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Playing games. Writing words. Rap music and NBA basketball. Dinosaur documentaries and non-dinosaur documentaries. Gluten-free bagels and the cranberry meatballs that they sometimes sell at Costco. Get at me.

*No affiliation with CTE World recording artist Young Jeezy.
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What the hell is up with stream culture?

At the time of this writing itís been about a week since I started regularly streaming PS4 gameplay via Twitch.† I have no career aspirations in this field.† A donation-funded Paypal fortune is not in my future.† All Iím saying is Iíve got a little, and I do stress little, bit of experience with this stuff, and from here onward Iíll try to talk about it.

As of now, hereís what I know about streaming as it relates to me: There are things that I like about it, things that I donít, and things that are just objectively weird.†

I came in like a wrecking ball

Itís game four of the 2014 NBA Finals, and as my created player drives past next-gen Derek Fisher for whatís sure to be one dirty dunk, I say, ďI came in like a wrecking ball.Ē† The mic clipped to my t-shirt collar picks it up, and after a few seconds of delay the chat erupts in lols.† ďHe actually said it,Ē someone types.† ďYou gotta sing it, with feeling,Ē someone else instructs.† When I ask them if itís from a song, and find out that itís a Miley Cyrus song, and realize that Iíve been unknowingly dropping Miley Cyrus quotes on my NBA 2K14 stream, I get that they got me, and I laugh about it and we share this fun, stupid moment.

Fun and stupid, sure.† Also a little weird, right?† The people in the chat donít just suggest catchphrases.† They tell me to change my playerís shoes, shave his beard, demand a trade.† Shoot less, pass more, do this, stop that.† Maybe this is just a little good-natured back-seat driving amongst congregated virtual hoop nerds of the internet.† Maybe not, though.† What could be behind this urge to demand, be heard, and see results?†† †††

It might have a lot in common with the cause-effect satisfaction we get out of games.† Push a button, make something happen.† Itís just that in this case the button in question isnít labeled with a letter or a shape, and it isnít a character on a screen that youíre taking control of.† Ask for a shoutout and hear your name bounce back at you through your speakers.† Make a suggestion that changes the course of whatever game the streamer is playing and feel the impact of your presence.†Thereís a weird kind of power in that.†Hereís somebody Iíve never met, maybe we donít even live on the same continent, and I just got them to do something with a few easy keystrokes.†

Now, Iím not sure that thereís something wrong with any of this.† Itís to be expected that people are going to want to participate and be included, and their contributions are pretty much usually harmless.† Still, though, when youíre on that stage, trying to both enjoy your game and give the people what they wantóI donít know, itís weird.†


When me time becomes look-at-me time

This is probably my biggest beef with streaming, at least, my personal experience with it.† Games for me have always been a way to relax.† I throw on a podcast, or some music.† I zone out and I play.† Maybe I reach a point with a particular title where the movements and the patterns become routine, the muscle memory takes over, and my mind is free to idle, to reflect, to worry, to hope.† I am all-the-way by myself in these moments, and not in a sad or lonely way, in a really freeing way.† Thereís no one here for me to try to please or worry about offending.† In these moments all Iím responsible for is myself, and I donít have to do anything that I donít want to, and I can think about stuff, and I can breathe a little bit.

When I come off a long stream, I am immediately shocked by, and wholly appreciative of, the return to radio silence.† Yeah, theyíre only comments on a screen, but as I continue to read and respond they become noise in my head.† Itís not that I mind the conversationóa lot of the time itís really fun and probably the only thing thatís kept me coming backóbut it doesnít take long for me to reach a point where I yearn for dead air, for decompression.††††

An obvious solution would be to stream when I feel like it and not when I donít.† And maybe thatís right.† This may be a case where the cake can be both had and eaten.† I just wonder if streaming is more of an all-or-nothing thing.†When Iím playing without broadcasting thoughts can creep into my head.† Is it selfish or antisocial of me to withhold this from people who seem to legitimately enjoy hanging out in the chat and watching me play?† I donít know.

It just feels like streaming is changing the way I play videogames, and not in a way that Iím sure I like.†


C.R.E.A.M.

