Friday, December 25, 2020

The Influence of a Twitch Streamer

In many past entries I've talked about how we streamers often feel a subtle peer pressure, nudging us toward following the herd. We begin to crave the same trappings that other streamers around us have, and our ideas about the streaming practice become more rigid each day. Similarly, as your channel grows, you will begin to impose your own values upon others, whether consciously or not, in your Discord, your chat, the Twitter community, and the larger streaming scene. How about this- have you ever noticed that people who majorly identify with a certain streamer will eventually adopt that person's mannerisms? They may chat a certain way, pick up particular words, or start playing their games more similarly to how that streamer plays them. All of these examples demonstrate the effects of influence. Whether it's being imposed upon you as the streamer, coming from your own stream, or reaching viewers, everyone is susceptible as they spend more time on the Twitch platform. And while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's important to understand how you're being affected, as well as just how much power you might have as a growing 'influencer' so you can use that power responsibly.


Before any of us started streaming, by creating Twitter presences, joining Discord channels, or simply watching streams, our thinking on various subjects had already begun to subtly change. It's unavoidable as we stay within certain circles. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we're influenced by the actions and ideas of those we spend the most time with- even if we've never met them before. Think of the strange power that celebrities have over many of our lives. They're not only able to sell us products and enlighten us about worthy causes with relative ease, but we often model our own fashion, speech patterns and other affectations after them just because we like the way they look or act. We as a culture have always been fascinated by celebrities- just watch the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd to see a shockingly familiar sight: A nobody from nowhere makes his way from local radio to national broadcasting, then to television, with his power over hearts and minds growing unchecked as he continues on his journey. In the film, average Americans feel they can relate to the character 'Lonesome Rhodes,' who came from humble beginnings and lays on the charm to everyone he meets, so they're more likely to buy products sponsored by him, watch his shows, and even adopt his mannerisms. This type of ultra-approachable celebrity status shown in the film seems to have portended our modern age of influencers. 

In this past decade, we've seen a major shift in who is able to sway hearts and minds. Brad Pitt is a great actor, but most of us here are much less likely to be influenced by him than by our favorite Twitch streamer. Because we can now create two-way conversations with our favorite internet personalities, or even just spend more time watching their content, we inherently begin to trust their opinions more readily than a celebrity we enjoy but know we'll likely never meet. This is all to say that, as someone consumes more streams, tweets, Instagram posts, and other content made by Twitch streamers, they will slowly begin to internalize some of those streamers' beliefs, whether they want to or not. This is why 'influencer marketing' has become so popular lately- agencies are starting to recognize this incredible power that average people in front of a camera can have when they spend enough time with their audiences. 


They're out there!
So you understand how powerful your own influence as a streamer can be (and hopefully you'll use it responsibly), but influence is not a one-way street. You as the streamer are also being influenced every day, by every other streamer and content creator you watch, read, listen to, or engage with in any way. I've touched briefly on this subject before, but have you ever noticed how most Twitch streamers have similar ideas about most aspects of streaming? What makes so many streamers have flashy, multicolored LED light setups on their PCs for example? What makes most streamers pick from a few very specific brands of headphones, or a few very specific brands of chairs? It's because influence has fed back into itself. Once a community formed around streaming, that meant that other streamers began consuming each others' content and ideas, and like waves lapping hundreds of thousands of times upon a stone, this group-influence slowly molded the average stream into what it looks like today. As more streamers began adopting this aesthetic, more advertising agencies reinforced it in our minds by selling us on this idealized look. And as more streamers were sold these products, even more ads began to crop up, and the cycle has continued exponentially. Don't get me wrong- this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The mere existence of influence isn't inherently evil. There's nothing wrong with having any of the products I mentioned either, but it's interesting to consider that the desire to have them may not have sprung from your own mind. As Yuval Noah Harari demonstrates in his excellent book Homo Deus, we're able to freely choose between several different options in our heads, but we can't choose the impulses that put those options in our heads in the first place. 

Okay, so we're all subject to influence. But don't eat your sim card and start wearing a tinfoil hat just yet. If you understand how you're being affected, it's possible to make more informed decisions about how you create your content. There are often things I'll think could never work on my stream, but when I really think about it, I'll realize it's only because I've been conditioned to think that way. It's common on Twitter for example, to see some massively retweeted post saying, "If you don't do X, Y, or Z, why are you even streaming at all?" Because of the way our human brains are set up, when we see an opinion like that from one person on Twitter, then from another in a video update, then a third time from someone completely different on their stream, we start to internalize this opinion as fact. We say, "I guess if all these separate people believe this to be true, there must be some truth in it." But if that thing they're advising against is something you genuinely enjoy, and it doesn't break the terms of service, don't let these outside opinions pressure you. Influence can help you find the safest possible route, but 'safe' doesn't make you stand out. Be strong enough to break free from that influence when necessary. 


With great- NO! I won't say it!

Because we create so much bespoke content every day or week, consistent Twitch streamers end up releasing more hours of video than any celebrity could hope to put forth with movies, TV and interview appearances alone. And just like how you may adopt the slang and mannerisms of your friend group, viewers will start to adopt the inside jokes and quirks of your streams as their watch hours reach the hundreds or the thousands. Every Twitch streamer has influence, and it's important to keep that influence in check. To avoid dredging up a tired quote from that old rice brand's namesake, suffice it to say that you should try to be a good person. While your Twitch streams grow, it'll be up to you to make sure that whatever you're putting forth into the world is positive, and fits with your core beliefs. Don't underestimate your influence as a Twitch streamer, and you'll be able to do a lot of good. 

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