Involuntary Twitch

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Over the last couple of months I’ve become obsessed with twitch streaming. I’m not talking “hanging-outside-in-the-bushes-waiting-for-you-to-come-home, boy-you-smell-nice-today” obsessed, but not far from it. There’s something intriguing about this new and evolving medium that I’m struggling to understand. Streaming on Twitch is a uniquely modern convention that wasn’t even conceivable a decade ago. Twitch allows fans to directly interact with their chosen streamers in real time. The streamers themselves run the personality gambit from soft spoken aspiring introverts to larger than life memelords. Since there is no real barrier of entry for new performers, aside from the minor technological requirements, Twitch operates like a non-stop open mic night where anyone can log on, boot up their game of choice, and try to gain a following of devoted fans. As a result, Twitch comes across as a de facto democracy where the audience votes via views determining winners and losers in real time.

It should come as no surprise to anyone with a pulse and a modicum of cultural awareness that people are now making a living as professional streamers. We are in the midst of a new gold rush with aspiring steamers of every race, gender, and creed prostrating themselves before the masses, all in pursuit of some level of notoriety. There are no strict unbreakable formats that all streamers are chained down to and it seems the formula for success is still very much in flux. Like the early days of television, radio, the internet, or even the current climate of youtube; there is a very experimental mentality in Twitch content. Streamers are throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. Some users thrive on the relatively new “Creative” and “IRL” channels, which often showcase live displays of talents and skills that are normally done behind closed doors. Within a single day, I witnessed DaemonMachine change tires and fix a radiator in his shop, dropped in on Henley hosting a tabletop game of Star Wars D20; and spent time listening to MissCoookiez discuss views on parenthood while painting a beautiful landscape. Twitch is one hell of a place.

The bread-and-butter for streaming is, of course, the infamous “Let’s Plays.” They constitute the vast majority of both streamers and viewers at any given time. When you hear about professional streamers that make a living online, entertaining viewers for eight hours a day playing video games, these are the high profile guys and gals that they’re talking about. They play everything from popular new releases to retro classics, all for the hopeful adoration of their fans.

You can’t look at streams as a commodity. Their interactive and improvisational nature marks them more as a performance art. Even when streamers say they are “just being themselves,” we can’t discount the fact that the whole purpose of streaming is to entertain. They know they’re being watched and, whether or not it’s a conscious choice, their reactions and dialogue are tailored to the audience. Overreactions and freakouts are common occurrences on many popular channels with streamers trying to create viral clips to draw in more subscribers. Many viewers cite these moments disparagingly as a reason to avoid certain streams due to a lack of authenticity. The argument here is that by curtailing their behavior, a streamer is removing the intimate aspect of the medium and negating its value to the audience.There is some merit to this perspective. It casts these “fake” streamers in the same light as “sell-out“ bands, or directors that churn out abysmal movies for just another paycheck*. It’d be naive to disregard this viewpoint, and there is definitely a much deeper discussion to be had here. However, we are bordering on trying to reexamine the very definition of art; a battle that this humble blog is ill equipped to fight.

Philosophical meandering aside, the connections that develop between streamers and their audience fascinate me. After reading this article, I’m hoping your interest might be peaked as well. So let’s use this as a jumping off point for a grand new series. Moving forward we’re going to look for opportunities to spotlight some up and coming streamers. We want to look at who these people are, and what it is that defines their channels. We want to peek behind the curtain and learn about these unique individuals striving to be internet-famous. What drives them? What have they learned from streaming and how has it affected their lives?

I’m stoked** to have a forum like this to introduce you to some of the streamers that I’ve been spending time with, but I’d love to know your thoughts too. Is there a Twitch personality that has caught your eye? What is about their stream that makes it stand out for you? Share your thoughts below.

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*Michael Bay, Uwe Boll, M Night Shyamalan, George Lucas, etc… I’m aware that bashing on these fellas is very much a case of beating the proverbial dead horse, but as it’s my turn with the club, just couldn’t resist.

**Stoked: A word that only boards my train of thought when I’m particularly stoked.

 

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