So your kids are obsessed with watching other people play video games and you can’t quite wrap your mind around it. We decided to ask video gaming expert Dr. Rachel Kowert to weigh in on this phenomenon and tell us what we need to know. We’ve spoken about video games with Rachel on our Spawned podcast and as the Research Director of Take This, author of A Parent’s Guide to Video Games, and mom herself, we trust her thoughts.

Related: Kids & video games: What parents need to know

CMT: So the phenomenon of kids watching other people play videos isn’t new, right?

Rachel: Definitely not a new thing! When I was a kid, I remember many times going over to a friend’s house to watch them play video games. Games, like other visual media like television and movies, have always had an ‘audience’ aspect to it.

CMT: What makes it so enticing to kids (and really, adults too)? 

Rachel: Today, watching others play has become quite a phenomenon. Part of this is because of the “personalties” that are attached to the streaming channels on Twitch or Mixer. For example, I really like watching Mxiety – she is a streamer on Mixer who on some days plays video games and comments on them but on other days will stream interviews with others or just chat with her audience. In this sense, it is very similar to going over to my friends’ house as a child to watch them play – we play, we chat, and sometimes we invite new people over. With services like Twitch and Mixer this has grown exponentially. We can watch streamers on the other side of the country or the other side of the world.

There is also a functional aspect to this as well as you can watch someone play a new game before deciding whether you want to purchase it or not. As a busy mom of two, it has also allowed me to catch up on the newest releases in a relatively short amount of time.

CMT: We often hear parents say “If you like watching it so much, why don’t you play it yourself?” What are your thoughts on that? 

Rachel: Watching is a different experience but can be just as enjoyable. For example, what if you don’t have the newest console that is required to play a particular game? You can watch someone play it and vicariously experience it through them. Or, if there is a game you want to experience but don’t particularly enjoy playing, streaming services allow you to have that experience. For instance, my reaction times are far too slow for me to be successful at Fortnite. Playing would be incredibly frustrating for me but I love the game and love watching others play.

Related: A guide to the top video games kids are playing and watching

Why do kids love watching other people play video games: The Untitled Goose Game

CMT: What are kids learning when they watch someone else play? 

Rachel: When you watch someone else stream you are not only learning about the different games but often you are also engaging in a larger social community (of fans of the particular streaming channel and fans of the game) as well as a whole host of other topics that may be discussed on the channel. Going back to my previous example of Mxiety, she talks often about mental health, wellness, and self-care. I have learned a whole host of things watching her stream beyond how delightfully fun the new Untitled Goose Game is (pictured above).

CMT: What are some watch-outs when you’re deciding whether a gamer is someone you’re okay with your kids watching? 

Rachel: Not all streaming channels are created equal. Parents should absolutely be paying attention to whose channel their children are watching. Different streaming services regulate their streaming hosts differently. Depending on the age of your child, the content channel and the host themselves may not be appropriate.

That said, watching streamers is also a fantastic way for parents to gain some insight in to some of the things their child enjoys. A lot of parents tell me how they do not have an interest in sitting down and playing video games with their children. This is a fantastic middle ground. Services like Twitch and Mixer allow you to gain first hand experience with games across all genres without ever having to pick up a controller.

Top photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash; Cool Mom Tech is a reward style affiliate.