Saturday, November 27, 2021

Stream with the Hand You're Dealt

On Twitch, we all begin in the exact same way. No matter who we are, our channels in their first moments will have zero followers, a stock profile picture, and a bunch of ambitions behind the scenes. It’s only after we’ve spent some time that the content begins to really come into its own. However, even once that channel has been fully set up, many of us have a very hard time populating it with content. Like any author faced with a blank page, or a painter looking at a white canvas, once there are no more excuses in the way, and we’re right up against that moment of creation, the real battle begins. Our minds fight back against our ambitions, and try to prevent us from creating what we really care about. Every time we want to go live, we’re essentially locked in a poker game against ourselves. And in this entry, I’ll help you to stream with the hand you’re dealt. 


When you play poker, you’re given a set of cards, called your hand. The cards are of course randomly distributed, so you’re hoping that the hand you get will have a good combination, which is more likely to win if placed up against someone else’s hand. Once everyone around the table has their cards, the players begin betting based on how likely they think they are to win. Finally, when all the rounds of betting are complete, everyone shows what they have. So the best hand is always the winner, right? It’s essentially a game of chance, like a slot machine, but with more frequent betting… right?

It may seem that way from the outside, but anyone who knows poker knows that it isn’t the hand that dictates whether you win or lose most of the time. What really dominates most outcomes in poker is the betting. By betting strategically at different times, players are trying to trick the others at the table into thinking they have different cards than they really do. And in doing so, this often causes players to drop out, or fold, until the next hand is dealt. Therefore, by playing a poor hand in a smart way, a really skilled poker player can often beat someone who’s holding much better cards. As Matt Damon’s character says in Rounders, “Put a guy like me in that game, cards don't even matter. I'll play it blind.” On Twitch, many people lament their circumstances, whether it’s their time, money, skill, or a thousand other possible factors. And like many poker players with a bad hand, streamers often get dejected by their less-than-ideal circumstances and ‘fold,’ or give up, too early. 

Unlike in the wild west, none of the players around
this table will shoot you for winning too many hands.

When you stream on Twitch, the other players around the metaphorical poker table are all trying to knock you out of the game. But those other players aren’t actual people. Each one is another of your internal enemies- those parts of yourself which regularly hold you back. One might be the voice that tells you you aren’t good enough, and shouldn’t be putting yourself out there. Another may be your busy schedule. The wallet always has a seat at the table, and your lack of experience is another regular. As long as you stay on Twitch, you will always be seated at this poker table, playing against your own set of personal opponents. Every day you decide to go live on your channel, another hand is dealt. Maybe your computer is giving you issues today, or something unexpected came up, and your hand isn’t looking so good. Maybe that self-consciousness guy over on the other side of the table is betting pretty heavily, and it’s tough to believe he doesn’t have good cards. All of a sudden, you're not feeling so good about going live. But thankfully, there’s one key difference between Twitch streaming and poker: you’re always holding the best hand of the bunch. You just don’t always know it. As long as you stay in the game, and stop yourself from folding long enough to go live, you’ll always beat those other players inside your head. 


As you continue through this neverending poker game we call streaming, your opponents will sometimes learn new strategies. These occur when outside influences enter your life. Sometimes by seeing too much of what other streamers are doing, you’ll begin second-guessing your own channel. You may be getting busier and busier at work, and can’t seem to catch up in your schedule. Or certain toxic relationships may prevent you from seeing how great you really are. All of a sudden, the next time you want to go live, those other players at the table seem to be betting in a really aggressive way, and it’s difficult to bring yourself to stream. 

That’s why it’s important to take care of yourself, and cultivate good habits for your daily life. In entries like Stream With Strategic Ignorance, I helped you to limit harmful comparisons to other streamers, while in other entries like Stream With No Complaints, I helped you to remove bad influences. Some things around us may be able to be changed and some may not, but it’s always possible to change our outlook about the things that happen to us, and that’s usually enough. Just stay at the table, stay in the game each day, and you’ll eventually get better and better at recognizing most problems for the illusions they really are. When you stream with the hand you’re dealt for long enough, nothing can stop you from achieving your goals. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Learn From Your Stream's Limitations

Even if you’ve never seen one of his movies, you’ve likely heard of Alfred Hitchcock. The legendary ‘master of suspense’ has not only created some of the greatest cinematic works of all time, but his constant pushing of the envelope has helped to move the entire movie industry forward. And with all his innovations in cinematography, conveyance of story, and subversive ideas, it’s likely that at least one of your favorite films can trace its influences directly back to his career. 

