My Love/Hate Relationship With Twitch Chat

heartbreak

When I first stumbled upon the Japanese video streaming site Nico Nico Douga, I instantly yearned for the English speaking world to catch on to its gimmick. On NND, comments are overlayed atop the videos, allowing viewers to see other people’s second-by-second reactions to whatever is occurring onscreen. In practice, this format can prove unwieldy, particularly when the comments are so dense that they obscure the video itself. Still, there was something appealing about the idea of the comments being an integral part of the video-watching experience. And with the advent of Twitch, I finally found a platform that gave me exactly what I wanted.

As much as I still enjoy watching Let’s Plays on Youtube, Twitch provides a more interactive and communal experience for streamers and viewers alike. There is more direct back-and-forth between the player and their audience, as well as the audience with each other, which allows both parties to feel far less lonely compared to the more solitary pastime of watching Youtube videos.

To my initial surprise, I derive much of my enjoyment from the scrolling chat box.

I essentially watch streams to see how other people react to a certain game, and there is no better way to do so than to watch hundreds, if not thousands of people comment on the same game in real-time. On the most enjoyable streams, I find myself laughing almost constantly at the ongoing dialogue on both chat and the stream itself, and there are times when I find a stream so entertaining that I will eagerly devote 50+ hours to re-experiencing a game that I’ve already played.

Twitch is quite literally all fun and games. Until I am inevitably reminded of how much of an outcast I am in the gaming community at large, and all my enthusiasm gradually bleeds out.

For the most part, it’s through the little things.

A stray comment in which someone compares a self-righteous villain to a stereotypical Tumblr user. A streamer who sarcastically criticizes his viewers for making assumptions about his gender or sexuality, which in turn prompts a flood of ironic “angry woman” emojis in chat. On their own, these aren’t big enough grievances to convince me to leave the stream, but all these small annoyances add up over time.

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It’s hugely disappointing, especially since some popular streams often have surprisingly diverse audiences. Twitch streams attract gamers from all over the globe. I have lurked on streams containing both self-professed Trump supporters and detractors, as well as streams with large female and male audiences. It’s also common for me to see a range of thoughts and insights expressed in the chat whenever deeper topics do crop up.

But even in streams with more diversified audiences, the anti-social justice culture is often treated as the default.

Ultimately, Twitch is a space for the type of video game fan who treats someone like me with automatic contempt. It is rare that I come across a popular stream that is devoid of triggered jokes and unprompted expressions of scorn and derision for “SJWs.” All of which serve as constant reminders that many of my fellow video game fans seem to hate me, and to them, I will always be an outsider.

Above all else, it’s unpleasant and it ruins the fun of simply enjoying a game with another group of people. I watch streams on Twitch because I want to feel less isolated. I want to see how other people react to my favorite game moments or what strategies other players developed for defeating a particularly difficult boss fight. Instead, I sometimes leave Twitch feeling even more isolated.

So please, Twitch community, I am asking nicely here: can we all make an effort to create at least one space where we can leave our political and social differences aside and just enjoy a game together? Where we focus on our shared love of games instead of our differing beliefs? Where we can just have fun for once and not constantly remind everyone of how much some of us hate the other?

Because this? This is honestly exhausting.

Image graphic by Alexander Skowalsky from the Noun Project.

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