Let’s Play videos — videos that feature gamers commenting on and reacting to video games as they play them — have become a pretty big thing over the past few years, with certain “YouTubers” even being able to earn a living through the advertising revenue their videos can generate. If I may, I’d like to take a quick look at this popular form of YouTube media — how it works as well as it does, and how easy it is for anybody to jump on board with it.

The Human Connection

In a so-sweet-it’s-almost-too-much fan video made to celebrate 8 million subscribers to Markiplier’s YouTube channel, the person who made the video points out the value of something he calls the “human aspect,” and I understand what he’s talking about. After watching enough videos from one YouTuber or another, it’s hard for me to not feel some kind of a connection with them even though I don’t know them and they don’t know me. I think we’re just wired to be social creatures, and watching videos of somebody playing a video game works in generally the same way as watching somebody play a video game in person. I identify with what the person is feeling, and I enjoy watching and listening to their reactions to a game — especially if it’s a game I’ve played or a game I know quite a bit about.

Whether I’m enjoying Matt and Lissy’s conversational commentary on The Bowlingotter Show or being somewhat taken aback by the ferocity of iJustine’s gamer rage, I feel a connection with these people.

Something For Everybody

Want to watch a married couple play the visually impressive and darkly atmospheric horror game Kholat? Here you go. Perhaps you’d rather watch a woman kicking all kinds of backside in Call of Duty while trying very hard not to swear. In that case, look up iJustineGaming. If you’re in more of a whimsical mood, maybe you’d like to watch a man act like a goofball while playing Goat Simulator — a video game about a goat that causes ridiculous amounts of mayhem. For this, TobyGames has you covered.

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No matter what your gaming interests may be, YouTube probably has at least a few Let’s Play videos that cover them.

Anybody Can Do It

One of the great things about Let’s Play videos is that with the right equipment, anybody can make them. But your equipment doesn’t have to be of the expensive professional variety, and you don’t need a fancy studio (your living room will do just fine). The only things you really need are a decently powerful computer that was manufactured at some point in the last few years, a game footage capture card, the game console of your choice (and not even that if you prefer to play games on your computer), and a webcam and/or a microphone with a pop filter.

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If you already have the aforementioned decently powerful computer (preferably something with a 2 GHz Intel Core i5 processor or equivalent), then all you might need in order to get started are the following items. (These are my personal recommendations based on what I’ve researched, but feel free to choose something else you might find more appropriate for your personal style.)

Elgato Game Capture HD60 (You can go with the cheaper Elgato Game Capture HD if you want to record PS3 gameplay — which the HD60 apparently doesn’t do — or if your computer isn’t powerful enough to record gameplay in 1080p/60 fps.)

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Logitech C920 webcam

Blue Snowball microphone and Dragonpad pop filter (If you only plan on doing voice-overs for your videos, you can skip the webcam purchase and just go with these.)

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Take It Down

It’s difficult to talk about Let’s Play videos without talking about the looming threat of takedown notices for alleged copyright infringement. This is an issue that baffles me a little bit, because when we talk about playing video games, we’re talking about interactive experiences that are unique to each player. Movies are static, non-interactive things, and that’s why people can’t do Let’s Watch videos — They’d be creating a copy of a movie for hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people to watch for free.

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But Let’s Play videos are very different. A YouTuber does not upload a fully functional online version of a video game for millions of people to play for free. They upload a video of their unique experiences with a game. And in fact, their videos can work as free advertising for the games they’re playing. I suppose an argument could be made that non-interactive cutscenes are like tiny movies within a game and should therefore not be shown in Let’s Play videos without permission; but even if such a thing were deemed to be the case, those could be pretty easily edited out of a video with no great loss to the overall production. But how do you claim copyright infringement against somebody’s gameplay?

To further delve into this issue, I’d like to tell you about another kind of Let’s Play video: board games. Yes, board games. I’ve seen a YouTube video featuring a group of people sitting around a table playing a board game. I don’t know if that video was monetized; but if it was monetized, should the company that made that board game be allowed to have that video taken down for copyright infringement? Well, of course not, right? But wait a minute. It would still be a case of people profiting off a video that features a company’s intellectual property. If Let’s Play videos featuring video games can be taken down for that reason, then why couldn’t Let’s Play videos featuring board games be taken down as well? And if board game Let’s Play videos shouldn’t be taken down for that reason, then neither should video game Let’s Play videos.

I should note that many game developers are Let’s Play-friendly. In fact, it might even be that most are.

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Let’s Play Is Here To Stay

No matter what ultimately happens with the copyright issue, I think Let’s Play videos are going to be around for the long haul. It’s a form of reality entertainment for gamers, and it’s something that I and many, many others really enjoy.

Do you like watching Let’s Play videos? If you do, what are your favorite Let’s Play channels and videos?

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch an episode of The Bowlingotter Show. Lissy uses a Cookie Monster doll to protect herself from video game horrors in this one.