Twitch: The Online Gamer's Internet Couch
Back in my childhood, in an age when PCs were machines of myth and Steam was unheard of, my fondest memories of multiplayer gaming were on the couch. Me and my friends would get together not only to play multiplayer games on console but also to experience single player adventures, keeping each other entertained along the way with banter and commentary. Now, the gatherings on the couch are few and far between, with multiplayer being just a few clicks away on our hard earned gaming rigs. But for those of us who still yearn for the experience of vicariously enjoying someone else play live, there’s Twitch. Most would perceive Twitch as a video broadcasting service but I consider Twitch to be the biggest provider of online internet couches.
Twitch doesn’t have the fittings of your traditional couch and console viewing setup. Thousands of computer monitors and phone screens replace the singular big screen TV that everybody would crowd around. Couch cushions and the occasional blanket give way to office chairs, beds, and passenger car seats (don’t Twitch and drive), depending on the viewer. The vocal banter that a person playing a game would hear is silent, as Twitch broadcasters now turn to the fickle walls of text and emotes known as Twitch chat. The experience that once only catered to a few people at a time can now reach hundreds or thousands of people through the power of the internet.
Though the differences are stark the core spirit of the couch experience hides within the emote spam and copypastas of Twitch chat. Much like the members of a physical couch, every single viewer is there to enjoy one thing: watching another person play video games. Spectators near and far crack jokes, hype incredible moments, or lament shortcomings. Inside jokes amongst viewers take the form of Twitch emotes and ever infamous copypasta. Broadcasters entertain their audience by providing funny commentary, overexaggerated analysis, or by just being absurdly good at the game they’re playing. Communities form, and those who would ordinarily pay for snacks and drinks now offer up their PayPal funds for donations and subscriptions.
Couch management is just as important in real life as it is on a Twitch couch. Whether or not a couch tailors to salty swearing sailors or kicking you out at the slightest mention of anything offensive, the job of a moderator is to help maintain the couch environment. Similar to the nagging of my parents to keep noise levels down, timeouts and slow mode keep chat from becoming a mosh pit of complete disorder. If guests truly overstay their welcome, banhammers are merely a click away from delivering silencing retribution.
Not every couch is perfect and internet couches are no exception. It should go without saying that the worst couches are the ones that are empty. Countless small-time Twitch streamers share the plight of having nobody to share their video game journey with. Even if there is an audience, the wrong kind of people can get on your couch: the spammer that constantly asks a streamer to do something is akin to the one “friend” that just doesn’t know his limits and puts his stinky feet up like he owns the place. Chill conversations can turn into heated debates more often thanks to the nature of internet anonymity emboldening verbal firestarters. Lurkers may be nice to have for the numbers, but any host will agree that a guest who ends up just taking a nap on the couch doesn’t really contribute much to the ambiance.
Despite these problems, Twitch continues to be the premier internet couch provider that caters to dozens of couch communities. The couch experience is not limited to watching someone speedrun Super Mario Sunshine or boarding the hype train of a Dota 2 tournament. New couches in the realms of social eating, creative activities, and gaming talk shows have opened the floodgates for new genres of interactive entertainment. With the added support of viewer subscriptions and donations enabling streamers to continue manning their couches, the future of Twitch appears promising as viewers continue to find and create couches worldwide.
While we’re on the topic of internet couches, go check out the MMOs.com couch over here. Their couch is pretty comfy, has a podcast every Tuesday at 4PM Pacific Time, and you’ll see me there from time to time. I also have a couch, here, where I do things like play Splatoon, Tree of Savior, and Warframe.