What I’ve noticed in our generation and its relation to media consumption is that even when we’re busy doing one task, we like to consume some type of media in the background. Despite not actively watching this YouTube video, series or movie it fills the ‘void’ of our quiet rooms and gives our brains something to subconsciously listen to. Just like that, I started watching Grey’s Anatomy while cooking because just being engaged in one task wasn’t enough, I had to listen to something and emerge myself in this badly-written hospital drama series. I have to admit though that shows like this are my ultimate guilty pleasure and my food occasionally burned because I got too caught up in the awkward 2000s love triangle that was unfolding right in front of me.
Long story short, I got too involved with Grey’s Anatomy and instead had to find another thing to watch while cooking. My YouTube algorithm seems to still have not figured out what I’m truly interested in so that was not an option. This is when I started watching Twitch streams because they seemed like an infinite video in which you can tune in and out of whenever it pleases you. No need to find content, just see who’s streaming at this moment and watch whatever they’re doing. It’s not a platform I find myself on daily, but as I delved deeper into Twitch and the random suggestions it gave me to figure me and my interests out, I also discovered some weird things.
One of my favourite finds is DashDucks, and as the name suggests; the stream shows ducks “Chillin on the pond. Duck Style. XD”, as the bio of the account accurately describes. I know this doesn’t particularly sounds exciting and, to be honest, it isn’t really. The stream just features different angles of this pond in which ducks live and as subscribing to the channel for a small monthly fee gives you the right to feed the ducks once a day. Another thing you can do as a subscriber is change the cameras and control your view of the ducks. In the chat you can also ‘pet’ the ducks by typing a specific command. I, as a new user of Twitch, was very confused by the roughly 300 viewers of the stream who do not only watch the ducks and listen to them quack to each other, but request different camera angles and know the ducks by name. Despite the fact that nothing really happens, why am I judging these people who are engaged in a stream when I myself am a sucker for shitty American drama shows where every episode follows the same pattern? Whereas the ducks may just be swimming in their pond and enjoying the food from the subscribers, at least what we see is not scripted and it shows us what they are doing in real time.
And that is what I think the main appeal of Twitch is; we see something real happen right in front of our eyes and just by watching and interacting with the chat we feel involved. Perhaps a better example of Twitch’s immersive ability are IRL Streams, by for instance robcdee; who streams his daily life in Japan, or Hitch; a travel streamer. We as a viewer see their everyday surroundings as they take their camera around their environment as a friend would, showing you around a new city or country. IRL Streaming is broadcasting any activity that’s not playing videogames or business related, according to Restream. Usually, IRL streams are more casual than for instance the stream of a streamer playing games, because their set-up is not tied down to one room or area. IRL Streamers may use portable equipment such as microphones and cameras to give them the freedom to go about their day to day activities. As we watch them do so, it may give off the feeling as if we are on a Facetime call with a friend, but rather than talking back at them directly we write our thoughts and questions in the live chat, where we can also interact with others who are watching with us.
The IRL section on Twitch took off around the same as the worldwide rage of PokemonGo, which pushed streamers to go outside and show what they were really like outside of their usual setting. This is pointed out by Slush on YouTube, who breaks down the evolution of IRL Streaming on Twitch:
The IRL category first pushed the boundaries of the definition of streaming, but it got out of hand as shown in the video inserted above. Personally, I was a bit young and out of the loop with streams so I did not experience this myself. Twitch’s community guidelines tightened and discouraged streamers to push boundaries, and eventually broke down the IRL section into ‘Travel and Outdoors’ and ‘Just Chatting’. ‘Just Chatting’ is however still an extremely broad category, which ranges from showing viewers Japan to watching girls in their bikinis doing a workout. The ‘Just Chatting’ category is like a deep cave where one day when you scroll through it you find a treasure and explore a new area through video, while other days you find half-naked girls monetising male loneliness by presenting themselves as a ‘virtual girlfriend’. This reminds me of for instance online chat rooms where men who are not satisfied sexually get satisfaction out of platonic relations. After watching the linked video, I wonder however if the separation of the IRL category helped improve the situation in any way.
There is a lot more to Twitch than just this, but this is just a quick breakdown of my recent observations and discoveries of the platform.