Hitchcock could only be so innovative because of the limitations surrounding him, however. Just like how light can’t exist without dark, true greatness can’t exist without limitations. Because it’s only by having boundaries that we’re eventually able to break free of them. Do you feel there’s something holding your streams back? It might be a lack of proper equipment, a feeling that your content doesn’t fit the mold, or insufficient video game skills.  Whatever the worry, what if those very same details were actually what your shows needed all along? In this entry, we’re going to learn from one of the greatest movie directors of all time how to use our limitations to create great things. 


Hitchcock worked within the medium of movies, but he was never content to simply accept the time-tested traditions of the silver screen. Every one of his films displayed an inquisitive, experimental mindset with the camera. His movies are most famous for putting viewers on the edge of their seats, and his use of agonizingly long moments like in Sabotage, or lightning-quick cuts to emphasize the unexpected like in Psycho, exemplify this brilliantly. 

God of War (2018) employed a 'one take'
camera effect, which owes a bit to Hitchcock.

One of his most interesting cinematic achievements was the film Rope, which takes place in ‘real time’ and progresses for its entire runtime while almost never cutting the camera. Modern films like Birdman and 1917 of course pull off this effect even more convincingly, but Rope’s technical hurdles were much more staggering. In 1948, there were no visual effects available to cover up flubs, composite shots together, and generally aid the illusion. There was also the fact that the camera and lights at the time were so massive that in order to move them throughout the room during the film, production assistants were required to
move all the furniture and employ breakaway walls behind the scenes to let the camera pass, and then be prepared everything back exactly how it was whenever the camera moved back to the same room. 

It’s safe to say that Alfred Hitchcock was significantly ahead of his time, always opting to push the envelope and never settling for second-best. So let's consider how that applies to us. When working on a stream, it’s often easy to aim low. Whether we want to be accepted by viewers, a stream team, or just the larger Twitch community, many streamers opt not to rock the boat creatively, staying within the established paradigms. But Hitchcock should prove that, if you care enough about quality, it’s possible to not only change the very foundations of how your content looks and feels, but also be heavily praised for your efforts. 


Hitchcock had a very unique perspective on storytelling as well. Despite the story generally being considered the most important aspect of movies by viewers, he took less interest in actual plotlines than he did in the look and feel of his films. He regularly used the ‘MacGuffin’ plot device, a concept as old as storytelling itself in which the events are focused on an object, which all the characters are trying to either acquire or protect. Examples include the One Ring, The Ark of the Covenant, and The Maltese Falcon. And while Hitchcock often used this in his work, he didn’t think much of it. He said, “The main thing I’ve learned over the years is that the MacGuffin is nothing. I’m convinced of this, but I find it very difficult to prove it to others.” He went on to describe the one he used in North By Northwest (again, a movie of essentially universal acclaim) as “my best MacGuffin, and by that I mean the emptiest, the most nonexistent, and the most absurd.” 

But Hitchcock didn't consider that a bad thing. For him, the actual story in a film was almost inconsequential. When required to cut down his movies, he cared relatively little about the plotline, according to an article from Cinemontage: “For Hitchcock, the bits he was willing to lose were those that illuminated character and plot. Continuity was frequently a secondary concern for the director. Visuals, the interplay of shots, and a picture’s effect on the audience interested him far more than neatly resolved storylines.” It didn’t matter that story is typically considered one of the most important aspects in a film, Hitchcock focused on what was important to him and his creative vision. In Twitch streaming, this same philosophy applies. When you have an understanding of what you want to do, it doesn’t matter if nobody else is doing the same thing. As long as it’s fulfilling your creative vision, the aspects of streaming which are most important on somebody else’s channel don’t need to hold the same weight on yours. 


Arguably one of the largest limitations for Hitchcock in the era when he was making movies was the ever-present threat of censors. The culture at the time had very strict rules for what was and wasn’t allowed to be depicted in a film, and the content of Hitchcock’s films weren’t exactly making it easy for the review boards. Just about every decency rule in the book was broken throughout his career, in order to shock, excite and amaze audiences.

Manhunt for the PS2 was a game that
used its taboo status to its advantage.

In order to allow his films to stay the way he wanted, he would employ pretty ingenious methods to trick the censors. In his earlier days, he would call out the name of a censor while sitting near him in a screening, so the man would turn his head and miss whatever happened in the movie. When the review boards got wise to that strategy, he would intentionally shoot extra footage of completely inappropriate things to include in his movies. The censors would then be so adamant about asking him to take out these scenes that they wouldn’t focus on anything else. Hitchcock would pretend he was compromising, all the while never having intended for those decoy scenes to appear in the final cut in the first place. The wildly controversial scenes he did want to include didn’t seem so bad by comparison, and made it to release. Now, don’t misconstrue this example- I’m not suggesting you find ways to get around the Twitch terms of service. But the sheer creativity in Hitchcock dealing with the limitations of his time often inspires me when working within the constraints of my own stream. If you ever feel like you don’t have the right microphone, a good enough PC, or fast enough internet speeds, consider how Alfred Hitchcock may have approached the same limitations, and put your creativity to work. 


