If you have a post-millennial young person in your life, you might have noticed that they spend a lot of time on Youtube watching other people play video games instead of playing the games themselves. This phenomenon is booming all over the world. I have witnessed my partner's 15-year-old son spend hours watching other people playing video games (photo on the right). At the same time, my sister who lives in Bahrain would text me complaining about her 10-year-old son spending too much time on Youtube doing the same exact thing. If you're curious like me, you would have googled it by now and have seen how many parents and teachers are confused by this, so I decided to spend some time searching this phenomenon on the web and ask the young people in my life about it. Then reflect and think about whether this should raise any concern to parents or educators.
Surprisingly, the answer is quite more straightforward than I thought. It even made me reflect on the differences between myself, a millennial, and the unnamed generation we are raising to be our future leaders. Watching other people play video games on tv is merely a spectator sport! If you enjoy watching any sports on television or in a stadium, this is the same thing! Except that it is almost personal and could be interactive. The spectators get to watch someone experience the game, win, lose and try again. They also can hear them narrate their experiences, feelings, and reactions. Some YouTubers engage with their audience through social media comments, answer questions or fulfill requests.
Just because it's an activity we do not engage in, it should not be alarming or worrisome. These young people are being engaged in something they enjoy and they are learning and practicing some things along the way by watching Youtubers play video games. I have broken the learning/practicing into different categories below.
Listening and Literacy Skills: By watching Youtubers play games they are building their knowledge base about the game if they decided to play it later on. Also, it is possible to say that their listening and literacy skills are being practiced and possibly improved as the person is narrating what they are doing in the game and there are various of instructions that pop up which the viewer has to read.
Social-Emotional Connection: These YouTubers are narrating and reacting to their experiences play these games. While they are doing that the viewer gets to see a various range of emotions and reactions being named and experienced on the screen. Viewers could learn to identify and learn emotions that they have not experienced before, or don't know what they are called. In addition, these YouTubers would relate game experiences to real life situation where the viewer could be doing the same.
A Sense of Community: Just like how some people cheer for a team and would greet each other on the street if they are wearing the same team jersey. These viewers/followers feel that they belong to a community and that is an important human need. After a sense of belonging is the third layer of Maslow's hierarchy of needs which comes after physiological and safety needs. So if the young person in your life is a part of an online community or a Youtuber fandom it means that they could feel that they belong to a certain group.
Sense of Relatedness & Representation: Youtubers have different personalities and they come from different cultures. They narrate these games in different languages and sometimes in dual languages and they come from all over the world. Spectators get to choose who they relate to, who represents them and follow their content. While TV might have a lack of minority and intersectionalites representation, Youtube or such platforms definitely offer a wider range of diversity and intersectionalities.
Just like any other thing your child is exposed to I believe this should be monitored to some extent. Some YouTubers do seem to use vulgar language and others might have some adult game content, so this might be something to watch out for if you are a parent, guardian or an educator.
My conclusion from observing and reflecting on this phenomenon is let kids be kids! Not everything new should be a concern, and some new things could have many learning aspects to your child.