The Livestreaming Game. Understanding the encounter between Twitch streamers and digital games
Molen, K. van der
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This thesis explores the relationship between livestreaming and videogames as a cultural form through a qualitative study of game livestreaming practices. Zooming in on the Amazon-owned livestreaming platform, Twitch, I present an approach to analyze this platform as a site to study players. Doing so characterizes the livestreaming ecosystem as crucial to the distribution, proliferation, and cultural form of videogames. On a microscale, livestreaming contributes to meaning-making for communities of players. On a macroscale, it reshapes business models through platformization, represented by the coevolution between game design and livestreaming practices. Studying players, in this context, has several meanings. It addresses both the streamer-player as the one controlling gameplay, as well as the audience members and supplementary players that engage with the gameplay of the stream. In the first part of this thesis, I address how livestreaming can concretely affect games as a cultural form, by providing a site to develop communities and to exchange knowledge in and about games. In the second part, I will delve deeper into the interaction between streamers and videogames, by developing a theory of streamability. I define streamability as a phenomenon that grants Twitch a central position in the distribution of media texts while simultaneously giving participatory users the crucial role as diversifiers of games as media texts. Analyzing which contexts, occasions, and affordances allow for the creation of content that is worthy of streaming, this second chapter develops a theory of what I call “streamable contexts.” Secondly, the study of the coevolution of game design and livestreaming practices will address what makes for “streamable game aesthetics.” My approach consists of a combination of the study of players on Twitch and a grounded theory of streamability for game livestreaming. This thesis displays how the livestreaming ecosystem fundamentally reshapes games as a cultural form, as an industry, and as a culture. This particular cultural form is one that gives streamers the agency to play with games and their audiences while creating long-lasting communities in the process.