably the optimal situation. While his humour catered to 2011-me better than it does to 2016-me, I have a lot of respect for him. His voice is always monotone and heavily understated, and it isn't always very dynamic. He focuses on making jokes, rather than loud noises, to elicit laughter from his audience. While his jokes are sometimes strained and hackneyed, I can't say his channel isn't without merit by any means. While most YouTubers play horror games like Five Nights at Freddy's as very transparent "reaction bait," penguinz0 has made it a point to never react to any jump scares. While he does have a video of him playing Five Nights (which I have to admit is view bait) he doesn't scream and he doesn't raise his voice, and I find that so respectable. He has so much restraint with his material and he tries to stray away from the PewDiePie complex of making a monumental deal out of anything surprising that happens in front of him. I know humour is a subjective concept, and a lot of the jokes penguinz0 makes don't land for me since I'm 18 now, but he still tries his hardest and focuses on the most important part of a Let's Play: He has fun. He loves what he does, and he loves it so much he doesn't even make a profit out of it. Until some point in the middle of 2015, 100% of the profits he made went straight to charity, and to this date he still doesn't make any advertising revenue and relies solely on his Patreon page. While his humour is incredibly juvenile and his channel is more of a nostalgia-fest for me, I respect penguinz0 as a person so much for keeping this activity a hobby when he could easily make it a job and make a lot of money off of his viewers. No matter the content, I feel someone who is that passionate about providing entertainment for other people deserves recognition.
Alright, fun time is over, and now it's time for me to complain. As I stated above, many Let's Players focus on games that will easily extract bombastic and exaggerated reactions from its player in order to more lazily entertain the core audience. Let's Plays tend to suffer from the Family Feud complex. Have you noticed that almost every question asked in a game of Family Feud is asked in a way that will provoke a raunchy answer so Steve Harvey can do his silly little Bill Cosby impression? It's a ploy to boost ratings, and the "scream and shout" complex that Let's Plays often suffer from are no exception. If the content is shocking and unexpected enough, it tends to attract a lot of attention. While "attention" doesn't necessarily mean "profit" for a lot of mediums of entertainment, attention = profit on YouTube. If you watch a YouTube video and an ad is displayed for you, a few people have successfully made a few cents out of you. That doesn't seem like much, but when some Let's Players get 10 billion views, those few cents tend to add up. In this way, Let's Plays almost turn into a performance. You have to know that just about none of the reactions are genuine and are amplified to a point to seem "humourous" and therefore extract the delusion out of the viewer that what they have just seen is meaningful, and has validated them in the respect that it entertained them for a few minutes. If they carry this validation for more than one video, that will turn into another video, and another, until the viewer binge watches the channel and makes a pretty penny for the content provider.
Again, I am not saying that YouTube should abolish ad revenue. Without that ad revenue, YouTube would go under pretty quickly. I am more saying that I am disappointed that Let's Playing has turned into an occupation, rather than a hobby. I value entertainment, and while entertainment generally has the condition that it will provide profit to someone at my expense, I don't really mind. If the provider has put enough care and deliberation into their project to warrant my hard-earned money, I say go ahead and pick pocket me. With unscripted Let's Plays, however, the production budget tends to be in the neighborhood of $0 and the profits are maximized to a point to where it becomes objectively ludicrous. It becomes an incredibly cynical endeavor that simplifies itself into repeating past glories in order to obtain more views without any effort or creativity sewn in at all. I definitely feel more inclined to support someone who genuinely loves what they do for the entertainment it provides to their fans, rather than for the paycheck Google sends them. With penguinz0, I do not exit out of advertisements or end them early. I turn AdBlock off specifically for his channel. I have even donated to the guy. If I were to subject myself to a PewDiePie video, however, AdBlock would be running in full force so that he makes the minimum profit out of me. On an impartial viewpoint, all I have done is prevent PewDiePie from making about three cents. For me, it's simply a matter of principle, and while it doesn't make any difference in the end, I value entertainment for the passion of the person who is making it. If there's no passion behind it for the consumers, I can't, in good faith, give anything back to the provider.
