Thanks to the advent of social media, watching other people play videogames has never been bigger. The humble “Let’s Play” has evolved from a niche video format into a defining feature of the modern gaming experience. The term “Let’s Player” also evokes a variety of images. Some might imagine YouTube gamers playing the latest releases, providing humorous commentary, while others may envision a 20-something Twitch streamer, shrieking racial slurs during a battle royale match. However, for me, I think of Tim Testa. To PC World Magazine he is “Testa the Magnificent,” to others he is “Bucka Bucka Timbo,” but for me he is “Dad.”
While 2000s era YouTube is often credited as the birthplace of “Let’s Plays” and modern Twitch streamers earn millions of dollars thanks to the video/streaming format, in actuality, my Dad was the first true “Let’s Player” in world history. Allow me to take you on a journey, back to the ’90s, where a budding comedian and his sitcom would unknowingly shape the future of the videogame industry forever.
Tim Testa – An Abridged History of Comedy
Before becoming the world’s first Let’s Player, my father was a fixture of the Colorado and Rocky Mountain comedy scene and even to this day remains somewhat of a local celebrity, as TSA officers, DMV workers (and/or many with jobs that require me to show my ID) have inquired whether I am related to him, thanks to my middle name. On occasion, I’ve even heard some of the Centennial State’s most well-known radio hosts casually drop my Dad’s name during on-air conversations, which isn’t surprising considering the fact that he opened for some of the world’s biggest comedy acts including Ellen DeGeneres, Larry the Cable Guy, Louie Anderson (to name a few), as well as legendary musicians like Ray Charles.
Thanks to his comedy prowess, in 1993, my Dad was approached by the Jones Computer Network (JCN) to host his own sitcom/computer show or “sitcomp” called Home Computing, which would set the stage for the world’s first “Let’s Play.”
Home Computing – A Sitcom Ahead of its Time
In an era where personal computers were uncommon, and the internet was still an unknown entity to most Americans, Home Computing helped to educate viewers with its computer tutorials while injecting some much-needed humor into the often dry subject of hardware and software. The sitcom centered around my Dad playing a fictional version of himself, as a colorful shirt-clad suburbanite, hosting a computer show from his basement, giving the audience helpful advice, tutorials, reviews, and interviews with important industry players, as well as featuring a weekly storyline full of banter with his funny, off-screen, sometimes nagging TV wife (not my real Mom) played by Wendy Bergen. For those interested, here is a viral fan video, which provides a funny montage of Home Computing’s pilot episodes.
The nationally broadcast show would go on to be a successful, syndicated program for Knowledge TV and JCN, running for seven seasons, 90 episodes, and catapulted my father to the role of official spokesman and unofficial mascot for both networks. Along with its popularity, Home Computing was groundbreaking in various ways, such as becoming the first TV show with a website (or home page as it was colloquially known). However, the show’s most unsung achievement was developing and airing the first videogame “Let’s Plays” ever made.
Tim Testa – The World’s First (And Best) Let’s Player
Wikipedia defines “Let’s Play” as “a video documenting the playthrough of a video game, often including commentary and/or a camera view of the gamer’s face. A Let’s Play differs from a video game walkthrough or strategy guide by focusing on an individual’s subjective experience with the game, often with humorous, irreverent, or critical commentary from the gamer, rather than being an objective source of information on how to progress through the game.” While a YouTuber by the name of “Slowbeef” is often denoted as the world’s first “Let’s Player” with their first videos being released sometime between 2005 and 2007, the Home Computing television “Let’s Plays” predate their YouTube descendants by over a decade.
On a fateful Friday in September 1993, the pilot episode of Home Computing unwittingly made history with eight simple words: “Let’s go ahead and play a quick game.” The game in question was Playmaker Football by Broderbund, with Dad cracking jokes to the camera and navigating the unstable hardware of the 1990s to showcase the football sim to his viewers. By every definition, this was a “Let’s Play” before “Let’s Playing” was a thing, and Dad’s first stab at the new format would be far from his last. Over the course of his seven years hosting Home Computing, my father would perform “Let’s Plays” for some of the most iconic videogames of the ’90s, including Prince of Persia, Doom, Myst, Tomb Raider 2, The Curse of Monkey Island, Full Throttle, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Day of the Tentacle, and Sim City 2000 among many, many more. And while this writer may be slightly biased, I can confidently say that in my examination of the many modern imitators, I have yet to find any “Let’s Player” as clever, funny, or entertaining as Tim Testa (even the great Conan O’Brien is a distant second).
Why it Matters
So what does this mean? Why does it matter that Tim Testa was the world’s first “Let’s Player?” Two words: royalty checks. A percentage of revenue from every YouTube and Twitch “Let’s Play” should be distributed immediately to Tim Testa and his children, especially his son. But all joking aside, it matters because my Dad deserves recognition for creating the “Let’s Play” genre (although he would probably name it differently).
I have scoured the internet trying to find any “Let’s Plays” that might have preceded Home Computing, but have yet to discover even a trace, which leads to one logical conclusion: my Dad is the true first Let’s Player in world history. While YouTubers like “Slowbeef” undeniably deserve credit for popularizing the video format during the mid-2000s, it was Tim Testa of Home Computing who created “Let’s Playing” and spent seven years of his life bringing hilarious gaming videos to millions of viewers. While my Dad has not made any “Let’s Plays” in the 20-plus years since the end of Home Computing, he should be recognized as a pioneer of the videogame industry, and as an influence to the modern content creators who followed in his footsteps.