Letís talk about money.† As more people started to tune into my stream, Iíd get questions about how they could ďdonate.Ē† Having been largely unfamiliar with the concept, Iíd answer a little incredulously.† Iíd tell them that I donít do that, and suggest that they could give their money to a real charity.† Donít pay me for playing video games, because thatís crazy.

Streamer-as-career has to be one of the more bonkers concepts to exist in gaming culture.† Iíve watched streams, long before I ever tried it myself, and I enjoyed them.† Couldíve been good footage of a game I was interested in, or a streamer with an amusing style of commentary, or just useful as something to throw on in the background.† Iíd appreciate the streamer for sharing and letting people into his or her gaming experience, but I never once thought that was an act worthy of crowd-funded financial compensation.†

Somebody trying to rationalize this exchange might argue that it isnít any different than a musician expecting their all-aged fan base to spring for a new album, whether it come out of a paycheck or a weekly allowance.† The main difference here is that those musicians are making art.† I donít care how good you are at playing League of Legends, or how funny you are when you talk about itóthat ainít art.† Youíre not an ďonline entertainer.Ē† Youíre a person who can play videogames and talk at the same time.† Collect your medal, release the balloons, but please donít ask some 14-year-old in Nebraska to follow your Paypal link.††† ††††††

Now, thereís an important distinction to make here.†Iím not opposed to people getting their money.† Streamers who are paid by a site for generating ad revenue should by all means collect their due.† That model has been around since newspapers, and itís valid.† My beef is with those who are bold enough to request that their ďfansĒ compensate them for streaming like itís some kind of service to society.†I wonít even bother to do a deep dive on the guy who pretended to be paralyzed, only to receive thousands in donations and one day rise from his wheelchair when he didnít think anyone was looking.† We can only hope that that sort of incident is a largely isolated one, but I think an environment capable of fostering that level of madness deserves to be looked at a little askance.††

Maybe Iím taking too hard a line on this.† I understand that people are free to spend their money however they want.† I can sort of see somebody who enjoys a particular stream thinking that their†modest contribution might motivate its recipient to keep broadcasting.† I just feel like itís on the streamers to decline these gifts.†Iím sure there are particular cases with circumstances that would make me feel alright about it.† In general, though, people are paying you guys to play video games, and they shouldnít be.†


This is my e-couch and there's enough room for everybody

Let me chill out for a minute.† Streaming isnít human trafficking, or Big Oil, or the boogeyman.†There are a lot of great things about it, and while my experience with it has been mixed, that mixture includes some good stuff to go along with the bad and the weird.††

Ideally, streaming is like letting hundreds or thousands of likeminded nerds into your living room, without actually letting them into your living room.† The streamer offers up this sliver of his or her world and the people peek in.† If they like what they see, they kick their feet up.†They stay a while and talk about stuff.†As much as I went on earlier about the importance I put on alone-time gaming, there has to be some good that comes from transforming a normally isolated activity into one of community and human interaction.†

In the handful of days that Iíve spent streaming, Iíve talked to people from Argentina, from Lithuania, from my own city.††As much deserved crap as the internet gets for being a cesspool of negativity, most of the chats Iíve participated in have been largely positive.† Sure, there are trolls and racists and perverts, but thatís what life is.†For the most part, people are cool.†They want to talk about games, or sports, or pop culture, and sometimes it even gets a little deeper.† †

Iíve met some people.† Played multiplayer with some of them, swapped messages with others.† My once-barren PSN friends list now shows life at all awkward hours of the day and night.†I wouldnít have any of that without streaming.† So, yeah, Iím not mad at it.† I just donít know if Iím going to keep doing it.† †††


Stream or get off the mic

If youíve stuck with me this far, you know that my feelings about streaming are of a mercurial nature.† Right now I donít know if this is something Iím going to make part of my routine, or if Iíll just up and walk away from it, without having gained much beyond a more robust friends list, a weekís worth of weird memories, and this blogpost.†

Either way, itís probably safe to assume that the streams will keep flowing, whether I choose to paddle ashore or drift on ahead.
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