Thursday, January 23, 2014

Blips: Livin' Life Live

Source: Lethal Frag and the lonely, growing world of livestreaming
Author: Darren Davis
Site: Kill Screen

Video game livestreaming is a bizarre development. It's not without its merits, but that doesn't discount how weird it is. In an essay for Kill Screen, Darren Davis examines the self-imposed 2-year livestreaming challenge of Lethal Frag. On the nightly 2-hour program, Matthew McKnight would play indie games and interact with the chat stream on his Twitch channel, and he'd go on to do this for 731 days straight. While many livestreams are about having an interest in the games being played (particularly with competitive titles), Lethal Frag and many others are more centered on the on-camera personalities. It's not all that different than a piece of long-form, endurance performance art, but McKnight didn't embark on his challenge to make an artistic statement so much as to turn playing video games into a living wage, albeit a seemingly lonely, draining one.

I've watched some livestreams, and regularly tune in to the live happenings over on Giant Bomb, but for me, the appeal is already beginning to wane. Conversing in a livestream chat is exhausting, though knowing that you're a part of a live audience does add a fun bit of theatricality. When something unexpected or outrageous occurs on screen, the chat explodes into a hyperdrive of replies and emoticons that's pretty amusing, but is also more or less the same every time. The shows themselves have an improvised energy to them that, in the right hands, can be tremendously entertaining for even hours at a time. Watching random people play games will get old fast, but when you can "spend time" with certain on-screen personalities, it begins to feel like you're watching a friend play. But at some point the improv takes too long to get where it's going and the outlandish reactions of the players can feel forced and cloying. I realized that the time I've spent watching others play games live on the Internet is time that I could be playing games for myself.

I don't expect or want livestreaming to go away, but I hope that we can trim the fat a bit on the path to the impending normalization of the form.

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