5 reasons I prefer watching video games to playing them


Mortal Kombat and Goldeneye 007 were my s**t as a kid. Turn on Bond, put me in Facility, and I can still grenade your ass back to hell. If I wasn’t in school, there was no question what I was doing: Video games were my main form of entertainment.

I considered myself a gamer until I finished Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s a mystery still as to why but after taking down the roid-raging monster Joker, it was impossible to play all the way through another game, even Arkham City. I’m not saying I “grew out” of them. If you want to discuss the themes in Mass Effect or World of Warcraftyou have my interest. But don’t ask me to play them. I’ve tried and tried again but… nope.

I still get a fix watching others play games, though, almost to the point of saying that I love “watching video games” the way I love watching movies.

Here are the reasons why:

1. Playing Takes Too Much Effort


I know the expression “playing takes too much effort” sounds crazy but bear with me.

As I mentioned, after finishing Arkham Asylum I found that I was no longer willing, for some reason, to put in the effort of playing a lot of the newer, more complex games. It takes a lot of time and practice to master controls and hone the hand-eye coordination. RPGs have a lot of rules and skill trees to learn and manipulate. Doing so doesn’t interest me anymore because my main thing now is learning how to become a better writer.  And I’ve found that watching games can stimulate my writing whereas playing them on a regular basis takes too much time away from it.

Also, it’s just impressive and fun to watch someone snipe from the other side of the map. I know what kind of practice goes into that, and seeing someone pull it off is exciting. I always enjoy watching a buddy finally nail a frontside noseslide or land a vicious combo. It’s frustrating for a newbie to go head to head with those who have already put in the time which, of course, only adds to my unwillingness to invest the time/energy to get good at a new game.

2. I Just Want to Find Out What Happens

(Sony Computer Entertainment)

The stories in many games are as gripping and enthralling as those of great movies and TV shows. The Bioshock and Resident Evil series had me dying to know what would happen next. I was invested in the characters and cared for them as much as anyone from a novel. Some plot twists were right up there with The Usual Suspects. Some of the cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid are as well-done as any bit of John Woo. The Last of Us has been compared to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and for good reason. I can easily enjoy this aspect of games while viewing.

Also, since my main interest is the story, it’s too frustrating to play because when I get stuck in the game as I inevitably do, I can’t find out what happens next. Therefore I prefer to let others worry about solving puzzles and fighting off the infected. Me, I want to kick back, eat ramen, and focus on the story, the visuals and the music.

3. I Enjoy the Competitive Aspect

Electronic sports and competitive games in general have exploded in popularity. Tournaments such as World Cyber Games and the Evolution Championship Series draw live crowds by the thousands, and even more watch online. Winners receive hundreds of thousands of dollars. Jae Dong LeeJohnathan Wendel, and many, many other professional players make their living playing full time. They’re the Kobes and LeBrons of the digital arena.

To me, it’s the exact same buzz as watching football or basketball (sports titles themselves, like Madden and NBA2K, are especially good to watch). We viewers get the same thrill watching a World of Warcraft or Marvel vs. Capcom battle as most do watching March Madness. My personal favorites are Mortal Kombat and Super Smash Bros. Just like with watching sports, a good round can leave me feeling pumped when a favored player wins or let down when he loses.

4. I Love the Social Interaction


Aside from just how fun it is, another reason why I like to watch people playing games is for the knowledge and familiarity it gives me so I can still participate in discussions and enjoy the social bonding that the gaming world offers. Most of my fondest childhood memories involve sitting around and laughing with buddies while playing video games. It’s great to tap into that, and I don’t want to be left out.

Video games are as much a part of pop culture now as anything else, maybe even the biggest part. I like to keep up with the times and contribute to conversations. I want to know what the big upcoming releases are and why, and have my own opinions on them. I don’t ever want to “grow out” of video games.

5. I Get What I Need From Walkthrough and Playthrough Videos

Since what I really want most is to just participate in the social aspect of gaming, playthrough videos give me all the background info and knowledge I need to do that in a much shorter time frame.

YouTube has seen a surge of video game commentaries and walkthroughs. Channels like Happy Console GamerThe Syndicate Project, and KSI Olajidebt have tens of thousands of subscribers. They’re hilarious and intelligent. I don’t need experience with the game to enjoy that. They know video games better than I (or a lot of people) ever will, and it’s always interesting to hear more educated perspectives. Many folks consider gameplay videos the best game reviews online.

Twitch and Justin.TV are gaming communities that offer vast libraries of playthroughs and commentaries uploaded by regular gamers. Videos run alongside chat rooms, bringing interactivity and debate to the mix. It might be these two sites and sites like them that support my argument more than anything. The average viewer spends an hour and a half a day on them. I watch quite a bit too, and personally I find that by the time I’m done watching them I just don’t have enough time left in the day to play. I need to do other stuff.

I’ll never be able to turn down a match of Mortal Kombat or Super Smash Brothers but, for the most part, these days I much prefer to watch. It’s relaxing, entertaining and interesting whereas playing often just makes me want to throw the controller at the screen.

I can’t help but wonder if I’m a part of a growing demographic, if there are more and more people out there who would rather let someone else play while they watch.

Do you know anyone like that? Are you like that?


About Anthony Nowicke

Anthony Nowicke
Anthony Nowicke is a literary nut, most often buried deep inside a book, whose interests range from pop culture and graphic design to philosophy and mathematics.


  1. Yes! I used to always watch my brother play video games but rarely was even slightly interested in playing them myself.

