Nowadays the rise of popular culture on social media is higher and happens faster than ever. Individuals can reach stardom very quickly through social media apps like TikTok, Twitter, or Instagram and through the simplest actions like posting entertaining videos or texts. The internet is a fast-developing virtual space in which one can have their time to shine for various reasons and actions. One of them, which has been rising within the digital age, are content creators who stream video games on the live streaming platform Twitch. On there, individuals use the platform to stream their gaming activity in order to build a follower base and might become a known streamer. Streamers with a large follower base are also known to have their own fan community which not only interacts with each other and the streamer on Twitch itself but also exists as a community on other social media platforms. Furthermore, streamers among each other formed communities and play together which shows that playing games online is not only for entertaining reasons but also fulfils the purpose of building relationships and communities.
This paper will talk about the rise of video game culture and videoludification in connection to gamification, social practices and community formation through Twitch Streamers and in specific, the game Among Us. Furthermore, it will go into the para-social relationship between content creator and their fan base and how those influence each other. This topic is relevant as it shows that video games are not just a form of entertainment but create actual communities and hence have an influence on the social life of streamers as well as their viewers.
Video Games, a culture on its own
Video games started to gain popularity in the early 1980s with the release of Pac-Man and Space Invaders and the slow integration of gaming consoles like Atari and computers at home. Until 2001 games were seen as a subculture on the market, which changed into a mass-market occurrence with the development of third-generation consoles like the PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube or Microsoft’s Xbox. The release and spread of these consoles also changed the way video games were perceived by the general public as it turned more and more into an occurrence of normality among young people and not just an entertainment form for geeks and nerds and the more we look forward in time the more it is shown to be a normal occurrence as those that were the first generation to get exposed to video games are now in their thriftiest and fourtees (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Smith & Tosca, 2019).
Furthermore, the ever-ongoing digitalization of our world is changing and influencing our daily lives in nearly every area. ‘Every aspect of our social and personal lives is starting to become digitally mediated, and even though it may still be possible to partially escape the digital world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so every day’ (Muriel & Crawford, 2018). The digitalization of our world shows how we as human beings are continuously adapting parts of our lives to new developments of technology and also that these developments give humankind new ways in how to live their lives in a more advanced way. Through digitalization, digital culture has become the dominant cultural logic in our contemporary society and video games are the central cultural product that emerged through it (Muriel & Crawford, 2018). ‘The video game is, therefore, the prototypical cultural form of digital culture; it is – so to speak – its purest form. Video game and video gamers are thus seen as (at least) one of the main products and driving forces of our contemporary society […] along with this, comes a video game culture’ (Muriel & Crawford, 2018). Digital culture becoming the dominant culture in our society demonstrates the fast development of the new video game culture, as well as video games as a product that was first seen as sheerly entertaining but is now more and more becoming a professional area in the economic market.
Video game culture is 'the institutionalization of video game practices, experiences, and meanings in contemporary society, which places video games and video gaming as an important part of our social imaginary‘ (Muriel & Crawford, 2018). Furthermore, it is also important to mention that this culture goes beyond an act that is performed in front of a screen by yourself but connects to the development of identity and relationships and helps with social practices and community formation processes (Muriel & Crawford, 2018). As already mentioned, the world keeps on getting digitalized and one result of this is social media platforms, which exist for all kinds of activities by now. One of them is the streaming platform Twitch, which connects those who love video games together as a community.
Content Creators on Twitch
‘Twitch is an American video live stream service that focuses on video game live streaming, including broadcasts of esports competitions’. The platform launched in 2011 and according to statistics had an approximate active streamer count of 9.5 million and an average of 2.9 million concurrent Twitch viewers in April 2021.
Twitch itself describes its platform as a place that goes beyond a streaming website but one that gives content creators a way to grow, earn their living through doing what they love and alongside develop a community that supports them. The term content creators refers to any individual who decides to be a part of the Twitch community as a streamer. As a growing streamer on Twitch an individual can achieve different levels of success which will unlock various features for them. These levels are connected to followers and live audience count as well as the amount a user decides to stream on a 30-day basis.
Twitch shows that through the digitalization of our world and the rise of video game culture, individuals can now make a career through video gaming. When being known enough, individuals can simply make money through streaming their gameplay on platforms like Youtube and Twitch for other’s entertainment but also participate in, for example, Esports when being known enough. It shows, that there are different ways of how to make a profession in gaming but that the central notion of professional gamers is to game (Muriel & Crawford, 2018).