Alright, so I have established that actively lazy Let's Players are the bane of my existence. What about a YouTuber like KYR SP33DY, who passively plays games with his friends and never really acknowledges the fact that he has an audience watching him. His videos have some editing thrown in to make the experience more dynamic, and clearly some level of effort is offered to the table. I still find this type of endeavor cynical, probably more so than PewDiePie. While Pewds plays a game by himself for an hour and stitches it into a highlight reel, KYR SP33DY does the same thing but with his friends. KYR SP33DY's channel could be so easily emulated. If I invited a bunch of my friends to a game of Grand Theft Auto V and told them I was recording, everybody would try way too hard to be funny and noticeable, myself included, and I could upload it to YouTube and call it comedy. No love is provided into the end product, and most of the jokes are redundant ones that are written off as "inside jokes." I watched KYR SP33DY for a solid three years before I realised how awful his content is, and it is so obviously pandering to a younger audience. While I don't have anything inherently against content for younger people, I know SP33DY is using it as a tool to produce videos of a lower comedic quality than his competitors. While penguinz0 also produces juvenile jokes, there seems to be some sort of ironic tone he takes that makes it accessible to older audiences, too. SP33DY's channel is simply him and his friends screaming at intentionally insane things that happen while they play together. Looking back, his content never really has been fresh; past his first few concepts, he just capitalizes off of past glories. To really etch the point in, all of his friends upload the same content to their channels (to varying degrees) and they all make very hefty profits, the only real difference being the point of view.
I can't stress enough that this type of content is nothing short of creative bankruptcy, and it's incredibly disgusting to witness so many people participating in it. "But," defenders excitedly claim, "it's all for fun!" Sure, it might be fun for you. Again, humour is incredibly subjective, what I find funny may not be what you find funny, and that's fine. I am right from my point of view, and you are right from your point of view. I simply cannot find the exploitation of the boredom of early-teenagers to be funny, however. Whether or not you find the content of people like PewDiePie or KYE SP33DY to be funny, you have to admit that their channels are transparent examples of capitalizing off of YouTube's monetization system. If you tell me that these channels are creative goldmines, I will shamelessly laugh at you. Improvisation can be incredibly funny, but when entire "creative pieces" like these videos are unscripted and given the minimal amount of effort, I have no choice but to believe that these videos were not created in fun. I am all for people making money off of their passions; it's how I intend to create a living when I'm older. I can't see how "playing video games with my friends" is anything near a passion, however. It really does feel like someone scheming in their house of ways to make money without putting any effort or passion into anything, and people like KYR SP33DY just get lucky and hit it big.
Alright, I've complained a lot about unscripted Let's Plays, but what about the more organized and collected channels, like JonTron? Well, to be honest, I am a huge fan of his work. Much like penguinz0, I can tell there's a lot of passion and creativity that flows into his videos, and he does a lot of the behind-the-scenes work all by himself. While he does indeed make a living out of YouTube, I don't really mind, because I can tell he puts so much effort into all of his videos. He and his friends write skits, employ cutaways, and provide very well-scripted voiceovers that are genuinely funny to watch and listen to. JonTron doesn't depend on the events of the game happening in front of him to extract enjoyment from his viewers; his humour is provocative and unique enough to warrant uproarious laughter from a lot of his content. I sincerely do believe he spends long nights writing, editing, and coming up with new ideas to freshen up his channel. None of his work feels redundant, even when he covers material that's similar to subject matter he's already discussed or played. He was my second YouTuber, and I have never grown bored of him or have felt like I have grown out of his material. He is very passionate about he gaming world and what it has to offer. His channel surely makes him a lot of money, but I feel that he has earned it because of his dedication to his audience. Even when he makes a transparently sponsored video I don't care, because he creates genuinely funny material out of what's provided for him and he doesn't go through the motions simply because he's already secured money before creating the video. JonTron is probably the best example of scripted and professional Let's Playing that there is, and I commend him for his dedication to his craft.
Let's Plays are, for the most part, gratuitous examples of YouTubers trying way too hard to earn easy money, and it can easily be the death of creativity. While there are a few notable examples, Let's Plays can easily contain half-baked material that requires no prior brainstorming and can all be done on command. It is video content at its laziest, and I wish there were more YouTubers like penguinz0 and JonTron to show the rest of the players how it should be done.