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D&D 5E What is up with the popularity of watching other D&D groups play the game?

twofalls

DM Beadle
D&D voyeurism has gone through the roof, and it's a complete mystery to me. Now for perspective I'm 51 years old and have played D&D for over 40 years, almost exclusively as a DM, so it may be a generational or even an issue of my role in games, but I'm just not sure. I've tried to watch some of these different and inexplicably popular shows and it's quite difficult for me to think of a more insanely boring activity. Why are these so popular? What is entertaining about them? I can't help but feel as though I'm missing something interesting about this activity due to all the attention they have been getting. I LOVE running D&D games, but watching one being run that I'm not involved in is like watching a golf match. Fun to play, abysmal to watch (yet many do to my continued astonishment).
 

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GlassJaw

Hero
Agreed, I don't get it either. I'd like to say it's a generational thing but I know a lot of grognards gamers my age that do like it.

I haven't analyzed it too much but I think for me it's because it's not competitive. I used to play wargames fairly competitively and I would watch other people play, similar to chess or poker.
 
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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
While I am about as baffled by the appeal as you are, I'm maybe more reluctant to slag on them or on the people who enjoy them. A few of the players at one of my tables are playing because of the game--and if my wife hadn't wanted to know the specifics of the rules they were playing under, we wouldn't have picked up the 5E books, and I wouldn't have gotten back into TRPGs.

My own reaction is that after maybe five minutes I want to turn off the stream, get out the books, and play. I also don't think they're particularly enjoyable to watch, and they're not particularly like any gaming table I've ever been at.

OTOH, I used to watch a fair amount of golf, mostly when I was teaching myself to play bass and wanted something to watch other than my hands ...
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I will watch or listen to actual plays of specific products I am thinking about or planning to run myself. This is okay for getting some perspective on the content and how players engage with it. But for sheer entertainment, I do not find any of the actual play podcasts, even the popular ones, to be very good at all. My criteria for an entertaining game or actual play is that it must be (1) productive or (2) funny, preferably both. No show has managed to achieve this in my view except the early days of Acquisitions Incorporated and Crit Juice (both D&D 4e games).
 




billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Not every means of getting your game-fix in is going to work for everyone. Nor is every stream, podcast, discussion board, or whatever.

As someone who's also 51 and has been playing 40 years, I like some streaming of D&D campaigns. It just depends on who's doing it and if they do it well. It's not that different from walking around a convention floor and observing the games people are playing. I get to observe how other people are doing it - and I find that broadens my own approaches to gaming. Playing with the same people week after week may not actually be stifling, but it is limited in the sense that it doesn't reflect how other people are doing things in the wide world around us. Watching other people can do that if you find it useful.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Not that I keep up with it, but I do listen to Critical Role now and then when I'm exercising, especially when biking. I find it entertaining and it's always interesting to see how people approach the game differently than I do. I don't want to listen to anything too serious when I exercise and if I zone out for a few minutes it doesn't really matter.

Besides, whether playing or DMing, aren't you listening to other people's stories most of the time? I mean, yes, you're involved in the story, but so are a bunch of other people. Guess I don't see that much different.

So it's just cheap entertainment that I can put in my ear buds and listen without it being too distracting or requiring a lot of thought.
 

twofalls

DM Beadle
I get to observe how other people are doing it - and I find that broadens my own approaches to gaming. Playing with the same people week after week may not actually be stifling, but it is limited in the sense that it doesn't reflect how other people are doing things in the wide world around us. Watching other people can do that if you find it useful.
Okay, that is a response I can understand, thank you.
 

monsmord

Explorer
Grognard-in-denial here (53). I'm lukewarm on them. When they're "scripty" or "acted" (like Critical Role, an obviously well-produced show I just don't enjoy), it feels more like theater than play (and sometimes bad theater, and I won't name names here). When they're turn-the-camera-on-while-we-play, it feels more like I stumbled into someone's basement, and I'm "the new guy," not in on their jokes or interpersonal history. There's a sweet spot in the middle, and then it becomes more a question of whether I like the game they're running, and how it's run. Let's say it comes down to, "Would I want to be at that table?" I'm fussy, but I do enjoy a subset here and there. And sometimes I learn something; and I have a LOT of room for improvement as both a DM and player.
 