Making a career through being a content creator on Twitch shows the notion of videoludification in form of gamification. Gamification in the first place is ‘the use of game elements – particularly from video games – applied to education, labour, therapy, business, or social relationships.’ (Muriel & Crawford, 2018). These game elements can be according to Muriel & Crawford (2018), for example, levels, leaderboards, points, rewards, badges (achievements) or points and some of them are clearly observable to be used on Twitch. As already mentioned, Twitch as a platform works based on rewarding user’s when achieving certain milestones with their channel, which is an element that is also often seen in games. Many content creators strive to reach different streaming levels on the platform in order to unlock different types of features for their channel and maybe one day make a living out of video gaming. A viewer of a certain streamer is also part of the gamification of Twitch as depending on which level the channel they are watching achieved yet, they will also have different ways of interacting with the content creator. When paying for a subscription for a certain streamer it will give the viewer a badge that can be seen when they are using the public chatroom. Furthermore, for certain activities, a viewer can collect points and use them for rewards that are chosen by the content creator, which could be a highlighted message in the chatroom or a new emote to use (Twitch 101, n.d.).
In general, this shows that video games themselves can be a central and important part of gamification in our contemporary society as being a professional gamer can be an actual job now. Making money through streaming is connected to advertising, subscriptions and donations but even though video game culture is constantly growing, the amount of content creators that can live from pure streaming is still small and often only a supplement to a regular job (Muriel & Crawford, 2018).
Next to the economical part of being a content creator, the social practices and community formation processes are also a big part of being a streamer. This is not only often voiced by the streamers themselves but can also be seen through how the coming together of various gamers to play together shows the need for community but also the natural forming of fan communities that come with the growth of a user’s channel.
Among Us and its Creation of Community
Among Us is a multiplayer social deduction game that is based on the popular card game Mafia. The adapted video game was first released in June 2018 for Android and iOS devices under the American game studio Innersloth and five months later launched for windows as well but had its breakthrough in 2020 due to well-known Twitch and YouTube streamers playing it. Next to this the game then also rose in popularity among other individuals due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the game giving the feeling of connectedness.
Mafia as a card game is based on the concept that each player of the game gets a card that ascribes a certain role to them. Each role has a different function and the more players there are the more special roles will be given out. The general set-up of the game though is that there is one neutral game narrator and two teams, the villagers and the werewolves. The overall goal is that either the werewolves kill each villager or that the villagers kill all the werewolves. How players can kill each other is based on the game having two alternating phases: day and night. During the night players close their eyes and only if their role is being mentioned by the narrator, they are allowed to open them and do tasks related to their role. Communication done during the night phase must be non-verbal. During each night phase, the werewolves can vote one villager that will be dead when the day arrives. In the day phase of the game, those that have survived the night can then verbally discuss the identity of the leftover players and then eliminate one player out of the game. This phase is open to all players and the chance for the villagers to figure out who the werewolves are, while these need to pretend to be a casual villager. The game ends if either the werewolves are all correctly killed by the villagers or if the villagers reach being the minority group of the game.
The digitized version of the game is based on the same rules and goals but has certain adaptions. The game was converted into a space theme where a player has control over a character that looks like an astronaut and navigates through a virtual world that looks like a spaceship. The game can be played with four to ten players through either a randomised group of players on the internet or a fixed group that can be invited through a code. The roles here are called crewmates (villagers) and imposters (werewolves). During the day phase of the video game, the imposters have a kill button that recharges after a certain time and until another crewmate finds a dead body and reports them the imposters have the time to kill as many crewmates as they can. After the report of a dead body, a discussion round opens, for which, there is a chat window (see fig.2) given and the option to vote for a specific member to be eliminated. In Among Us, next to the voting option, the crewmates also have the option to win the game by completing tasks in form of minigames during the day phase that are scattered all over the spaceship. If 100% of the tasks are completed before the imposters can kill all the crewmates, the crewmates automatically win. Dead players, in form of ghosts, can still help to complete these tasks while in the offline card game they would need to wait until the round is over to take part in the game again (Among Us, n.d.).
One reason that can be connected to the rise in popularity of Among Us was when long time streamer Sodapoppin, who has a follower basis of 3.3 million on Twitch, decided to play the game live in 2020. Soon a lot of other content creators joined the gameplay and helped the game rise to its current popularity (Among Us, n.d.). A community formed among streamers who found a liking in the game and decided to play it regularly. This community contained long term known Let‘s Play Youtubers like PewDiePie or Jacksepticeye but also a bit newer but well known Twitch Streamers like Sykkuno, Valkyrae or Disguised Toast. Furthermore, the game gave some players like Corpse Husband, who was until then known for his horror story narratives and unique deep sounding voice on YouTube, another chance to gain popularity and since his start of playing the game among other famous content creators he gained over 7 million new subscribers.
