With the current demand for live streamed events, there is a lot of demand for entertainers to perform at these events, especially on Twitch. While Twitch is wildly popular, it is not without its problems. There is a large audience who are not able to communicate with the entertainers, especially mentally disabled people. In fact, there is a growing number of these people who are being discriminated against at Twitch by Twitch staff and other services, as well as the general public.
At PAX East 2019, I had an opportunity to chat with two of the major gaming streamers at the show, and they both had a similar message for the rest of their industry: they’re frontline workers, not mental health experts.
At this year’s PAX East, we were treated to a panel on the topic of streamers and mental health. The speakers were a trio of doctors, all of whom have experience working with other health professionals and the general public. Unfortunately, the panel seemed to be devoid of any mention of the fact that streaming is, in fact, a physical job. The speakers painted the streaming job as being a vocation of sorts, with the streamers as being the mouthpiece for games and their rights and the streamers as answering to the entire gaming community.
PAX East 2021 is becoming virtual again due to the little virus that has been making the rounds for over a year. Not surprisingly, this has caused problems in the gaming world. Dr. Kelly Dunlap of Take This, Streamer Mxiety, and Jocelyn Wagner, a master’s candidate in interactive games and media, worked on a peer-reviewed study of streamers’ mental health during COVID-19, which was discussed at this week’s convention.
While there has been a lot of research on streaming users, there seems to be much less research on the streamers themselves. Dunlap noted that mental health colleagues at academic conferences often don’t even know what Twitch or streamers are. While this is not surprising, as moral panic is still an issue in games, the fact that many people turned to streamers rather than mental health professionals during COVID speaks not only to the stigma of mental health, but also to its accessibility. Although two of the first three are mental health professionals, streamers are generally not mental health professionals and should not be treated as such, but have been pushed into the role of first responders by their communities.
Before I get into the details, I’d like to start with a few expert-recommended references that people can use when going through a mental health crisis.
- The Mxiety website is a good place to start, especially if you’ve just reached the stage where you need help.
- Safe in Our World is another good starting point, especially for gamers and people who work in the games industry, they also have international resources.
- Take This, which Dunlap falls under, is a good resource for American players and industry representatives because they have staff and recommended doctors who are specifically knowledgeable about our hobby.
- The Crisis Text Line is a quick resource for any U.S. citizen facing a serious crisis and in need of immediate mental/emotional assistance.
- The gambling and online harassment helpline is very clear and relevant to our community in the US, but please note that it is only available in the evenings.
- The National Suicide Prevention Hotline stresses that you don’t have to be suicidal to call; you may receive support from friends or be faced with the revelation that someone close to you is suicidal.
- Twitch Cares could be a very simple program that streamers can turn to when they find themselves in a situation where they are asked to act as a therapist, but are not ready to take on that role.
Remember that although streamers are registered therapists, they are not your therapist. For categoriesand, it is best to use some of the above tools first and then seek personal assistance from an expert. I know from personal experience that some people can get free care through their work or a medical facility, even if that care is provided under the U.S. Affordable Care Act. The problem of the streamer as a therapist, but not really a therapist, was in fact the main problem of the study.
I’m not a doctor, but I play doctor on Twitch
A recurring element in the team’s research is the experience of streamers who have had to become therapists. Based on 62 applicants, narrowed down to 19 participants, the streamers (all with at least one year of experience before COVID) had experience with community members who spoke to them publicly or privately about mental health crises.
This is not new nor is it specific to COVID. The team found evidence that people were using Internet personalities as surrogates for mental health professionals as early as the Internet age in the 1990s. But thanks to COVID, this seems to be happening more and more often. As one streamer told the researchers, there were always members of the community who needed special attention, but suddenly they were all , all, including the streamers.
While Ms. Dunlap is a qualified professional, she is not the norm. Most streamers are clearly having fun. One of the most important prohibitions a professional physician observes is not to attempt to treat patients with problems for which they themselves seek help, but streamers suffering from their own anxiety and depression have, if not real advice, then at least a sympathetic ear for their community. Dunlap noted that she can safely call many streamers mental health professionals, despite their lack of training and ability to give bad advice, because their actions during crises and the emotional impact of those crises are the same as those of trained professionals in similar situations.
It should be noted that the streamers did not do this for self-promotional purposes. In fact, streamers often said they felt guilty even when they realised they were suffering from mental health problems themselves or did not want to get involved in someone else’s problems. They also felt an obligation to their communities to provide information and advice. The problem is that many people didn’t know where to look, except on Google or by randomly contacting one of the researchers, because of their reputation as fellow activists.
