The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, video game, box art, title, shield, sword

YouTube and ‘perfect gamer’ pressure

For his tenth birthday back in June, my stepson Ethan asked my other-half and I for a Switch or Xbox he could keep in his bedroom. We decided against it for two reasons: first, he already has a Wii and PS Vita that get overlooked in favour of playing on the PlayStation 4 in the living room. And second, because every console he has ever owned for himself has ended up being a Minecraft-only machine (we currently have four different versions of the game).

Instead, Pete came up with the idea of surprising him with a tablet. It wasn’t something Ethan had asked for but we thought it would go down well as a present; not only would it allow him to play games and watch his Minecraft videos on YouTube, but it could potentially be useful in terms of schoolwork. My stepson was over-the-moon when he unwrapped his gift and has hardly been seen without the device since.

The biggest positive brought about by this present is that Ethan no longer wakes us at 07:00 on a weekend, bored of being alone in his room and wanting to turn on the PlayStation. Lie-ins are very much needed after 04:30 alarms every day of the week so we’re extremely grateful! However, there are also negatives – like how he now prefers to watch someone else play a game in a video rather than playing it himself.

GEEK, expo, convention, video games, Nintendo DS, Mario Kart, Ethan

This worries my other-half and I as parents. Maybe we just don’t understand because we’re not ‘down with the cool kids’ any longer but it feels as though it’s encouraging laziness and impatience. In a recent conversation, we discussed whether this was the same as our own parents being concerned we were watching too much television and not going outside enough in the 90s; and perhaps that’s correct, but it doesn’t stop us worrying about Ethan any less.

We’re therefore trying to pull his head out of his tablet and get him doing other things every time he’s with us, whether it’s climbing a tree in the nearby forest with Pete (while I laugh) or making a cake in the kitchen with me (while the pair of them eat the mix before it’s baked). Although he always asks if he can go back to his room afterwards, you can tell my stepson enjoys these interactions and the affection that goes along with them.

This was why we got him to play a video game with us last weekend, rather than watching somebody else do it on YouTube. We haven’t had much opportunity to game as a family recently due to house renovations and so he was kind of excited by the idea as he squeezed himself between Pete and I on the sofa. He asked if we could put on The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and for the first hour or so, everything was awesome.

But the game’s difficulty increased and Ethan started to become frustrated. There was a certain section he was having difficulty getting past and we could see his anger starting to rise, his cheeks becoming redder and his button presses getting harder. His temper got to the point where we had to pull the controller away from him and tell him he needed to take a breather to calm down – we had to do something to get him to stop for a moment.

The tears were beginning to well up in his eyes as shook his head and repeatedly told us he ‘just couldn’t do it’. When we asked him why he expected to be able to do everything within the game on the first try, he said: “I’ve watched other people play it on YouTube and they always manage to do it.”

Bloody YouTube.

Minecraft videos are never going to be one of my favourite things to watch, but every so often I make an effort to sit with Ethan while he shows me one and explains what’s happening. Not only does it let him see that we’re interested in the things he likes and what he’s up to, but it allows us to understand what he’s actually watching without making him feel as if he’s being monitored.

DanTDM, boy, manchild

What my stepson doesn’t realise though is just how heavily edited these videos are. I’m not a professional editor in any way but even I can see just how many continuity mistakes there are. There’s one particular YouTuber he’s been watching while staying with his mum and stepdad during the summer holidays and he’s absolutely awful: I can only imagine how many times he fails during a game based on the number of terrible jump-cuts within his footage.

Maybe I’m overreacting but it seems that videos like this – ones which show how ‘leet’ the star is and hide their mistakes – are putting pressure on young kids like my stepson to complete a game without any failures. They turn gaming from a hobby into something which is only fun if you’re succeeding. It then becomes easier to watch someone else complete a title rather than attempt it yourself, and that totally sucks.

I know adults understand these videos are edited and don’t want to watch one where the player’s character dies 20 times in a row. But children don’t get that, and covering up mistakes gives the perception they’re a bad thing when they do happen. Rather than situations to be learned and benefited from, your character falling off a ledge or dying at the hands of a boss evolves into things to be ashamed of and frustrated by.

