115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Let's Play: Gaming and Community Interaction Through Streaming and Collaborative Play

Amber Brown-Rodgers, University of Southern California

This paper considers the impact of Let’s Plays and livestreaming from an academic and social standpoint on gaming communities and socialization between identities within gaming. This focuses on community-based, massive play, collaboration, and structuring of new play-types and video types through community involvement.


The Let’s Play community, both in terms of what they create and in terms of its own members, is self-defining. In the same way, audiences tend to define what makes a certain Let's Player better than others, based on slight variations in this format like play style or video editing, and participate in large discussions and activity based on their favorite content creators.  While these popular videos have some precedent in related media like film and game design, the genre took form because of ongoing community interaction. In fact, many audience members find themselves associating with certain community members based on the kind of play documented in these videos. I will show how Johann Huizinga’s definition of play as a physiological phenomenon helps explain the community-defining powers of the genre. To illustrate the dynamics of the Let’s Play community, I will also present evidence from oral histories and surveys I have conducted. Let's Plays often mirror the gaming community in its resistance to female contribution, but many communities also use the versatility and convenience of collaboration inherent in its format to create spaces wherein marginalized community members may participate. In addition to both Huizinga’s work and my own primary research, this paper also considers Let’s Plays and their communities in terms of game design and production culture. I will show how game and video elements lend themselves to the dynamics of community-based play that I identify. These self-defined, self-sustaining communities are a prime example of the usefulness of studying Let’s Plays as an instance of participatory media more broadly considered.