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Why I don't understand YouTube: A middle-aged woman writes

Will video game videos kill the video game star? What?

I learned an astounding fact the other day. No, not the thing about how the literal translation of James Van Der Beek is "James Of The Creek." Although I did have to have a sit down for a couple of days after that. [1] [2]

This fact was to do with videos of people playing games on YouTube, which are of course hugely popular - some of them, inexplicably, even more widely viewed than that clip of an Olympic sprinter racing a giraffe. [3] In fact, 48 per cent of YouTube gamers spend more time watching videos than playing games. [4] (Although, since that survey was conducted, many of the other 52 per cent have said they didn't really understand the full implications of their response, and in light of revelations about the potential economic fallout and the shambolic nature of the negotiation process, they would answer differently if asked again tomorrow.)

But what really made my jaw hit the floor, almost to the point where I could be mistaken for James Van Der Beek, was learning that 40 per cent of people who watch games on YouTube have never played a video game. [5]

Thanks to this guy, a generation of teenage girls grew up to believe men only really love you if they cry till their eyes look like currants pushed in dough.

Initially, this seemed ludicrous to me. Why on earth would anyone watch other people doing something they have never done themselves? But then I remembered about teenagers and pornography.

Similarly, I doubt most of the people who watch Formula One do the school run in a Ferrari. My Grandma loved snooker, but I don't believe she ever picked up a cue in her life. (She lived to be 100, and drank a shot of whisky every day, just for the record.) I watch The Great British Bake-Off, but I couldn't knock you up so much as a scone. I once tried to stuff a vol-au-vent; it looked like a botched episiotomy. [6]

So it's enjoyable to watch other people do things we can't access ourselves, or that we can't do to the same standard. But it still seems a shame that the percentage of non-gaming YouTube viewers is so high, when video games are so much easier to get hold of than sports cars, or buxom women dressed as saucy police officers. [7]

And I can't help feeling that the younger generation (I am 40, this is how I talk now) is in danger of missing out on so much if all they do is watch. As I explained during an appearance in a recent BBC documentary (for which I was paid less than half the licence fee, and therefore feel OK about recycling the anecdote here), my first experience of the original Tomb Raider was seeing a friend play. I watched him spend hours trudging round what looked like an abandoned multistorey car park, drowning now and again, swearing often, and shooting things very occasionally. I didn't get it at all.

But then I got to have a go, and it all made sense - the freedom of exploration, the grace and power of Lara's move set, the exhilaration of never knowing what lay around the next corner, the rampant joy of shooting a bat in the face. I was hooked.

More than 20 years later, Tomb Raider remains my favourite video game series of all time. I'm not sure this would be the case if the extent of my experience had remained limited to just watching - whether while sitting in someone's lounge, or viewing a YouTube video by an excitable racist Scandinavian.

But I am 40. Perhaps I just don't understand YouTube, and perhaps I am not meant to, in the same way my Dad will never understand contactless payment, or David Guetta, or "USD Memory Sticks". [8]

Maybe the new generation is onto something. If you just watch edited highlights of games, you get to experience the best bits - the excitement of getting to know the world, the big set pieces, the triumphs. You skip the grind, and the bit that usually happens around three-quarters of the way in, when you realise it's all pointless and you just want it to be over. Decades from now, perhaps things will have evolved even further, and we'll all be firing up YouTube to watch videos of people watching videos on YouTube.

I hope not, though. I want my sons to experience the joy of video games firsthand - to know the satisfaction of snatching a last minute victory thanks to judicious use of a red shell, or the heart-pumping thrill of being chased by a T-rex down a dark valley. I want them to follow their own paths, and to be the heroes in their own stories. Also, to drink a shot of whisky every day.

Ellie Gibson is currently appearing in Dara O Briain's Go 8 Bit, Mondays at 10pm on Dave. [9]


[1] Source: Alasdair Beckett-King - stand-up comedian, creator of point-and-click adventure Nelly Cootalot, #TeamPacey.

[2] In attempting to verify this fact I kicked off a debate on Twitter about the difference between a creek and a stream, which descended into chaos when someone started talking about brooks.

[3] Source: the classic and morally questionable television show Man Vs. Beast. Look out also for monkey tug of war and the episode which answers the age old question: out of a man and a bear, who can eat the most sausages?

[4] Source: Thinkwithgoogle.com.

[5] Source: A top level video game executive who knows a top level guy at YouTube told me this at an industry party. Neither of us were that drunk because the wine was dreadful so it's probably true.

[6] Actually I don't watch Bake-Off any more - I prefer the superior Netflix series Nailed It!, where cack-handed amateur bakers produce more cock-ups than cake pops and are openly laughed at by the judges. Sample contestant dialogue: "I'm a single mom of two living in Burbank, California. When I'm stressed or I've had a really hard day at work, I love to go home and open a bottle of wine, break out all the baking stuff, and just bake and drink."

[7] I have not seen any pornography made after 1985.

[8] It's always worth making time to enjoy that video of David Guetta worrying about whether he left the iron on.

[9] It is amazing how adding footnotes can help one reach the word count one is contractually obliged to hit in order to receive payment for the work, it really, honestly is, indeed.

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About the Author
Ellie Gibson avatar

Ellie Gibson


Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.

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