YouTube, Let’s Plays and Cognitive Capitalism

Originally published at on January 19, 2015.

Lets Plays on YouTube

I came across LPs a few years back — I think it was in 2009 or 2010. I was either ill or hungover and was thinking about playing Deus Ex again but wasn’t sure if it’s was worth the time. I looked it up on YouTube and came across an LPer called Kikoskia who does a brilliant turn at sardonic commentary — see here. I ended up watching 100+ videos, several hours worth of clips all told. I then explored more LPs, looking up games I’d played previously or never finished playing. Since then YouTube and LP videos have basically replaced TV for me. I watch something every day, sometimes several videos, and follow a number of LPers.

Here are my favourites:

What should be obvious right away is the gender imbalance here — this might be my own fault (in terms of what I watch), but it is very noticeable that women are under-represented in the LP world. They are not missing, there are several women LPers with significant followings (e.g. RPGMinx, YOGCASTHannah) and, of course, others without. They are not, however, the dominant voice in the LP world.

Monetizing Personality: Affective Economies and Cognitive Capitalism in Action!

What is clear is that computer gaming has changed and is changing as the result of greater interaction and multiplayer formats. It is likely that games like World of Warcraft, Sims, Second Life and so on drove greater demand for interaction through social media like YouTube — for example, WoW came out in 2004 and the first lets play (LP) video was supposedly created in 2007. The growth in gaming itself, whether online, on smart devices, etc. has no doubt contributed to the emergence and growth of LPs as well. One particularly important gaming development, in my mind at least, was the (full) release of Minecraft in 2011. For those living in the desert for the last three years, Minecraft is a sandbox, survival game. You start in a world and then collect resources and build things; there is no real goal to the game or limits on what you can do within it, which makes it totally different from most other games out there. It is, moreover, rather ugly — blocky, pixelly, etc. However, the freedom it allows players has meant that people can create their own worlds — in creative mode — and then play games in them with other players online. As I mentioned in the last post, one popular Minecraft game is a version of Hunger Games.

Anyway, alongside the social aspects of LPs (and other online gaming), there is an economic aspect to them as well — especially on YouTube. What YouTube allows players to do is monetize their videos — i.e. videos of themselves playings computer games. Any YouTuber can do it, not just gamers. The basic dynamics are as follows — also see video by LPer NovaWar on whole process:

Professor at York University, Canada who's interested in Big Tech and emerging forms of digital rentiership; obsessed with thinking about assets!