“Why would anyone want to watch someone play a video game? Go and play one yourself!” he sneered, returning to the live NBA game on TV without a hint of irony. It’s a common retort you hear when mentioning to someone that you enjoy spending time browsing channels on Twitch, and a comment which is completely unjustified.
When I try to explain why I enjoy dropping in on a channel and watching a random stranger play a bunch of games I might not even have any interest in purchasing, it’s pretty difficult to put any reasoning across without the obligatory eye-rolls and head-shaking by those who’ve never experienced it. After all, the worst part about going to your friend’s house after school was sitting around, waiting for them to die so it could finally be your turn to show how much more skilled and talented you were at playing their favourite game.
Streaming a game obviously has more noticeable perks, but what about the majority of Twitch users who don’t – those who just like watching streams and chatting to the host, the regulars and those moderators who make you feel just as welcome as the guy or gal on camera? For me, the key word is community. When you do find a welcoming coterie who share your love of a particular series, or just games in general, the social aspect of this cannot be underestimated. There’s no better antidote to a long and stressful day at work than kicking off your shoes, flopping on the couch and sending a Twitch channel to your Google ChromeCast to idly watch while you’re browsing Reddit.
This next comment may irk a few of the people I regularly pop in on, but I have to admit to only enjoying channels with fewer than 20 or so regular viewers. When you’re in a hugely popular stream and your messages get overlooked due to the sheer amount of activity in the feed, the personal community feel of the channel disappears. That’s not to say that those who stream to hundreds of viewers are ignoring the majority of their fanbase, but I can’t see how everyone can feel included in such a crowded space. When you’re in a chatty mood and want to ask how the streamer and the other regulars are, what they think of the latest PewDiePie controversy or if the Switch ‘joycons’ are the worst branded peripherals in gaming history, the last thing you want is to be ignored.
That said, the social side of Twitch is not the only draw for me and Twitch viewers at large. There are many of us who enjoy watching dedicated gamers who are masters of their craft and by observing them in action you’ll be given invaluable advice on such things as how best to tackle a boss you’re raging over or what the best strategy is when playing a new class you fancy changing to.
You may have also noticed that the video game magazine is dying a rapid and painful death and the way we absorb our video game media has changed over the years. No longer are we poring over the pages of our monthly issue of Edge Magazine, nor playing the latest demo disc that came with Official PS Magazine, but instead the internet age has led us to require our information immediately and complete. Twitch has now become invaluable to those who avoid day 1 purchases or pre-orders and allows people to judge a game based on actual gameplay and reactions from someone playing it from either a veteran standpoint or a streamer who’s just downloaded it. This is not only crucial to those with a limited budget to spend on video games, but to developers who want to get their games seen by as many people as possible, which is why developer-Twitch cross promotions are being seen more and more.
With the continued integration of social aspects in gaming not confined to multiplayer games, the rise in popularity of community-focused streaming sites such as Twitch and YouTube Gaming should come as no surprise to anyone, yet as with any seemingly new approach to gaming, there will be plenty of people who just don’t ‘get it’. Should you fall into that category, rather than dismissing it out of hand, spend an hour or so scrolling through Twitch’s clunky and unfriendly UI until you find a streamer playing a game you’re interested in and say hello. That’s how I started… and the rest is Twistory.
You can follow Ben’s Twitch channel here.