Press Start: Discourse, Twitch, and Online Communities

My spring break was mostly uneventful (in a good way!), and I spent some time with friends and watched some Twitch broadcasts. Watching Twitch got me thinking again about discourse communities and the use of Twitch broadcasts as examples for students to analyze and discuss.As much as I enjoy watching Twitch (www.twitch.tv) and think it could serve as a fascinating example of discourse communities (as I discussed in a previous post), I also recognize that the site could be overwhelming for both teachers and students who are unfamiliar with the platform in part because of its function as a social space. As with most places on the internet that allow user interaction, on Twitch there are many many trolls, mean-spirited individuals, and enough ignorant, racist, and sexist comments to test the most patient and reasonable of us.

However, I don’t want these individuals and behaviors to deter potential educators from using Twitch in the classroom for several reasons. First, the non-fairy tail type trolls exist in all facets of life. This is an unfortunate reality of our existence. The internet makes trolling so much easier (due in part to anonymity and mob mentality), and I doubt that any internet-using 18 year old has gone through life without at least witnessing the work of one online troll. Should we purposefully avoid that which is challenging?

Another reason is that such behavior can tell us a lot about people, content, and medium. What causes individuals to lash out against established communities? How do communities form around ignorance? In what ways do modes and mediums impact users and user behaviors? How do communities guard their content? A multitude of questions could be asked about any online community. With proper framing and discussion, even the most challenging of communities and individuals can yield insights for students.

I believe the pros outweigh the cons. Twitch is an amazing phenomenon in and of itself. Combine its fascinating success with its discourse features and we have a relevant example of online communities—which many students are already engaged with. Just last week, CNBC published an article, “Watch me play video games! Amazon’s Twitch platform draws users and dollars,” which provides some introductory details regarding Twitch’s success including the fact that “Twitch [has] 100 million unique monthly users [and] two million active streamers.” Twitch’s popularity aside, it is indicative of a new kind of interactive entertainment as opposed to more passive TV or movie viewing.

But where should educators start if they’re interested in using Twitch for discussion/assignments? My first recommendation would be to start by observing some of the top community channels or by selecting broadcasters who are playing a game that you enjoy. Then, sit back and relax. Seriously. Spend some time taking in the interface, the personality of the broadcaster, read the channel descriptions and follow the links the broadcaster has provided, take note of the viewer count and how many viewers are actively engaged in the chat window. Does the broadcaster only talk about the game? Does he address his viewers? How so? What are the viewers talking about with the broadcaster and with each other? Take in what is happening and make notes.

Once you have a feel for how a Twitch channel functions, select another one and observe. I recommend going to a channel that has some noticeable differences from the first one. This may help expose you to the variety of channels available on Twitch. Trust me, the flavor of a channel can vary drastically depending on the personality of the broadcaster and how he or she decides to run and moderate the channel.

If you are still uncertain or hesitant about where to begin or what you will find on Twitch, I highly recommend CohhCarnage (https://www.twitch.tv/cohhcarnage). Cohh is a full time broadcaster who has been streaming since 2013. He plays a variety of games both new and old and is known for his incredibly welcoming community. How does he maintain such a community when so many online communities are fraught with problems? First and foremost, Cohh is a genuinely nice guy when he streams. From regularly greeting viewers and reading donation messages to the way he treats his wife, Lana, and interacts with his pets on stream, Cohh brings a high level of professionalism to his channel. He is respectful, not easy to frustrate or anger, and shows care for the people that watch him regardless of whether they watch him every day or who stop by for a few minutes. The heart of the channel is stable and mature, and this filters into every level of Cohh’s channel.

Along with Cohh’s personality and traits, he actively seeks to build a strong and friendly community around his channel through chat rules and moderators (individuals selected by the broadcaster who have the ability to warn and enforce rules on viewers participating in the channel’s chat). Apart from Twitch’s globally banned words, Cohh does not allow discourteous behavior, excessive language, or homophobic or racial slurs. Not only does Cohh have these rules (not that this is unusual for Twitch as many channels do), but he and his moderators consistently enforce them. The channel offers a safe online environment—perfect for use in the classroom.

The CohhCarnage channel is more than a safe bet for introducing students to Twitch and as an example for discussion and analysis of discourse communities. If you are interested in bringing video games and and their communities into the classroom, I cannot recommend Twitch enough. There are many channels built around successful broadcasters whether they have 50 or 30,000 viewers. These channel-wide interactions are not only revealing of gaming cultures but of the implications content, interface, and guidelines have on users and content creators.

Author: Tabitha

I game. I teach. I write. Soon to be graduate student pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric and Writing. Interested in the use of video games in education, digital rhetoric, and literacy.

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