Long have the Jimmy Kimmels of the world made fun of those who watch the Pewds and Markiplier play Goat Simulator. While they have questioned the motives and life choices of YouTubers, the answer has been readily available for over a decade.

Three significant parts of the brain are responsible for controlling something called the Mirror System. Made up of Mirror Neurons, the Mirror System serves to imitate actions perceived by the human brain.

When you pick up a cup from a table, the Mirror neurons and Superior Temporal Cortex (STS), the part of the brain which processes visual motion, activates. When you watch someone pick up that cup, the same parts of the brain activate.

You get the same feeling watching someone do something as when you do it yourself.

This means if I’m watching somebody play Counter Strike, my brain would be processing the same moves I would make while playing counterstrike. Your brain processes watching a game and playing a game the same. The only difference is how the motor cortex is stimulated.

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Another important part of how the brain processes YouTube videos is Empathy. Empathy, or the ability to understand another person’s emotions or thoughts. Empathy is also tied to our Mirror System.

Because of empathy, you can identify with the way a gamer plays on YouTube.

This also ties into the way gamers play bad video games intentionally. When the YouTuber plays a game, and points out its flaws, we are able to identify it just well as playing the game and discovering the problem yourself.

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Something else important to note is the Content of a video and its focus. Videos like those of Seananners or MiniLadd, Yogscast, etc are made with the focus being on the person playing the game, and his comedy.

Other channels, like Faze Clan members which focus on competitive gaming or Military simulator channels like PsiSyndicate or RhinoCrunch, will focus on the content of the game instead of the qualities of the person playing it. These rely much more on the empathy of the person watching the video, as they are process the actions of the player.

Psychopaths are defined by those who lack empathy, among other things. This is why Psychopaths are significantly less likely to enjoy YouTube videos which focus on the gameplay.

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If you want to learn more about the study of the Mirror System, you can watch Nova’s video on the subject below. Update: the video previously embedded from the PBS website was region locked. There should be no problems with region locking now.


Science Explains is a new series where I bring explain gaming phenomena to you through SCIENCE. Like the series? Got a question about video game logic? Leave a comment and tell me what you want to learn about!

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