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Ethan

We explained to Ethan that video games are difficult, he should expect to fail numerous times, and it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever finish one without a single character death – but that’s what makes them fun. The majority are designed to challenge the player and that’s what keeps us coming back for more. The videos he watches are fully edited to make their star look good and are nothing more than promotional material.

“And besides,” said Pete, “who’s the better gamer, huh? You, who learns from your mistakes and will get through this section any minute now – or this YouTube dude who’s stupid enough to cover up his mistakes really badly?”

31 thoughts on “YouTube and ‘perfect gamer’ pressure

  1. There’s something that I heard Total Biscuit (love him or hate him!) say on his podcast once: “comparing yourself to what you see on the internet is like comparing your raw footage to someone else’s highlight reel”. I feel that perfectly encapsulates what’s going on with Ethan (and most teenagers and beyond for that matter). It’s a case of him developing an understanding that what he sees is the results of work (and probably frustration) and he doesn’t need to compare himself to that. In many ways you I can see parallels between this and the pressures on young people to look a particular way, but that’s something much to complicated for me to go into much detail on!

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    1. It must be so hard to be a kid nowadays… there’s so much pressure placed on them through multiple channels such as YouTube, magazines, television, the list goes on. Trying to steer them through it all and teach them they don’t need to compare themselves to what they see in the media can be a challenging and full-time job!

      Fortunately for myself and my-other half, something happened very recently to put the subject of this post into perspective for Ethan. More about that soon. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reading this I realise that as a kid I used to get like Ethan. The pressure was probably more from comparing myself to my friends (who were much better than me at the time) but I used to get so frustrated when I failed that I would turn the difficulty right down! Now I’m more likely to turn the difficulty up for more of a challenge. The change just came with time and realising I’m playing the games for myself so it doesn’t matter how many times I fail (and sometimes the failures can be funny!)

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    1. My other-half and I try to get Ethan to talk about it, but he finds it difficult to explain where his frustration comes from and why he feels the need to achieve everything first time. We had a really good conversation with him yesterday about how everyone enjoys games for different reasons – his dad likes the trophies, I like the stories, and my stepson himself likes ‘being’ the characters – and it seemed to give him a new perspective to think about.

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  3. Interesting write-up! Those videos are most certainly heavily edited, but I’d office a different perspective: they’re edited to keep the action constant, because the viewers, kids, are already impatient. The click-out numbers on Youtube are tremendous, and keeping a kids attention is hard enough as it is. As much as it’s important for a young person to know that you need to fail, sometimes many times, to succeed, they simply don’t want to watch someone failing over and over.

    Those big Youtubers who put those highly-edited videos out do this full time, and need every edge they can get to make viewers stay for as long as possible, because that’s how their advertising payouts are decided. A 10 minute highlight reel does exponentially better (financially) than 45 minutes of raw footage. Kids simply won’t watch for long.

    In other words, I think there are other outside stimuli in the world that make “kids today” impatient, and the highly edited videos are not necessarily the cause of that, but the content creators’ way to capitalize on it. Heck, look at cartoons from 30 years ago vs. today. There’s not a single solitary second of silence, they’re a complete assault on the senses!

    Of course, the side effect to both impatience and watching someone be perfect all the time on Youtube is exactly the situation you’ve described, but I and the collective rest of the world haven’t made much in the way of progress figuring out how to stifle this, because everything in 2017 is _instantly available_. I grew up on the internet since I was 10, but that was back in the mid 90s and everything took forever. You needed patience to get anything done – now, patience is hard to find, in people of all ages.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There’s definitely a vicious cycle. “Kids today” (and adults today) have shorter attention spans, so media plays into that, which reinforces the shortening attention, which gets played into by media… ugh.

