On most nights when Vernie “BlueRukus” Valentos plays his PlayStation in his West Melbourne home, he’s joined by a few dozen online spectators who have gathered to chat and watch him play.
They come from all over the world, teens and middle-aged, and have been for years. For the 28-year-old, they appear as names and voices in a chat box on Twitch, the platform that broadcasts his games to the world.
One man, Justinus, is 23 years old and works in an office in Lithuania and has never been to Australia. He’s been a regular at Vernie for five years.
“I don’t know why he’s back. He’s great. He’s one of the greatest people in the community,” Verney said.
Why does Justinus Verney watch FIFA play as part of a deeper mystery: Why do people enjoy watching others play video games?
This is a question that has major implications. Game Video Content (GVC) is booming, with millions of people streaming their games to enthusiastic global audiences, mostly young people.
In 2021, more than 1.3 trillion minutes (yes, that’s an astounding 25,000 centuries) of GVCs were watched on Twitch, the most popular platform.
In Australia, video games are more popular than free TV, thanks in large part to the streaming boom during the pandemic.
Even if you weren’t involved, you might have noticed this phenomenon: Your kids gather around screens, watching intently, rather than playing, Fortnite or Grand Theft Auto.
Gambling is the second most popular home entertainment
Jeff Brand of Bond University has been tracking the popularity of video games for two decades.
The latest survey, conducted in 2020 and 2021, showed that 17 million Australians play video games on average less than an hour and a half a day, and most play in groups rather than alone.
Gaming was the second most popular form of entertainment in Australian homes in 2020 and 2021, after TV and movie broadcasts.
Professor Brand said about half of adult gamers watch live broadcasts or recordings of others playing video games, up from about 20% in 2012.
Reasons given for watching others play games include:
- Learn to become better players by themselves
- See greatness and talent
- Feel like a part of the community
Simply put, the same reasons many would give to watch Lionel Messi play soccer, or Buddy Franklin AFL.
“They are looking for original players or players – people who are really good at something, who have been integrated into the culture from an early age and who, as adults, have reached a very high level.”
“They are looking for the real player.”
“Either you have them for life or they are gone forever.”
But watching the greatness explains only part of the allure of watching others play games: for every professional player with a large viewership, there are thousands of young “community broadcast players”.
For Vernie, who works full time at a nursing agency, broadcasting is not about winning contests or getting the most audience, but about interacting with a core group of about 100 loyal fans.
“Generally, people watch streamers because they like the person they are watching or because they want to improve the game,” he said.
When a new model joins his broadcast, Vernie has only a moment to grab his attention and make him feel right at home.
“Either you have them for life,” he said, “or they are gone forever.”
Tyler Smith, 19, is a Gold Coast bartender who broadcasts FIFA up to 25 hours a week and wants to become a star on Twitch.
Most nights, less than 10 people watch his broadcast.
Recently, one of his viewers, whom he had never met offline, spoke to him privately about the breakup.
“They don’t know me,” he said, “but they feel comfortable enough to share that information.”
“It can be daunting, but I’m always here to support the viewers.”
“If someone is feeling lonely… they can always chat with broadcasters”
Stories like this show that the rise of broadcasting isn’t just about dollar numbers, brand endorsements, and popular players — it’s also about new ways and places people can connect.
American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg introduced the concept of “third place” in the 1980s to explain the importance we place on places such as churches, cafes, clubs, and bars.
The “first place” is the home that has obligations, and the “second place” is the workplace that has strict rules.
“The third place is where we go for teamwork – where we can be a part of something with friends and where people understand our “Our uniqueness is strange,” Professor Brand said.
It was no surprise, he said, that soccer, the unifying “game of the world,” is a popular way to gather on the Internet.
FIFA is often among the top 10 most-watched games on Twitch.
In Lithuania, due to the time difference with Australia, Vernie often goes to bed late and broadcasts when Justinus gets home from work.
“I love watching the streams while I play by myself,” Justinus said.
“I wouldn’t say it’s lonely, but it’s kind of a distraction – some listen to podcasts, and live is kind of like that.
“You can hear someone talking, while you can interact with yourself.
“If someone feels lonely while playing something, they can always chat with the broadcasters who will respond.”
Make games more “exciting”
But the parallels between watching video games and watching football, or stooping to go to the pub, don’t go far: The big difference is that video games exploit better ways to get our attention as technology and our understanding of the brain is evolving.
Kirsten Oberprieler is a Canberra-based expert on gaming, or applying game mechanics and design to engage users.
“With the advent of technology, there are more and more opportunities to create what we call exciting experiences,” she said.
A 2017 study in Finland looked at why people choose to watch others play video games and identify the motivations listed above, such as improving gameplay and interacting with other like-minded people.
But by far the most powerful motivator turns out to be releasing tension.
Dr. Oberbrieler said the games are designed to provide a platform for escape and distraction from everyday life.
“The danger is that the game world or the virtual world is in some ways more attractive than the real world,” she said.
Dr. Oberbrieler envisions a future where technologies such as virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), the emergence of vast online metaverses, and the manipulation of everyday experiences (such as working and learning) blur the line between the game world and the “real world”. “.
“As designers, we are smarter at creating engaging experiences,” she said.
“The game world is designed to reward me with every move, while the real world is a bit more challenging.”
Given that, it’s no wonder the big tech companies are scrambling for best-selling video game franchises — and the companies that made them.
In January, Microsoft announced that it would buy Call of Duty owner Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion ($96 billion).
Publisher Take-Two has acquired leading social gaming company Zynga (maker of games like FarmVille and Words With Friends) for $18 billion.
It bought Sony Bungie – the creator of Halo – for $5 billion.
Older people might think this is a little silly.
The baffling reaction of parents seeing their children research games instead of Take they can go down for lack of awareness from How many games have changed since their glory days, when titles like Red Alert and Mario Kart ruled computers and consoles.
Professor Brand said that for the early decades of games, the main thing was that they were something you could play, not just watch.
“It has gone from passively watching TV to getting involved and playing video games,” he said.
The goal now is to be able to watch it, not just play.
“Older people might think this is a bit silly. They might think games are interactive in nature.
“The goal is to play with it. Why would you come back?