Stream player

Do you remember the Internet in 1997? When the WWW was a collection of text, images, slightly dodgy shareware and bulletin boards? Then we had a broadband revolution, and were hit with a mass of video content on all fronts. For gamers, this gave us a new way to see a game in action, without putting down the money for a rental or borrowing it from a friend. And over the span of the past few years, video content has evolved from simple preview clips to live video streams of entire game runs. This ongoing media shift is expected from the Internet, but what might not be is the way we are reacting to it – some gamers are spending more time watching video streams than playing the games themselves!

Yes, this is seriously what GameSpot looked like in 1997

It’s not all that surprising when you think about it. Online gaming has been emulating the experience of playing with others for years now, and game streams aim to do the same; the main difference here is that the majority of participants hold spectator seating in chat rooms instead of a pad. I’m sure you’ve all spent a night hanging out with a friend, watching them play through some hyped new release or an obscure retro relic. Even though you could have a controller in hand, there’s some sort of appeal to just watching.

Part of it is almost certainly that social aspect. Entering a stream chat room you can be assured of one thing: that at a base level, just as in real life, the people present are interested in gaming. They’re going to understand what differentiates gaming platforms, why the return of Street Fighter is an important event, and what a Giant Enemy Crab is. Here, you’re free to be your geeky self, safe in the knowledge that… well, everyone else here is a bit geeky too.

You tell ’em, metal_gear_breakfast!

If community interaction is not your thing, there are other reasons to pay attention to a stream. For one, it’s an excellent way to find out if you’d be interested in a game you’re on the fence about, if you’re willing to brave spoilers. There’s always a chance that you’ll catch a game you’ve never heard of in a stream, and it’ll spark an interest in a game you wouldn’t play otherwise. Sometimes, a stream is the only place you’re going to see a game; the title might be out of print and too costly to obtain, or technical limitations (such as regional coding) mean that you can’t play the game even if you do own it.

However, streams can be beneficial to players who are already invested in a particular game. Either live or archived, they offer players the chance to experience a game from another perspective; from someone who (potentially) has a vastly different skill-set than their own. Tactics they wouldn’t dream of can be absorbed, mistakes can be observed and corrected, and a new understanding of game mechanics can be achieved.

If handled correctly, this “copycat learning” has enormous potential. We’ve already seen it in speedruns of classics like Super Metroid – wherein players improve on the performance of others in pursuit of the perfect Zebes run – but it can be applied more generally to gaming on the whole. Take GameFAQs, for instance. You pull up a text-guide for a particularly tricky block puzzle in the latest Zelda, frustrated that you can’t figure out the solution on your own. Matters are compounded when you do find an answer, but it’s shrouded in a collection of vague “turn left at tree” statements which make no sense out of context. Wouldn’t it be better if you could have a visual aid lifted directly from the game?

Why struggle through Street Fighter at the scrub level when you could be learning from Sirlin himself?

The truth is that it’s already happening. We’re seeing it in the live streams on and The Backloggery; in the achievement point tutorials on GameSpot and YouTube; and in the endurance runs on Giant Bomb. But it’s really only the start. A new type of gamer is emerging: the stream player.







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