According to Blight (2016) during the digital age, ‘interactions with a media figure have become commonplace due to access to communication technologies’. As each individual of the Among Us content creator community is fairly known, they also come with a fan base who supports them. Para-social relationships form between streamer and viewer and influence the way a fan will stay involved with their chosen favourite streamer (Blight, 2016). These fan communities, also called fandoms, do not only exist on Twitch, where they will regularly tune in to watch their favourite streamer and communicate with them through the chat option, but also have, for example, their own sub-community on social media platforms like Twitter. On there, the fan community interacts with each other and bond over the streamers they watch. In his dissertation, Blight (2016) mentions how fandoms as themselves show the need for the concept of psychological sense of community which consists of membership, integration and fulfilment of needs, influence and shared emotional connection. These together basically describe how a fandom functions and what needs it has. Membership refers to the manifestation of the community through a shared interest and integration and fulfilment of needs is connected to the need for communication and interaction within the fandom in order to create a sense of togetherness. Influence refers to the influence members of a community have over each other but also their chosen favourite celebrity and shared emotional connection connects to the bond between the two parties and associated rewards.
This shows that fan communities are in the first place a way to fulfil the need of being part of a community and that this does not only apply to the fans of content creators but also the content creators themselves when searching for a community to play with, as what a content creator is at their core, is being a fan of video games. This then shows that the community content creators form among each other emerges through their shared love for video games and that the fandoms connected to them share this love as well but also dedicate themselves to a media figure in connection to it.
What could be seen with Among Us was that through the gaining interest of the content creators in the game, their fan bases also gained raising interest in it to the point where they would start playing the game with each other. This phenomenon shows the influence of para-social relationships between fan and media figure, but also, in general, that the game seemed to have risen in popularity at the right time. It shows the way games can connect individuals and create the feeling of unity and strengthen the bond in a new community but also an already existing one. In general, the popularity of the game can not only be explained through famous content creators playing it though but also the way it allowed individuals to socialize and feel connected while being distant during the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, people needed a distraction from the happenings in the world and a way to keep social. Among Us as a social game gained popularity in 2020 among side games like Animal Crossing or Roblox due to having a simple game setting that can be easily and quickly learned and encourages working and communicating together.
As the game itself only offers a chat option for communication, what is often seen is that players use the talk option of the social media platform Discord (see fig.3) to verbally communicate with each other like it would be done in the day phase of the card game. It shows the way players use the game to imitate the connectedness and community feeling of the offline card game. Especially during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, this form of connectedness and finding ways of staying close to others is highly valued within society among young adults and teenagers. This shows how the game helps in developing friendships and community as well as the need for it to do so. Often the minigames are also ignored in order to not win by completing all of them but to play the game and reach a win through communication and acting.
Overall, it can be said that video games do not only have the function to entertain, even though Twitch as itself, as well as streamers and the video games they play, are all products of entertainment. This entertainment though goes beyond the sheer notion of fun or economic value but is also shown to have social meanings in form of social practices and the build-up of community and friendship. Individuals have partial own agency connected to goals when gaming. In Among Us, this can be seen by the way users decide to play the game which has obvious restrictions given by the creator, but goals can also go beyond the gameplay to content creator’s personal goals like friendship, identity, dreams or conversation. It shows that by now games have way more meaning and value than they had at the beginning of their creation but also that the video game culture keeps growing and developing.
In conclusion, it can be said that the digitalization of the world led to the emergence of video game culture and gamification. It gave access to many new aspects of how humanity can live and handle life and opened the door for the normalization of playing video games. It showed that while video games are indeed in the first place a product of entertainment, they go far beyond such a simple purpose by now. It was shown that individuals can base their career on streaming video games through platforms like Twitch, and that communities among streamers and fans form through this, which then shows that video games also fulfil the purpose of bringing people together and form communities.
Among Us. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2021.
Blight, M.G. (2016). Relationships to video game streamers: Examining gratifications, parasocial relationships, fandom, and community affiliation online (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Milaukee). Retrieved June 12, 2021.
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, S., Smith, J. H., & Tosca, S. P. (2019). Understanding video games: The essential introduction. Routledge.
Muriel, D., & Crawford, G. (2018). Video games as culture: considering the role and importance of video games in contemporary society. Routledge.
Twitch 101. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2021.