Although the Twitch Cares page mentioned above is available, most streamers were unaware of it, and one even scoffed at its existence. No one seemed to think Twitch could help people with mental health problems. The researchers found that Twitch takes mental health more seriously than average, but it’s also frustrating that accessing the Twitch Cares page from the homepage – which is hidden behind six subpages – is as difficult as finding the refund page on Amazon. If Twitch is so keen, the link should be on the homepage.
Now you could just let the streamers get away with it. After all, most real celebrities aren’t even half as accessible as streamers. You can stay away from social media and make a lot of money, while even a big personality can lose about a fifth of his followers if he doesn’t appear on his channel for 48 hours, which has a direct impact on his income. If streamers get paid, it’s because they’re available. Therefore, the time they do not spend in their community can be considered as content lost by the users.
But worse, the beloved streamer’s accessibility is quite unique compared to most other celebrities. He is more like the traditional Japanese geisha, who were essentially celebrities for personal entertainment, than he is like modern movie or music stars. This distinction is quite important, as the words This musician saved my life can rarely be taken so literally when it comes to a streamer with whom fans can communicate directly.
While this can be very rewarding for the fan, the lack of boundaries can depress not only the streamer but the entire community. One of the streamers surveyed pointed out that streaming is also a way to relax. The streamer did not want to be responsible for everyone else’s happiness, and an emotionally distraught community member in the chat room could upset everyone, despite the streamer’s best efforts to create a supportive atmosphere.
Ultimately, the pressure of being both a social performer and a personal therapist strains the streamers’ nerves and psyche. Although about 3 million of the estimated 7 million streamers before COVID dropped out in the first month of the pandemic, Mxiety noted that many streamers often spoke of burnout and suspects that the percentage in this area is quite high. The lack of education and support when you’re just trying to be an interesting person has certainly worn down many streamers over the past year.
Wishes for the future
When streamers were asked what they would like to see to solve their problems, the first thing they mentioned was resources. In particular, they wanted to make it easier to put people in touch with mental health professionals. But as already mentioned, most mental health experts don’t know what streaming is, let alone what problems streamers themselves go through, so they essentially act as unwitting helpers on the helpline.
The worst part is that streamers also want more than links and hotlines. People seeking psychiatric help often don’t want to be sent anywhere else, and people in crisis have told me this. It is a hard pill to swallow when, as a layman, you are suddenly asked to listen to the very personal suffering of a stranger who is about to perform an act with fatal consequences.
I’m not sure what these people or streamers expect, because mental health is more than just expressing your feelings and walking away. It’s about scrutinizing your habits and changing them. Based on this, the researchers proposed a kind of psychological first aid training. While most streamers don’t want to act as para-therapists, those who are genuinely interested could be trained to help fans in a crisis situation in emergency situations and help themselves out of difficult situations until a trained professional can intervene.
Streamers and their communities are resilient. They find ways to cope, whether it’s emotional resets or in-game remembrances, which we’ve all heard about or participated in. However, many fans should remember that their favorite streamers are not really theirfriends and certainly not their therapists, even though that is theirprofession. We’ve said before that MMOs are not the large communities we often think of, but rather socially saturated environments where other people are spectators rather than partners. I would say that people who are emotionally at the end of their rope think more of themselves than their community at that point, which is normal for someone in crisis.
I say this not to shame people, but to remind readers that using the above resources should be the first way to bring mental health to an acceptable level. It’s good to talk about things, but our friends and family are not always prepared to deal with a crisis. They may love us and care for us, but even our adult counterparts are not always mentally mature, especiallyat a time when people all over the world are being tested for their mental health. Take proactive care of your mental health, and even if you like streamers, their role is not to save your life. It is up to you and the people you train to help you do that. Use them and, thenback to your favorite streamer so you can enjoy them while they do the job they really want to do, because guess what? So you can help save their lives.
Games have become the fastest-growing way for people to make a living, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Their popularity and growth has been amazing, and I can’t wait to see what it looks like next year. It’s been amazing watching the rise of live streaming on Twitch and YouTube, and seeing how many gamers have launched their own businesses. It’s a great time to get involved in the gaming industry, as long as it’s done the right way.. Read more about youtube vs twitch 2020 and let us know what you think.
This article broadly covered the following related topics:
- twitch during covid
- twitch during the pandemic
- twitch growth 2021
- everyone wants to be a streamer
- youtube vs twitch 2020