      There’s something to be said for delayed gratification, that’s for sure…

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Coincidentally, I had a conversation about this recently with one of my brother’s friends who’s a teacher at a primary school here in the UK. He said that shorter attention spans are really becoming apparent in the class he looks after; if it’s not something they can look up on Google instantly, the children don’t want to know and switch off.

          As Athena mentioned above, it’s a horrible cycle – and one that seems as though it’s going to be difficult to break out of.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I was out of high school when YouTube came into existence, and even olden when I started watching Let’s Plays, but in all aspects of life it can be easy to look at the media (or the “highlight reel” as iplayedthegame said!) and judge your own life as lacking. Personally, I’d rather watch someone having a good time, even if they fail a few times, and have a sense of humor about it, than some cold-hard expert who acts like everything comes naturally. I’m a sort of “average” gamer, so for me it’s nice to see other folks who can take a joke and be easy-going when they make a mistake. But I was also lucky enough to have that perspective taught to me as I was growing up, as you’re doing with your stepson 🙂

    Does he watch sports on television? And does he play sports IRL? Does he get just as frustrated? I’ve found with my nephews sometimes that’s a good way to give perspective – not that you need advice as a parent, it’s just a thought!!

    Ah, you make me want to put videos of me playing up on YouTube again, just so your stepson can watch a grownup who’s played games her whole life both have mad skillz (j/k but you know what I mean) *and* bumble around difficult parts.

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    1. Unfortunately he’s not into sports: he’s happy to try something for his own enjoyment, but once competition against others is introduced he’s no longer interested. It kind of therefore makes sense as to why he puts himself under this pressure to ‘compete’ with the YouTubers he watches; but it’s difficult to see him be so hard on himself sometimes.

      I think it’s a case of giving him time and space to grow, and trying to keep teaching him worthwhile lessons. Something happened recently that will hopefully help him put everything into perspective – more about that in a post next week.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can definitely feel the pressure to be good at games, even at my age. Especially in this era of rogue-likes, permadeath, kill/death ratios, and Souls-Borne games. There’s so much emphasis on difficulty as well, with folks mocking lower difficulty options in games like Mario Kart… A game for people of all ages.

    I know there have been several occasions where I’ve cursed loudly at my TV and stormed away after dying multiple times in a game or getting stuck in a section I know I should be able to pass.

    YouTube doesn’t make it any easier, that’s for sure. I know that while looking at my own streams, I’ve been tempted to cut footage that made me look like a fool before uploading it. Even on my normal videos I’m constantly debating what to cut and keep because I don’t like how it turned out.

    It sucks. Sometimes I wish I felt more comfortable with myself and my skills, so that I could at least just enjoy myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really like streaming when I have the opportunity, but I always feel conscious (and rarely appear on camera) when I do it. It’s exactly as you say – I don’t want to look like a fool – which is such a shame. I should stream for the fun of it and not care if I don’t come across as a ‘perfect’ gamer.

      Don’t let it get you down though, Shelby! I’ve been watching your videos and enjoying them. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s been far outside my comfort zone, but now that I can’t stream due to technical constraints, I feel like I’m missing out.

        Playing The Long Dark on stream has been an exercise in humility too. I’ve learned already that there’s humor in getting my ass handed to me sometimes.

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  6. I never really understood Let’s Plays, I would much rather play something myself than watch anyone. I hope that Ethan stops comparing himself to YouTubers, or maybe finds some that allow silly mistakes to stay in their footage to avoid the “perfect gamer” stance, literally the only Let’s Players I watch are Game Grumps and one of the reasons is because when they make stupid mistakes they leave it in because it’s funny, they rage quit, admit when they’re using walkthroughs… It’s nice to watch someone that plays games for a living struggle just like I would and it makes me feel better about my gaming as well. The humour is too mature for a 10 year old though unfortunately so I’d recommend waiting a few years first! Maybe there’s a more PG equivalent out there somewhere though.

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    1. I’m the same: although I watch streams when I’m too tired to play, most of the time I’d rather be playing the game myself! Most of my friends who are parents have said that their children choose to watch more than play though, so it seems as if that isn’t the case for younger generations. I wonder when things changed?