I watched, and enjoyed, about 6 episodes of Critical Role (Which is about 24 hours). They make a solid attempt to be entertaining. I have yet to find anything else that I can watch past 15-20 minutes.

It started with the younger generation watching E-Sports and play-through, I think. I know my son watched hours of both Minecraft and Fortnite plays.

At the end of the day, I don't think it is too different from watching sports. And while many might disagree, I think about my Mom who can't understand how/why my dad can watch 12-14 hours of college football every Saturday.

But to answer the OP's question, how most of these live plays get such a regular audience....No Clue. But to each his own, and if it grows the hobby, Awesome.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
There are many reasons people might enjoy watching actual plays. For some people, it’s the closest they can get to actually playing D&D due to various circumstances preventing them from getting a group together. For others, it’s a way to experience D&D without the social pressure of playing with other people. For some, it’s just a way to get a sense of what this whole D&D thing is all about. Regardless of why someone starts watching it though, they usually stay for some combination of the story and characters, the players’ personalities, and the camaraderie of being part of the fandom. Same reason people get invested in any media, really. Either you like the story, you like creators/performers, you like the community, or some combination of those factors.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Personally, I’m not that into Critical Role - I’ve watched a fair bit of it, and I enjoy parts of it, but it just doesn’t hold my attention for the 3-4 hours an episode goes on for. But I absolutely love The Adventure Zone. It helps that it’s edited, unlike Critical Role, so there’s much less sitting through the meta-discussion. I enjoy it because the story is interesting, the characters are relatable, and the players are really funny guys, which makes the meta-game banter that does make it into the episodes very entertaining to listen to. It’s like a radio drama and a comedy podcast rolled into one.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Grognard-in-denial here (53). I'm lukewarm on them. When they're "scripty" or "acted" (like Critical Role, an obviously well-produced show I just don't enjoy), it feels more like theater than play (and sometimes bad theater, and I won't name names here). When they're turn-the-camera-on-while-we-play, it feels more like I stumbled into someone's basement, and I'm "the new guy," not in on their jokes or interpersonal history. There's a sweet spot in the middle, and then it becomes more a question of whether I like the game they're running, and how it's run. Let's say it comes down to, "Would I want to be at that table?" I'm fussy, but I do enjoy a subset here and there. And sometimes I learn something; and I have a LOT of room for improvement as both a DM and player.
Whether you take them at their word or not, according to the people involved CR is not scripted in any way. On the other hand they are all voice actors and in a creative industry. Matt obviously has a lot prep time and support for the battle boards. The only time they feel like they're performing (to me) is when they're at cons. YMMV.

On the other hand, I don't watch a lot of things other people enjoy. Watching sports of any kind bores me to tears. On the other hand I enjoy live theater. To each their own.
 

twofalls

DM Beadle
But I absolutely love The Adventure Zone. It helps that it’s edited, unlike Critical Role, so there’s much less sitting through the meta-discussion. I enjoy it because the story is interesting, the characters are relatable, and the players are really funny guys, which makes the meta-game banter that does make it into the episodes very entertaining to listen to. It’s like a radio drama and a comedy podcast rolled into one.
That's what crinkles my shorts on the whole thing, sitting there listening to inside jokes, the metagame, the banter that is meaningless to me as an observer, long dialogue that don't advance the story. It's one thing being the DM and actively listening to the players discuss stuff in the group's game, entirely a different thing to slog through the same mud in a game I'm not invested in. So I will look up and watch TAZ and see if that helps me get into watching other gamers.
 

BRayne

Explorer
I mean it's basically mixing the narrative aspect of any show, movie, or novel with the sort of unpredictability of sports. Also in a way it's a two level narrative, one being the characters in the game, and the other being the players around the table, for example I've seen people describing watching Critical Role as feeling like you're Matt Mercer's younger sibling watching him and his friends play from the basement stairs.
 

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