  2. im not a fan of watching people play a game,it think its boring,id rather play my self,because when i watch another person play,i will notice their mistakes,and i will get pissed off

  3. I loved the story lines, especially in Final Fantasy.

    • Yeah, Final Fantasy games have good stories.

    • Same here Margaret, FF series has always been like novels to me. In a way similar to the story, a few months back I downloaded all the cutscenes from FFXIII (since I heard the play itself was a little dull) and watched them all. I often don’t care about the game play, gimme a story!

    • Yup. I didn’t grow up with FF, but it was FFX that sold me on the series. The first 20 minutes had me GRIPPED. When Sin destroys Zanarkand, and sucks up Tidus and Auron…that was one great cinematic opening.

  4. id rather play it because your not fully putting yourself in the story and bonding with the main character if you sit and watch

    • My only response to that, Kirito, can be: I assure you, I do put myself in the story and invest in the characters as much as I do playing. I mean, you can only really take my word on it, you know? lol But I know what it’s like to invest in the story while playing, or invest in a movie or novel, and I swear it’s the exact same feeling and level of attention. I guess it just boils down to different strokes for different folks, eh? Thanks for reading.

  5. RPGS are the biggest time waster but I love doing them

  6. RPGS are the biggest time waster but I love doing them

  7. Haha, I thought I was the only one!

  8. Did you write this? This is a good read. Sometimes I feel the same way. With MGS on PS1 is where it began. The story was so intriguing to me that I just wanted to know if Snake would be able to stop Metal Gear Rex. If he could save Meryl. To find out what the relationship between he and Liquid and Big Boss was. It has continued from there all the way to The Last of Us currently. I’m about 23% into the story and is rather just watch the action unfold. I wonder if companies will ever implement the idea I have. At the end of the play through it gives you the ability to watch exactly how the best developer or video game tester beat the game in the form of a movie. Maybe with the new gen consoles it can just record your gameplay one chapter at a time for you to go back and watch in cinematic form after the chapter or game is complete.

    • Thanks for the compliment, Reggie. And yes, MGS was a milestone in video game storytelling. I bet a lot of folks remember which game it was that proved they have strong narrative merit. Me? It was actually Ocarina of Time. It didn’t blow me away the way Last of Us did, but I found it a fun adventure that hooked me into wanting to know what happened next. And yup, there we have it today: The Last of Us. The ending! Wait till you get to it, my man! No spoilers! But I will say this…it’s so good, you could have a college class discussion on it. And that really is a very good idea, my man. I do like watching the best players, especially the best fighters in the Arkham series. Beating the game in the form of a movie? I’d watch that. You should write a letter to the video game Congress!

  9. nope, definitely prefer to play through myself.

  10. I never actually thought of it that way but I actually feel this way. I always end up getting tired of what I’m playing and have to switch. I love playing video games and stuff but there’s a lot of fun in just watching people play.

  11. I disagree, i completely love playing a video game, all the way through in one sitting if possible, but i think the best way to judge a game is to watch someone else playing it, good games should always be fun to play and watch in y opinion

  12. Yes!!! I really enjoy watching my husband play assassins creed. It’s interesting but I would get too frustrated I think to play and im a multitasker

  13. Agreed… I also feel like when I’m watching I’m not wasting time, while if I’m playing I am… Haha :p

  14. everything but 1. Sure there are games where you just stop playing because its too long, or hard, but thats usually not just because of those reasons. Most of the time its a bigger underlying thing

  15. Depends on the game, sometimes good to watch those I’ll never buy or not sure of buying. However that being said I’d rather play the game.

  16. Also the writer seems rather inept, wanting the award but without the effort put in, unwilling to put the effort in to best a game, fine watch a game but don’t complain you can’t say crap like “I Get What I Need From Walkthrough and Playthrough Videos” you can never feel satisfied that you overcame a puzzle when you weren’t part of the decision making process.

    • Inept, sir? Meet me in Sector Z. I’ll have Snake, and you can have…well, it doesn’t matter so much 😉 all in good fun, homie. But also, well, I really don’t so much yearn for the “satisfaction” of beating a puzzle anymore. Shrug. I did get my buddy out of a lot of jams in Portal though.

  17. it would be pretty hard to get emotionally invested in a game like “the Last of Us” without putting the work in yourself.

    • Jason, I can only assure you that the investment I feel equals (and sometimes transcends) the investment I feel for movies, books and tv. Was it hard? Well, I seem to have pulled it off! haha

  18. Depends how good the commentator is and how they edit it or how involved with the audience they are.

  19. Depends on the game and commentator. But yes, I have done it before and sometimes find it quite as fun as playing the game myself.

  20. Sigh. Thought I was the only one.

  21. 1-5, ‘videogames’ as the majority stand, the standard status quo of today; Tthe barely interactive, story driven, over streamlined gameplay copy and pasted from ten years ago, dumbed down and computer assisted to the point you can beat them by slapping your genitals across the controller, have become a hideously twisted parody of what they used to be, and are so severly atrophied in game design that they are just as, if not more, engaging to watch than play.

    Nothing more than an over priced display of a dramatic presentation of faux challenge.

  22. Sigh. Thought I was the only one.

  23. I no joke broke down in laughter when I read “Playing takes too much effort”. I mean good lord, I never knew such a high caliber of laziness could even exist!

  24. John Kim

    I’ve recently gotten into watching competitive Starcraft, and I’ve gotta say, it’s just as if not better than actually playing for me. SC is a ridiculously stressful game to play, first because of its sheer difficulty and second because of ladder rankings and whatnot. Watching pros play, though, seems to give me the excitement of playing and the feeling that I’m learning something, which is really great.

  25. Finally someone said it 😀

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