Let’s Plays

Let’s Play” media style is deeply rooted in experiencing a product, particularly a video game. In its most basic form, a Let’s Play video combines screenshots or video content from a video game the creator is playing, coupled with the sharing of said content with or without text, audio, or video commentary (Hale, 2014; Klepek 2015). While the root idea of compiling and sharing media based around playing a video game is the core premise of LPs, both the term and its ubiquity within gamer culture are relatively new phenomena. In order to understand the modern LP community, one must understand where it originated from, and how both the rise of widespread internet as well as amateur content creation led to its massive jump in popularity over the past half-decade.

Replay Culture

The earliest instances of LP style content occurred in the late 90s. Computer games (referred hereafter as PC Games) like Quake and Unreal Tournament were quickly growing in popularity, particularly amongst competitive fans. These PC games, which allowed for multiple players to compete against each other in online shooting matches, included the functionality to save match footage and replay it at a future time. As competition within the First Person Shooter genre (FPS) increased, the capturing and sharing of these replays for bragging rights became an online phenomenon. Entire sites such as QuakeLive.com and UTReplays.com were dedicated to distributing and sharing these replays. The phenomenon quickly spread to other genres of games, including the Real-Time Strategy (RTS) genre game Warcraft III. Warcraft III’s replays of both amateur and professional games became so popular that the site WCReplays.com began having contests highlighting the best “plays” of the week. In order to watch the replays, you’d have to own a copy of the game in question, then save the specific file and watch it on your computer.
The only commentary was the text description on the website, which would also be coupled as an included .txt file explaining times where the watcher could find key moments and highlights of the match (Hale). As internet speeds increased and screen capture footage became more prevalent, users began to take multiple full-length replays and cut them down into specific “top plays” within the matches, and then compile this collection and upload it to replay sites in video format. Now users no longer needed to own the game in question to watch highlights of the gameplay, broadening the scope of accessibility. Replay sites began posting not the best replays of the week, but the best compilations created by users. This led to users getting more and more competitive and creative in their compilation creations. Some creators would craft their replays to tell stories, drawing the users in even further and constructing an impromptu narrative that overlaid the edited replay, mirroring what textual poachers had been doing for decades (Jenkins).
These narrative-driven replays expanded to the genre of “speedruns.” With speedruns, players attempt to beat a video game from start to finish as quickly as possible, recording their attempt and posting it online to compete with other users, sometimes with added effects, edits, or voice commentary. This idea of playing a game from start to finish and recording it on camera would eventually become the seed that grew into the modern YouTube LP.