How a small algorithm change created the let's player plague
Submitted by Duion on
If you regularly watch youtube or other video platforms or streaming websites you may have noticed that by far one of the most popular trends is the let's plays, where people record themselves playing video games and give their stupid commentary into it, well this was not always the case, it was very likely created by just a small change in the youtube algorithm and therefore not organic.
Most people think they are intelligent, have a free will and similar other illusions, but this example probably proves the opposite. The truth is, that most peoples behavior is decided by machines and programs that people write and humans just do what the machine or the programs tell them to do and one of those examples is the gaming streamer epidemic.
In the past there was a time where people making videos of themselves playing video games was not common or even nonexistent and then suddenly it was one of the most created content type, so what happened that caused this change? The trend probably originated mostly on youtube, you have to understand that in the past it was all about view count, so you needed to make a high production value video to get a lot of views to become popular, so it did not matter how many videos you made or how long they were or if people watched them, it was just about clicks. This resulted in mostly relatively short higher production value videos, so a content creator would spend days or weeks making a video and then uploading it hoping to get a lot of views. I don't really know, if the social media landscape was good that way or not, since the content tended to be clickbait, since only viewcount mattered, however what is more fascinating is what followed.
So one day probably a software engineer thought: "Well you cannot just go by viewcount to determine what is popular or not, so I will invent some 'intelligent' algorithm to better determine which content is liked by the viewer and which not" and this algorithm would factor in the viewtime that viewers spend on videos and maybe also the number and lengths of videos created by the content creator. This solved one problem, but created a bigger one at the same time, because it greatly favored those people that uploaded longer low production value content that people viewed a lot of and this applied mostly to people streaming games. Making a video requires resources, acting, post production and so on and it would maybe take a week to produce a 5 minute video, but someone who just makes a video of himself playing a video game has basically no production video, needs no resources, no acting, no post production, he can just hit record and when he is done upload it, so he can put out hours of content every day if he wants to and people will watch it, because they want to know how it turns out.
Let's players probably existed before that algorithm change to some degree, but after the algorithm favored them, they blew up in proportion, so they would get all the fame and the money. In my last blog post I wrote how you need to prostitute yourself to make money on the internet and this is one of the cases where you were forced to do so in order to stay relevant. So many of the other content creators jumped onto the hype and also started to create let's play videos, because they also wanted views, popularity and money. So they did not start to create such content organically, it was just because the algorithm favored them, so it was basically the computer telling people what content to produce, because the almighty algorithm told them so.
Initially let's players were kind of a niche, but suddenly it was one of the most common and normal things to do on the internet. Seen objectively filming yourself playing video games is probably more a lame boring thing, but since the algorithm decided that it is great and popular, people changed their mind and everyone jumped on the bandwagon of idiocy.
Of course one could argue now that it was not the algorithms fault of the let's players flooding social media, but it was sure a great accelerator at least. It gave all those people with no talent and skill a method to easily create lots of content anyway and the algorithm would even reward it. I mean if the algorithm was designed to detect that someone is just filming a video game and categorize it as low quality content, then less people would do it, but as the algorithm just checks viewtime no matter what the content of the video is people keep doing it.
It is a similar phenomenon where an idiotic behavior is suddenly normalized, like in my previous post with the prostitution model to make money on the internet, which of course often goes hand in hand with the let's players, since playing video games is one of the most common ways of content people try to make money with. I'm a gamer myself and I can understand people wanting to play games or even wanting to watch others play games, but when it comes to making people just playing video games into celebrities and even paying them to do so I think some line has been crossed into absurdity. Sure there may be a niche for pro gamers and esports where people can make money showing off their special skills in some video game, but first it is kind of a niche and should be a niche and second, most people playing video games have no special talent or skill in it, they just do it, to have a cheap low production cost way of creating lots of content to appear important.
The internet is a similar illusion like democracy in the real world, where the people think they are creating the system, while in reality the system creates them, it works in a similar way on the internet, where the people think they decide what content to produce, but in reality, the internet decides what content people produce.
I watched some let's players in the past before it was cool and I partly even liked it and watched some episodes, but when I watched them again after the boom where their thing has become kind of a job, you could really hear in their voice and how they acted, that what they do has turned from fun into work. As a child one of my dream jobs was video game tester or reviewer, which was kind of a niche job in the past in PC gaming magazines, but now when I see those gaming streamers I see how this dream job can quickly turn into a nightmare job when it becomes forced, because you need to make the money, which is where we get into the money making dilemma again.
However my initial complaint about this let's play hype was that I think it is kind of a stupid trend and I would rather see more original higher production value content on social media, but instead the feed is always flooded with people playing video games, I don't know the exact statistics, but it has probably become the number one filler content that exists. It also kind of annoys me that people cannot think for themselves and just blindly follow every trend no matter how stupid it may be. I mean if this trend keeps going we may soon live in a world where playing video games is one of the most honorable jobs and video games are the new religion. Already some of the most popular celebrities on the internet are manchilds that play video games or play with toys and those people even become role models for children growing up. Those are kind of big problems for out society, especially the normalization of such degenerate behavior. A healthy society would probably put those people into therapy, but our degenerate society celebrates them and turns them into role models for future generations. I'm kind of a hardcore gamer myself, but through growing up and self reflection you may also realize, that you have to draw a line somewhere.
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