      I’m going to have to do a bit of research and find more ‘real gamers’ on YouTube to broaden Ethan’s perspective, I think…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I know that more often or not sometimes I watch youtube gamers because I find the game itself too hard or I’m unsure as to if its something I like. Maybe Ethan is yet to find his own game series that he enjoys as much as Minecraft. He could play games with a similar style? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, you might have something there – we haven’t yet found a game he’s gone back to as much as Minecraft. He’s slowly developing an interest in indie titles more than the big-budget stuff though, so that will help broaden his horizons. 🙂

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  8. Excellent post! My niece and Ethan could be one and the same. She loves watching gaming videos, especially anything Minecraft-related as well. And while I’ve not seen her gaming in action, I have been regaled with her numerous stories of how games look “so easy!” on YouTube, but they never seem to be that way in real life.

    In my own tiny sphere of Let’s Plays, I’ve definitely edited them down simply because I know there’s not much excitement in watching someone fail over and over and over again. Though, when I played through Yoshi’s Woolly World, I decided to edit my numerous fails into little montages that showed me dying several times in a row before finally succeeding. To me this proved (1) that I am only human and (2) even the cutest games can be really difficult! But at the end of the day, I know I’m producing a product, so if a particular session was going extremely poorly, I re-recorded it until I was happy with the results. (And YouTubing is quite different from streaming, of course. My lack of confidence is precisely why I don’t stream!)

    Not to be a horrible person who just wants to plug something, but Ethan might enjoy our (Virtual Bastion’s) “Nostalgic Notions” series, maybe? That’s where we stumble through older games for about 15 minutes apiece, warts and all, no editing-out our frustrations. Most of the time we’re failing badly, but we’re having a good bit of fun…mostly…while we’re at it. (http://bit.ly/2gmZ3nf)

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    1. You plug all you want, cary – Nostalgic Notions sounds as if it would be the perfect thing to get him tuned into. He’s slowly starting to develop an interest in indie and retro titles, and is moving away from ‘bigger’ games, so it would definitely capture his attention! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. My solution to being bad at a game is to ENJOY being bad at a game. And, some of the funniest “lets play” videos are based on gamers being bad but enthusiastic. A lot of triple-A titles are very good about encouraging players to participate in games in unconventional ways~ For instance, I’m horrible at shooters; my k/d ratio and accuracy never warrant more than a “participation award”; but, often, in games like Rainbow 6 Siege or Payday 2, I play the role of reconnaissance (identifying traps, key rooms), gopher (retrieving key items), or distraction…. I play distraction in a LOT of games. I’m very good at it, tyvm; and, it’s fun because being a team-sanctioned distraction equals a legitimate license to troll. A shift of perspective can open up a whole new way to play~

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    1. Yeah, a shift of perspective can definitely be a positive thing! Although some of Ethan’s friends play video games, they don’t often game together; but that will change as he gets older and a wider range of titles will open up to him. Once he starts playing games as part of a team, he’ll start to realise everyone has their own strengths and we all have own fair share of failures. 😉

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  10. My dislike and lack of understanding concerning Let’s Play videos stems from what I call “single child syndrome”. I had game systems and would save money from chores and odd jobs to purchase games I really want. And then I could play them until told to stop. If I had solid internet in my youth I may enjoy the vicarious nature of Let’s Plays. Presently, such videos are good for research on older, obscure, and for me non-PC titles.

    I have had children I’ve looked after, and they get frustrated playing games to. But what I have found helps is when the kids see /me/ fail at a game, and calmly persevere. There is a running gag that I still haven’t beat Sans from Undertale when they’ve watched several YouTube stars do so in “one take”. It is the one foil that humanizes my otherwise master-tier gameplay.

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    1. You’ve got a good point there. Usually when we play video games as a family, it’s Ethan who has the controller; maybe we need to change that so we each take more equal turns. That way he can, as you say, see us fail and persevere – and also see that such failures are nothing to be ashamed of and can be taken in good humour.

      Thanks for the advice. 🙂

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