Watching people play games is no new phenomenon. I can remember watching my dad play A Link to the Past when I was 5, telling him to hit and pull and blow up anything I deemed suspicious. I remember my cousins coming round to watch me play Silent Hill, Project Zero, Resident Evil – all of us trying to piece together and make sense of each warped and hostile world. Games have always been a joy to watch; it’s only recently that this has been noticed by mainstream media.
Admittedly things have changed since the days of gathering round the TV and yelling at the player to go back for a chest, but the attraction is still the same. The difference today is that the games we used to enjoy watching as kids were not intended to be broadcast. With YouTube being such a prolific form of advertising, many indie developers seem to be designing games towards the likelihood of them being showcased online, and in doing so, have authored a genre of their own.
Games like Slender and Five Nights at Freddy’s are especially useful for YouTubers because they give them licence to act in the explosive and hysterical manner that attracts viewers to their videos. The anarchic silliness that many YouTubers indulge in works harmoniously with videogames because games, by their very nature, are playful and abstract. Simply by addressing one of the game’s inherently absurd characters with a semblance of normality, a commentator can generate a carnival atmosphere and continuously get laughs.
What’s unique about games like Five Nights at Freddy’s is that this droll mingling of realities isn’t even necessary to engage viewers. Any whimpering thespian with an internet connection can gather an audience when the game itself creates such jack-in-a-box-type tension, for that sequence of ticking and exploding works perfectly to arrest the splintered attentions of the YouTube generation.
Five Nights at Freddy’s creator Scott Cawthon has spawned three sequels since the original game’s release in August last year – each one following the same formula as the first, each one amassing a large number of views for popular Youtubers – and his efforts have culminated in Warner Bros. planning a film adaptation. YouTube is such a springboard for indie games today that up-and-coming developers would be foolish not to take advantage by adhering to the needs of its audience.
The only issue with this is whether it will discourage the creation of those obscure and mystifying titles that transfixed us as kids. After all, it’s much harder to win the approval of strangers with a video of your sanity eroding than it is with a video of you screaming at possessed animatronics. As long as that remains the case, no YouTubers are going to be boosting the popularity of videogames that leave a lasting impression over ones that momentarily yank at the amygdala.