Sustained Viewership: (Re)Playability of Video Games

Curator's Note

Popularity of videogame videos on YouTube and Twitch have spawned a network of loyal fans that are willing to contribute  support to their favorite gamer stars. In return, these gamers need to find a way to sustain their viewers and fans, as well as attract new ones, to support the longevity of their channels. This is where the role of (Re)Playability comes in.

(Re)Playability goes beyond the pull of a narrative, of the graphics, or even of the action of a game to play with what Bogost (2008) calls the “possibility space” (p. 121), of a game. This space is where “the myriad configurations the player might construct to see the ways the processes inscribed in the system work,” (p. 121). Playing with the procedures of a game creates the opportunity for gamers to create new challenges that allows a game to be played differently. An example of this is Many a True Nerd’s (MATN) Fallout (Bethesda Softworks) playlists on YouTube. In addition to playing the game through in “normal” playing mode, MATN also goes back and plays the game in survival mode (a player must stop to eat, drink, and rest), using only non-traditional weapons (no guns), using specific modifications that change how the game is played, and through the many additional DLC worlds. Through the practice of (Re)Playability, MATN manages to flex and push back on the boundaries of the gameplay itself by trying new avenues of playing within a single game.

(Re)Playability not only allows gamer stars to maintain their viewership and potentially their livelihood, but the implications of how these gamers use the procedures to their advantage have impacts on the gaming industry itself. DLC has become a common practice in the last ten years. Consoles have started allowing modifications in games. New playability features such as easier or harder levels are being built into games. By challenging the procedures of the games, the gaming industry has stepped up to say “Challenge Accepted”.

Bogost, I. (2008) “The Rhetoric of Video Games." In The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by K. Salen. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 117–140. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262693646.117


Interesting post! (Re)playability also seems to be in play with forking-path RPGs, I think, given the wealth of playthroughs that are done to show video game spectators the different paths through a game's story, the different potential endings, etc. I wonder, do you think that the rise of (re)playability and lets-play replays has anything to do with the increased emphasis on (among self-identified "hardcore gamers") game difficulty, with games like Dark Souls, etc.? It seems like the MATN example you're discussing here is partly about replaying with different self-imposed difficulty conditions, and I know that there are also lets-plays where streamers do non-violent Minecraft playthroughs on survival mode, or play through various games on stealth. Or do you think these videos are more aimed at a casual gaming audience, or an audience somewhere in-between casual and hardcore?

While I think the labels of hardcore/casual gamer are problematic, I do think that (Re)Playability is for individuals that are more invested in gaming as a pastime rather than your average mobile gamer, for example. (Re)Playability does lend itself to other games such as Minecraft as well. For example, several YouTubers have played Minecraft on a server with other individuals to show off impressive builds and then had their own worlds that they do a survival run-through on. Or perhaps they put the game into creative mode and show viewers how to build something that they've seen in other worlds or on a multi-player server world. If there are multiple run-throughs of a game (even if it's the cause of a death such as in Ark: Survival Evolved), I think (Re)Playability is at hand.

Yes -- those labels are problematic, I know, particularly because they have been created and are generally assigned by people who consider themselves to be "hardcore" gamers. In terms of Minecraft, have you run across the HermitCraft server / group? I think they really fit with what you're talking about here.

Thank you for great thought teaser on (re)playability! Modded and alternate-objective Lets Play videos and streams such as MATN's are great evidence of the ways that gaming communities have adopted this long-standing emphasis on ludic gaming experiences for community formation. In particular, I'd love to delve into the ways that these alternate paths of play are built in collaboration with an audience and emulated across streamers. The "how can I break this well?" question just so well unifies gaming spectatorship, devoted fandom, and modding communities. While I agree with Lindsey that hardcore play has a powerful influence on the ways that games are modded and played differently for spectators and is worth investigation - especially in the Machinima history of games - I would also want to explore ways in which these replays (particularly non-violent Minecraft gameplay videos) are a practice in playing differently, in making the game suit other creative ends beyond difficulty. For future research, I might recommend looking into Pokemon communities. Especially because the base Pokemon games are so similar, streamers and community members alike have come up with a bunch of different alternative ways to play the game (Nuzlockes are amazing) that get played up in streaming communities for a bunch of different exciting reasons.

Yes -- I think "playing differently" is very much at hand in a number of the lets-plays and streams I've seen that engage with/in (re)playability. Also, particularly the Minecraft communities that Ashley mentions above.

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