Working within a set of limits can bolster creativity and keep the mind active. It’s easy to wonder what kinds of masterpieces Hitchcock might have made if the various limits of his cinematic era had never been in place, but what I find more interesting is to wonder how those limits may have actually improved his work. Who knows what ideas and techniques he discovered because of the challenges he faced in getting his movies made? Whether fighting against the established norms of technology, storytelling, or censorship, Hitchcock always found a way to get his vision onto movie screens. And if we can learn from the limitations of our Twitch streams, there’s no reason we can’t be just as successful in achieving our own visions. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Three Steps to Start Streaming

Are you just now starting out on Twitch? Maybe you’ve been streaming for a while and you want to rethink your content. Either way, what’s the best way to decide what kinds of shows to produce? It’s a difficult question- one that I’ve personally struggled with many times throughout my life, on my current channel and the ones I’ve worked on before it. But over the years, my views on the matter have gotten simpler and simpler. I eventually realized there’s really only one important thing at the core of any Twitch channel, from which everything else radiates. And in this entry, we’ll explore that philosophy. No matter what kind of content you’re interested in making, this three-step method should be able to help you flesh it out. 


Let your interests live at the center of your streams.
The power in my method stems from the order in which it’s presented. So pay attention that you execute the three steps I’m about to describe
in sequence. Don’t skip around, or you’ll be missing the point of the exercise. If you’re currently at home, or in a place where you can safely keep notes, you can follow along with these steps by filling out your own answers as you go. Maybe even pause and take some time after each to really give it some thought. Ready? 

Step One: What do you enjoy doing?
This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many content creators don’t begin with this simple question. Even apart from the idea of Twitch streaming, what is it you truly love to do? Maybe playing a certain game, or a particular genre of games, is your favorite thing in the world. Or maybe you like building model airplanes. It’s possible you enjoy watching movies, hiking, or working out at the gym. Every one of us has all sorts of interests. Yes, video games may be what the majority of Twitch channels are focused on, but that doesn’t mean your stream has to do that to the exclusion of everything else. Whether you actually stream your Sunday hikes, show photos from your hikes on stream, or just incorporate discussions about hiking into your conversations with chat, there are many ways that your interests can play a part in your content offering. 

Step Two: What would you want to watch? Is there a particular kind of Twitch stream you personally would like to see? Maybe you already watch Twitch streams and you can say what kind of shows you gravitate toward. This doesn’t only apply to Twitch however- you can incorporate all kinds of media into this: YouTube, movies and TV, even books you read and podcasts you listen to. Any piece of content you consume can offer insight to what you might be interested in making. Try not to copy other things (for example, if you want to stream Fortnite, don’t just make a duplicate of someone else’s Fortnite stream) but you can pull in all your various influences to enhance aspects of what you produce. For more ideas on how to open your mind to all the influences around you, see the entry titled To Improve Your Twitch, Get Inspired by Everything. After completing these two steps, you should begin streaming on Twitch. After you’ve been streaming for a few weeks or months, you’ll arrive at:

Step Three: What do others like or dislike about your content? Now that you’ve been producing your shows for a while, you may begin to notice what draws people in or drives them away during your shows. In a few past entries, I’ve dealt with identifying these factors, as well as the things that we may mistakenly think are producing results. All in all though, you will likely find that you don’t need to do much during this step. People naturally gravitate toward content creators who are passionate about what they do. And no matter how obscure your interests are, you can bet that there are scores of other people out there who share that same love. As I’ve spoken about in entries like Don’t Be Afraid to Be Yourself on Stream, ‘fitting in’ with other Twitch streams is not what will make your channel work- it’s standing out. 


You’ll notice a very conspicuous factor in the three steps above: they require that you ignore everyone else’s interests and opinions except your own before you begin streaming. I believe this is the best way to create any piece of content. When you begin with the things that actually interest you, you’ll not only be happier streaming today, but you’ll be happy streaming two years from today. If you strive to achieve the opposite, by first targeting what others want to see, and then squeezing in the concept of enjoyment as a secondary concern, it can’t last. You may be excited now because it’s a new project and you have a boost of energy, but you won’t want to stick with it when times get tough. 

The spice must flow. 

You can apply this same concept to any creative endeavor. Denis Villeneuve, director of the excellent 2021 film adaptation of ‘Dune,’ grew up reading the book. When discussing his thoughts on making it into a new movie, he said, “I was aware that there are millions of hardcore fans of the book out there, but I took it upon my shoulders to deal with the one that I was most afraid of, which is me.” In the entry Stream How You Want, I spoke about how Bob Dylan, at the height of his career, suddenly switched musical styles from acoustic folk songs to harder electric rock. Despite persistent hatred from his longtime fans, he continued pursuing this new musical avenue that he was interested in, which ultimately produced some of his best work. In The War of Art, an excellent book that I’d wholeheartedly recommend to anyone trying to create anything, Steven Pressfield paraphrases Robert McKee: “A hack[...] is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn't ask himself what's in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.” 

