Some folks have said that Let's Plays are becoming so big, they might replace Netflix for gamers one day soon. I think this is a rather grand statement, even with some Let's Play YouTubers saying, in an interview with GamesRadar, that playthroughs “bridge the gap” between films and games; where films are presenting you with incredible spectacles and games are giving you the chance to be part of it. “Comfortably wedged between the two,” playthroughs remind the audience that if you want to, you can experience it for yourself. I just can't agree, though. Playthroughs are not a superior source of entertainment when the actual game is so much better.
This debate over watching Let's Plays over actually playing the game has been going on for quite some time and as YouTube and Twitch become ever more popular, I think it's time to address it again. I do not believe that playthroughs are in any way better than actually playing the game, especially when playing a game in my own style is so important to me. However, I do understand that there are a number of advantages to them that I cannot ignore. For one, they're free. With a $70 price tag, it gets harder and harder to justify purchasing a game when you could put that money towards food or an outstanding debt. Especially with Let's Plays available it is easier to watch than pay.
Secondly, Let's Plays provide a great insight for those gamers that might be too afraid to play certain horror games. I can personally attest to this, as there was no way I was going to get through Amnesia: The Dark Descent without someone chatting in my ear through the whole thing. Those videos are what got me back on track with the horror genre, to the point where I was able to enjoy Resident Evil 7 without fearing being put off horror games again. In addition, if you happen to be terrible at particular game's genre (like an FPS) but really want to know the story, Let's Plays can do that for you. There are definitely people out there who are gamers at heart but just don't have the time to practice the way other players can. Or they could be hindered by an accessibility problem through no fault of their own.
That said, I do not think Let's Plays top playing the game itself at all. Personally, I can't stand the thought of someone making a decision I wouldn't in either gameplay or conversation. Even in games where that doesn't matter, the perfectionist in me desperately wants to correct the mistake. It's not what I envision the character to be; it's not what I would have done. I can see Let's Plays as a useful tool, either for review purposes, sharing moments in games with friends, or as walkthroughs. But I do not see them as replacements for entertainment when it is too important to me in video games to make my own decisions. I love exploring, even in a limited manner like in Dishonored, and I love finding all those secret passageways myself or nook where a stray health potion is lying. I feel like most gamers have at least a bit of this individualist spirit in them.
Needless to say, Let's Plays do have some advantages, like being significantly cheaper than fully priced games, and for those who want the story but don't have the heart or skills to actually play it on our own. However, I do not think these advantages can be better than actually playing the game for entertainment. We need to be able to make our own decisions about gameplay and conversations, whether it matters or not in the game. We've just got to express ourselves!