LLike so many things in my life, it started out as a silly experiment. I love learning new things, and throughout my 43 years, I have tried all kinds of things. Some things have stuck, like comedy, running, and having kids. Some have not, such as kung fu, olives, and holidays in Germany. To be honest, I thought live streaming games on Twitch would fall into the latter category.
For those unfamiliar (it wasn’t until this year), Twitch involves playing live video games on the internet while providing ongoing commentary. People look at you and talk to you through a message window and sometimes give you money. It’s like an exotic dance, but with less breasts.
It was January 2021 and we were locked up. He hadn’t played any blockbuster games in years, put off by the amount of time and commitment involved. But there I was, stuck at home, staring at the barrel of another three months making sourdough banana bread shaped like Joe Wicks’s face, so I thought I’d give Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, a historical action game, a shot. from Ubisoft on slicing down to the Saxons in 9th century England. I chose to play as the Viking woman Eivor, and she quickly became my favorite video game character since Lara Croft – strong, cool, and equipped with the abilities I’ve coveted all my life, like the ability to cut a man’s spine with it. easy. swinging an ax and applying eyeliner.
I loved exploring snowy Norway and old Croydon, trying to figure out which monastery was on the site of what is now Nando’s next to the tram stop. (Very strong branch, by the way.) But it’s an old game and sometimes it gets a little lonely. My husband is not a gamer, and there are surely a limited number of times you can see your wife swear while beating a group of virtual men to death without wishing you had married that other girl who liked them. buns and cross stitch.
So I started thinking about trying Twitch. I was inspired by a conversation I had with the comedian and the streamer. Sooz kempner in Extra Life, the game podcast I am a co-host. “It’s never too late for Twitch,” she’d said, like one of those kind daughters whose 57-year-old mother is about to step out in front of the X Factor judges. I didn’t really understand what Twitch was or how it worked, or why someone would want to broadcast playing games in front of a group of strangers, but I knew there was a button on my PS5 controller that made it work. So one night I pushed him.
That first time was terrifying. I was more nervous than the first time I stood up. With comedy, you know roughly what you’re going to say when you’re there, even if you can’t predict the fist fight between two women in the last row. With Twitch, I wasn’t quite sure why someone would show up to watch me play a video game, or what they wanted from me.
And suddenly I realized that he was absolutely terrible at games. He seemed unable to remember which button you press to call the horse and which button you use to shoot arrows. An accidentally summoned stallion would inconveniently appear every 12 seconds while trying to shoot someone in the eye. I felt enormous pressure to do all things at once: play nice, be funny, respond to all comments in the chat, not look like an idiot. It was like doing a stand up gig while trying to row a boat, make a sandwich, and shave a cat.
Echoing a cavernous depth that I thought I had sealed years ago, the voices came in, whispering every negative comment I’ve received in 20 years of game journalism: “She’s not funny.” “Who does he think he is?” “That’s why girls shouldn’t play.” “What kind of idiot gives Sonic the Hedgehog 4 a 9 out of 10?” (Correct). But there, in the chat windows that appeared on my screen, there were new voices. Go on, they said. You can do it. There were a lot of giggling emojis and smiling faces. I started to relax, realizing that it really didn’t matter that I was rubbish in the game. It wasn’t about skill, it was about people with a shared interest laughing. For me mostly, but still, a laugh is a laugh, as all attention-hungry comedians (read: all comedians) know.
So I kept going. Soon he was playing twice a week, on a regular schedule. A couple of hours on Tuesdays, with a nice cup of tea. Friday turned into Vikings and Vodka Night, where I started at 9pm and got drunk more and more and progressively worsened at the game until I gave up around 1am Somehow a drinking game emerged based on my ghastly Skills, in which viewers took a sip every time I mistakenly called a horse, set myself on fire, read a boring letter, or accidentally killed a dog.
I started paying more attention to the names in the chat as I saw the same ones appear over and over again. Sometimes people I knew in real life would show up, like other comedians, or my father, or people I had worked with on a terrible game magazine in Macclesfield a thousand years ago. It felt like having a mate for a cup of tea, which was very welcome in a time when that sort of thing was illegal. But there were many more names that I did not recognize. One advantage of Twitch, I realized, is that you can join in and make a connection without anyone being able to judge you on your gender, race, age, or appearance. I totally understand the appeal, as someone who once received a barrage of sexist abuse during an Xbox Live One game.
I feel safe here. I’ve been streaming for over a hundred hours and contrary to what I would have predicted, there have only been a few slightly dubious incidents. One viewer who I’m pretty sure passed bedtime accused me of being a “MOM GAMER”, which I think was supposed to be an insult. But I was not offended, because that is what I am: a mother and a player. You could also try to insult me by yelling “BRUNETTE” or “OLIVE HATER.”
On another occasion, someone simply wrote, “You’re hot.” I immediately felt nervous. I know how quickly these things can escalate from seemingly innocent comments to graphic dirt, followed by horrible threats and can’t-take-a-joke. My mods weren’t close and I wasn’t sure what to do. Do you ignore it and hope it goes away? Do it lightly and risk cheering it up? Close it up and be accused of overreacting, what maybe it was me?
It turned out that I didn’t have to do anything. “You’re right, it actually looks kind of sexy,” said one of my regulars.
“Yes Ellie, maybe turn off the central heating?” someone else wrote.
And so, with grace and humor, they gently but firmly let the guy know that this was not that kind of party. I think it was the first time that I realized that I had accidentally created a community. I understood that it was not about me or my performance, but about my relationship with the audience and their interactions with each other. I started encouraging backseat games, inviting (or sometimes begging) people for advice on how to beat the boss or find the damn rusty key to the chapel dungeon. I no longer played this game on my own. He had a team.
Without them, I’m sure I would have stopped playing Valhalla weeks ago. As much as I like the game, it doesn’t take half as long. After about 60 hours, it turned into one of those relationships where you know it’s over, but you keep moving forward, following the motions until one of you finally has the guts to finish things or dies. But we kept shuffling and finally, last Tuesday, I finished the game. It took me 97 hours, 13 minutes and 51 seconds. Based on earlier times, she could have spent those hours giving birth eight times.
I marked the end with a short speech. I thanked everyone for all their support, like I just won a fucking Oscar and was terribly worried about forgetting someone. We pay our respects to Harry Trotter, Amy Winehorse and other ponies we have met. Everyone applauded. And I cried. If you had told me three months ago that I would be crying on the internet in front of a bunch of new friends I never met, I would have laughed in your ridiculous face. But here we are. And it was Tuesday, so he wasn’t even drunk.
This experience has restored my faith, not only in the games, but in the players. I realize that that makes me sound like a former vicar who just rediscovered Jesus after seeing his face on a Horlicks mug, but it’s the truth. I screwed up a lot when I was a full-time gaming journalist; sometimes because I’m a woman, sometimes just because people can be idiots. But on Twitch, I found a bunch of people who don’t give a damn about my gender or how dumb I am in boss battles. Together we have created a safe place for us to come together to laugh at the ridiculousness of video games and ourselves.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism