Monday, September 3, 2018

Twitch 101 for Parents & Educators: Watching A Stream of Gamers & More IRL

Many parents of current K-12 students grew up playing video games themselves on systems like Atari, Commodore, Nintendo 64 and perhaps physically went to video arcades, too. However many aspects of video gaming are new to today’s parents—such as online gaming with multiple players--sometimes hundreds playing simultaneously--as well as being able to talk to one another and/or possibly see one another in real time around the world. This newer type of gaming is unfamiliar to most parents. Equally unfamiliar to many parents is the current growing trend of watching others play video games. The most popular hub for this new form of video games is, and this something all parents should know. Ask your kids and students about it, especially boys, as they likely spend quite a bit of time on it each week. A few months ago I wrote about Fortnite, currently one of the most popular video games in the world, and one of the most popular games to watch on Twitch.

What is Twitch?

To understand Twitch, imagine playing a video game online while having a webcam aimed at yourself plus an open chat window on the side of the screen to interact with anyone watching you. In a recent podcast worth listening to entitled Twitch and Shout, On the Media explains that " is a video streaming platform where tens of thousands people broadcast their lives and video game game-play in real-time. It's like unedited, real, reality TV... the site draws more viewers than HBO and Netflix. It's like unedited, real, reality TV." 

Four years ago, Amazon bought Twitch for 1.1 billion dollars (source). Some gamers on Twitch are so popular that celebrities contact them asking to play. For example, celebrity Drake joined Fortnite streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins in April 2018 and broke the record for most concurrent viewers on Twitch--over 667,000 viewers (source). In the podcast, you can hear how boys watching Ninja playing video games not only learn how to better play seeing his techniques, they even ask him for life advice such as how to deal with girls. This 28 year old video gamer freely gives them advice.--it's pretty amazing to think of his influence and power. Personally, from the little I have seen on Twitch, not all popular gamers being watched are the best role models who I would want my own children asking for advice. The reporters also explain that these popular streamers make a lot of money mentioning sponsor's products and having paid subscribers--up to a half a million dollars a month! Not everyone makes it to the big time on Twitch--there are thousands of streamers, including kids, with little to no viewership.

Overwatch & Esports

Two additional things about gaming covered in the podcast are worth knowing. The first is the existence of the Overwatch League. This League is like the NFL of the video game world. Professional teams with millions of dollars in funding are being organized in cities for competitions that fill arenas of spectators watching them play the Overwatch game against one another. Players, or video athletes as they are called, are becoming famous enough that they can draw hundreds of fans to a location just for a sighting. Esports is gaining in popularity. A college in Ohio even offers a full ride for world-class gamers to join their Esports team. 


The final story on the podcast--and most disturbing to me--is the IRL (In Real Life) channels on Twitch. The podcast highlights the story of a homeless man whose life was saved by Twitch, which initially sounds good. This gentleman streams his day to day life on and viewers pay money to get him to do things-wear things, say things to people, and more. I decided not to make a direct link to his Twitch videos from my blog. You can hear more about it if you listen to the podcast and then decide to take a look yourself. 

What Should Parents and Educators Do?

Certainly not all video games are bad. And watching others play video games seems to be a trend that is growing and in moderation, isn't bad either. Let's continue to have conversations with kids about what is appropriate to view and do online, and how to keep things balanced as well as when is too much, inappropriate, and taking things too far. Take an interest in the video games kids are playing and play with them sometime. Encourage the use of speakers to hear the conversations on sites like Twitch and multiplayer games versus headphones. Keep doors to rooms open versus shut so no one can see or hear what is taking place. Remind kids to behave as if their grandmother is sitting with them--if they know she wouldn't be pleased with what they are seeing, hearing, doing, or perhaps streaming, then they shouldn't be doing it in the first place. As I've suggested in the past, remember to begin your conversations about technology use with "What if..." instead of "Have you ever..?" Let's share our expectations and values with today's kids so they develop a moral compass and can better navigate the world--whether it is online or IRL.

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