UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Seminar: Mark Johnson - Why do people watch other people playing video games? The rise of the broadcasting and spectating of digital play - CANCELLED TO BE RESCHEDULED

Start: Feb 21, 2018 04:00 PM

Location: UCL Chadwick 2.18


21st February 2018, starting at 16:30, with tea and coffee available from 16:00.


UCL Chadwick Building, room2.18, starting at 16:30, with tea and coffee available from 16:00.


Ever since the earliest days of video games, many people have chosen to watch others playing these interactive technologies instead (or as well as) playing them themselves. Although this began with just looking over the shoulder of your friend in the arcade, nowadays over two million individuals from around the world regularly broadcast themselves playing video games over the internet, to viewing audiences of over one hundred million in total, with several thousand individuals able to make a full-time income, potentially in the six-figures, by monetising their broadcasts. Equally, the rise in the last decade of "eSports" - professionalised competitive video game play - has also highlighted this desire to watch others playing, with international competitions selling out arenas that can hold ten thousand spectators, and giving out tens of millions of dollars in prize money to the most skilled cyber-athletes that citizens tune in to view. Drawing on two years of (still ongoing) interview and ethnographic work, this talk will explore the interwoven phenomena of live streaming and eSports, and focus on three elements. Firstly: who is broadcasting/playing, and who is watching? What are the demographics, interests, backgrounds and motivations of those involved in both halves of these emerging ecosystems? Secondly: what are the lives of these highly-visible video game players like, specifically in terms of labour and the transformation of play into work; and how do viewers view, and how does this differ (or remain similar to) television or cinematic media consumption? Thirdly, what do the futures of these two domains look like in the next five-to-ten years? What is the impact these phenomena are having on the games industry specifically, and media consumption more generally? The talk will therefore seek to explore these major changes in the sociotechnical entanglements of the video game industry and video game consumption - significantly larger than the film and music industries combined - and to begin to think about why precisely people would sometimes rather watch others playing video games, instead of simply playing them themselves.

About the speaker

Dr Johnson's research is focused on a number of related topics at the intersections between video games, money, new forms of employment and labour, and interactive technologies: He is currently especially interested in Esports and competitive gaming, Twitch and live streaming, fantasy sports, and professional gambling. His first monograph, The Unpredictability of Gameplay, is due out in late 2017/early 2018 by Bloomsbury Academic, and he is currently securing the contract for his second book. He has published about half a dozen journal papers and book chapters, with another half-dozen hopefully coming out soon. He has spoken at dozens of games conferences including GDC Europe, DiGRA, FDG, the International Conference on Computational Creativity, the Canadian Game Studies Association, AISB AI & Games, Nucl.AI, and many others, on topics ranging from qualitative procedural generation to Japanese arcade culture, and interactive storytelling to ASCII game semiotics.

STS research seminars

The purpose of this series is to provide colleagues with an opportunity to present their latest research results and discuss them within a collegial atmosphere. 

STS research seminars are open to scholars from any academic field. These normally are research intensive, specialised events, of interest specifically to scholars in the discipline. More upcoming talks in the STS research seminar series are listed in the STS calendar (link).