As you can see, this same philosophy keeps coming up among every creative discipline. It may seem easier to begin your project by targeting what will garner the greatest success, but that shortcut only leads to a dead end. As your channel gets larger, you’ll only be doing more of this thing you don’t fully enjoy. It’s better to begin with what you love, and let everything grow from there. Then you’ll always have your passion at the center of what you’re doing. And if you find you no longer enjoy it, you can always look back to that passion and steer yourself in the right direction again. Great things happen when your streams begin by catering to just one person: yourself. 

Friday, November 5, 2021

Let Your Streaming Passions Guide You in Life

In several Twitch Playbook entries, I’ve spoken about following your passions. Entries have dealt with choosing less popular but more enjoyable activities, using Twitch to bolster a new skill, and even allowing Twitch to enhance a vacation. It’s my belief that following one’s dreams, rather than following the crowd, is the way to truly be successful. It doesn’t always garner fame or fortune immediately, but it plants unseen seeds for happiness far into your future. In this entry, I will describe how allowing one small passion to show itself on my streams has created ripples throughout my life, letting me explore new things off-stream, and eventually helping me to achieve a major life goal. 


Souls games have amazing lore hidden
in the item descriptions.

For years now, I’ve had a great love for audiobooks. I’ve read hundreds of books in audiobook form, keep track of my preferred narrators’ works, and have listened and re-listened to my favorites time and again. In fact, I even based this podcast on the audiobook format! When thinking of what the show should feel like, I decided I would create each episode like a single chapter in one long audiobook, meticulously writing and copy-editing before recording, and making sure to polish the narration to as professional a quality as I could get it. And this love for the spoken word eventually found its way into my streams. 

I’ve mentioned in this podcast before how I love taking my time in video games, and exploring the things that aren’t necessarily front-and-center. While I’ve always loved doing this while playing privately, I didn’t originally play this way on stream. In a few different entries, I’ve talked about how I previously only played fast-paced games, while skipping any supplementary content I found in order to keep up a pace on the stream. It took a long time for me to slowly migrate my streams toward the gameplay style I actually use while off-stream. Now, I always read the books I pick up in games like The Witcher, and the item descriptions in Bloodborne. I do this out loud on my shows, getting completely into it, like I’m narrating an audiobook. I put on various voices, take on the tone of the writing, and give everything the proper cadence. This change allowed me to enjoy my streams more authentically, and I’m much happier making them. But little did I know that this small quality-of-life improvement would go on to affect so much more than my streams. 


About a year and a half ago, I began doing another podcast. On this second show, I release episodes every single day, each one an audiobook-style reading of a different book which appears in a video game. This new podcast represents my love of audiobooks creeping even further into my content offering, letting me create these performances while separated from my livestreams entirely. All the practice I’d gained by doing this on my Twitch streams made me confident enough to branch out into this whole new field. 

But it didn’t stop there. After having produced this podcast every week for two years, the other podcast full of bite-sized narrations every day, and of course reading as many audiobooks as I could get my hands on, I began to wonder. What was stopping me from becoming an actual audiobook narrator? After all, I had plenty of experience narrating, I had a microphone, and I knew how to edit my own content. All I needed was to figure out how to get myself attached to a book. And after a good bit of research and preparation, I accomplished my goal! I now have two full audiobook narrations published on Audible and Apple Books, with a third coming out next month.

Metal Gear Solid 2 has a few excellent
in-game books.

Now, let’s take a moment and look back at all this. A years-long path led me toward accomplishing a major life goal, and it all stemmed from choosing to show my passion on my Twitch channel. If I hadn’t allowed myself to slow down in the games I played, reading all the books I came across, I never would have begun narrating in-game books on my podcast. And if I hadn’t started that podcast, I never would have become an audiobook narrator. Imagine if I had let my self-consciousness get the better of me, and simply chased what would get me the most views on Twitch. I would have missed out on a huge opportunity. 

How can we quantify the benefit of embracing our passions on stream? Sometimes, like narrating in-game books did with me, they can lead you in totally unexpected directions over the course of several years. There’s just no way to predict how it will help in the future, but at least we know we’ll be doing exactly what we love along the way. Like with my on-stream language learning leading me into having full-on conversations in Tokyo, my love for art finally finding a strong outlet, and so many other stories I’ve laid out in this resource, following my passions on Twitch instead of chasing views has continuously improved not only my streams, but my entire life. Whatever your streams look like, and whatever you personally get excited about, I hope you’ll find that same happiness when you let your streaming passions guide you in life.