Reaction videos are videos in which people react to events. In particular, videos showing the emotional reactions of people viewing television series episodes, film trailers and music videos are numerous and popular on video hosting services such as YouTube. The depicted persons may or may not be aware that they are being recorded. In some cases, the video to which people react is shown within the reaction video, allowing the reaction video's viewers to see what is being reacted to.
On television, reaction clips have for a long time been a feature of Japanese variety shows, showing celebrities and tarento reacting to video clips. An evolution of earlier 1970s Japanese TV quiz shows that featured audience participants responding to questions, Fuji Television's Naruhodo! The World in 1981 introduced a format where a panel of celebrities and comedians watched brief videos and answered questions on the video. This eventually evolved into the "waipu" format, where a "waipu box" superimposed on the corner of the screen shows a celebrity or tarento reacting to a video clip. This reaction format is still widely used in Japanese variety shows, where it is the equivalent of a laugh track on American television shows.
Online, one of the first viral reaction videos was that of a child reacting to the "Scary Maze Game" prank on YouTube in 2006. Beginning in 2007, reaction videos began to proliferate on the Internet. Among their first topics were reactions to the scat fetish pornography trailer 2 Girls 1 Cup. By 2011, videos of people recording themselves reacting to film trailers had become a staple of services such as YouTube. The numerous reaction videos for particularly popular or shocking television events, such as the 2013 Game of Thrones episode "The Rains of Castamere", have themselves become the subject of commentary.
Sam Anderson, commenting on the phenomenon for the New York Times Magazine, described it as encapsulating the "fundamental experience of the Internet" in that it involved watching screens on which people watched screens, in a potentially infinite regression. The first reaction videos for the gross-out "2 Girls 1 Cup" allowed people, according to Anderson, to "experience its dangerous thrill without having to encounter it directly—like Perseus looking at Medusa in the reflection of his shield". But much like the later videos featuring reactions to items of popular culture, Anderson wrote, such videos provide the appeal of experiencing, "at a time of increasing cultural difference, the comforting universality of human nature" in showing people of all backgrounds reacting similarly to a shared cultural experience. In CraveOnline, Witney Seibold derided reaction videos as "graceless" and "narcissistic", because they merely reflected immediate emotional reactions, and doubted that the reactions of a person aware of being filmed could in fact reflect the honest emotional response promised by the format.
- Gordenker, Alice (October 18, 2011). "Annoying TV pop-ups". The Japan Times.
- Seibold, Witney (21 July 2015). "Trailer reaction videos are everywhere, but why do they proliferate, and why are they so pointless?". Crave. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
- Anderson, Sam (25 November 2011). "Watching People Watching People Watching". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
- Hudson, Laura (6 May 2014). "What's Behind Our Obsession With Game of Thrones Reaction Videos". Wired. Retrieved 12 September 2015.