Why Your Kid Watches Videos of People Playing Video Games

Parents don't always get this phenomenon. Here's what you need to know.

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Carl Frisell
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Many parents are making a perplexing observation: Their children seem to prefer watching videos about their favorite video games — Minecraft, for example — rather than actually play those games. Kids are spending an increasing amount of time watching “Let’s Play” videos, narrated videos of other people’s gameplay that are peppered with humor and personal observation.

Let’s Play videos are among the most popular videos watched on YouTube, and many adults are understandably confused as to why kids would want to watch somebody else play a video game rather than play it themselves.

Why do kids love these videos?

Kids enjoy watching Let’s Play videos for a good number of reasons:

  • 1. Skills boost. Many kids just want to get better at a game and learn new strategies from an “expert.” They might use a video as a walkthrough that helps them get past a difficult section of the game. Kids expend a great deal of cognitive energy thinking about their gameplay and want to learn how to do things themselves — just as they might watch videos of people dancing, skateboarding or doing bike tricks so they can learn how to do those same moves and stunts. Developing an expertise and improving a set of skills is common and constitutes a desire for personal growth.
  • 2. Social connection. There is also a social component to Let’s Play videos. Kids share these videos with their peers and often watch and discuss them when they are together. Some kids watch these videos because they can’t afford to buy the game or because it is rated M and their parents won’t let them play it; they can watch others doing so on YouTube and therefore stay in the loop with their peers
  • 3. Entertainment. The most common reason kids watch Let’s Play videos is because they are entertaining. The entertainment value is not simply in the game itself but in the person who has made the video. Kids may be attracted to the charisma of a particular YouTuber and feel as if that person has become their friend. They get to know his or her personality and look forward to the interesting things that YouTuber is doing in their videos.

The entertainment value is not simply in the game itself but in the person who has made the video.

What should parents know about these videos?

Here are a few suggestions if your kid likes watching Let’s Play videos:

  • 1. Watch out for inappropriate content. YouTubers who produce these videos may use salty language or touch on topics that are inappropriate for a younger child. With the Toca TV streaming video service, all videos are prescreened to ensure they meet content standards and are appropriate for kids ages 5 to 9.
  • 2. Support kids in transforming watching videos into other activities. This means not simply playing the video games featured in the videos but also engaging in activities that go beyond the games, such as playing a sport, engaging in construction projects or learning programming and modding skills. Kids might even want to make a Let’s Play video of their own.
  • 3. Talk with kids about what they’re watching. Encourage kids to think about what they’re watching and to talk to you about how they might apply what they’ve learned in their gameplay and other activities. Helping kids recognize the types of thinking skills they are using in a game and how those skills are applied in daily life will help them get the most out of their video game time.

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Randy Kulman, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder and CEO of LearningWorks for Kids.

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