Performances and publics while watching and live-streaming video games on Twitch.tv
AffiliationComputing and Information Systems
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2019 Naomi Eleanor Isobel Robinson
Twitch.tv is a video live-streaming website that launched in 2011 with content centred mostly, but not exclusively, on the playing of video games. Streamers or broadcasters play games in real-time often accompanied by a face camera and audio, while viewers or audiences watch them and interact through a text chat. This study responds to the small, but growing literature surrounding Twitch, and addresses the relative lack of ethnographic research on the topic. Previous research on the platform has focussed thus far on technical aspects of the platform, however user-focused qualitative research on the platform has started to emerge, making this research both timely and relevant. This thesis considers how, and to what extent, the social practices of users contribute to the concepts of ‘networked publics’ and ‘social performance’. It draws on the work of danah boyd and Erving Goffman and considers the usefulness of their theoretical contributions to help contextualise the forms and amendments associated with platforms like Twitch. The analysis emerges from an ethnographic study conducted completely online that features reflexive participant observation, semi-structured, open-ended interviews conducted via email, and in-depth observations of participants’ channels. The thesis is divided into three thematically-organised main data chapters that then feed into a discussion that draws them together to consider a larger conceptual framework. The first such data chapter, ‘Twitch as a Social Media Platform’, argues that the platform demonstrates its role as a social networking site through evidence of matchmaking and mental health. The second main chapter, ‘Twitch as a hobby-profession’, addresses casual and serious leisure and considers the platform in terms of personal investment, branding, and streamer motivation. The third main chapter, ‘Interactions of Streamers and Viewers’, considers the different types of interactions displayed between various users including parasocal relationships and how audiences may hold power on Twitch. Overall, the thesis offers insight into platform use and it characterises Twitch as a user-led participatory space for like-minded individuals who interact in particular ways in a shared community of practice. The interactions exist along a flexible continuum of differing levels of intimacy where users can lurk, actively participate, and network on both personal and professional levels. Audiences are critical for the platform to function, for communities to flourish, and for streamer success. Streamers build rapport and construct ‘authentic’ brands to attract viewers and promote loyalty and sincerity, and users are seen to actively shape and shift extant social structures and practices over time. Ultimately, users find meaning, produce a sense of community belonging, forge social networks, and shape their own identities in relation to others. The thesis concludes that Twitch somewhat paradoxically is both fleeting and robustly sustained by its contemporary community of practice. This community is produced and maintained through interaction and performance that shapes the construction of Twitch’s publics, with Twitch itself acting as a large participatory public as well. Performative sociality and networking are understood as key driving forces for Twitch, offering a rewarding space to make relationships, participate in self-care, share in leisure, and build potential livelihoods, with entertainment becoming a pleasing secondary function.
KeywordsTwitch; ethnography; video; live-streaming; communities of practice; performances; publics; social media; networking; parasocial; interactions; online; video games; hobbies; mental health; leisure; digital humanities; digital; anthropology; human-computer interaction
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