In early 2011, I was playing Super Mario Galaxy for the Nintendo Wii, and I was really struggling to beat a particular level. In order to solve the issue, I did what any other kid my age would do: I googled it.

Without warning, I found myself launched into the world of Let’s Plays: videos, often commentated, of other people playing video games. Such videos can take the form of reaction-based comedy (for instance, watching someone get scared while playing a horror game), genuine guides or walkthroughs (for instance, the Super Mario Galaxy content I was searching for), or an often funny “come along with me for the journey” type of video. Hence, “Let’s Play.” There are Let’s Players on YouTube who have unimaginable audiences, with millions viewing each video upon its upload, and there are plenty of decent Let’s Players with a loyal audience in the tens or hundreds.

A common question is why would someone choose to watch someone play rather than just play the game themselves. To this, I have a few responses. First, Let’s Plays can help a gamer beat a challenging part of a game. Also, they can allow someone to experience a game they otherwise would be unable to, either due to not being able to afford the game or physically being unable to play. Lastly, Let’s Plays are genuinely enjoyable. They are funny, entertaining, and feel far more personal than watching a movie or show. The video’s creator shares something with the viewer: a genuine love for video games. Interactions between viewers and content creators are frequent and often necessary to the success of a channel.

Let’s Plays have been growing in popularity since my first encounter in 2011. As of May, 2018, Let’s Player PewDiePie has the most subscribers on all of YouTube: 62,000,000. Ninja, a streamer on the live game streaming website Twitch, has almost 7,000,000 followers and over 250,000 paying subscribers. The expanding Let’s Play communities on YouTube and the entire website Twitch have helped bring gaming even more into the mainstream.

Since 2012, I have been watching a collaborative gaming channel called TheRunawayGuys. The channel is comprised of three primary people, Chuggaaconroy, NintendoCapriSun, and ProtonJon, each of whom run their own personal gaming channel on YouTube, with the latter individual focusing more on Twitch streaming as of late. TheRunawayGuys, featuring many recurring guests, serves as the basis for an expansive community of Let’s Players and viewers with a focus on Nintendo, older games, game completion, and game trivia.

Last weekend, I was reminded of how much good Let’s Plays can produce. The entire TheRunawayGuys community came together for a three day charity livestream, in which they raised over $100,000 for the charity Direct Relief. Practically every donation message was read aloud by the incredible Lucahjin while the other streamers played some sort of competitive, interesting, or downright ridiculous game. The messages were so incredibly positive, thanking the streamers for what they were doing, for the happiness they have provided through so many rough times.

I was constantly reminded of how much this group of people has affected my life. I know this may sound dramatic, but the informative and hilarious content they have created helped me smile through some tough times. The promise of new content gave me one more little thing to look forward to after a tough middle or high school day. The interactivity of the Let’s Players and the viewers, and the viewers with the viewers, made me feel as if I was a part of something: a group that could shamelessly gush about games, laugh about inside jokes, produce fan-art and sound clips, and just simply smile, together.

Let’s Plays are a unique form of media, and they have such a great capacity for good. Are there any Let’s Players (YouTubers, Twitch streamers, or others) that you watched as a kid, teen, or at the present? What types of Let’s Plays do you prefer to watch?