Includes quick intro to Twitch, but mostly an explanation of what whitepapers can do for us.
The scholarship on livestreaming is fairly thin, and mostly unable to gain enough traction to make sense of its topic. Why? Because if game studies sometimes had trouble knowing how (and why) to “make sense” of video games, then livestreamed games via Twitch make the challenge ten times greater. Think of the challenges that an older relative — one who typically exhibited scant interest in games or internet culture — might have in “decoding” a Twitch broadcast. Take my mother’s comments, for example:
- “Why would I watch someone play a game?”
- “There are too many things on the screen.”
- “The chat is scrolling too fast I can’t see it.”
- “Why are there so many heads in the chat?”
- “Why doesn’t the player respond to their questions?”
- “Is he going to talk about something on his program?”
- “Is he allowed to vape like that?”
- “Where are the other players?”
- “He doesn’t seem very good at the game. Why would I watch him play this game?”
- “Wait, why are people giving him money?”
One bright spot, though, has consistently been T.L. Taylor’s scholarship, including her recent book, Watch Me Play. I’ve included a copy attached to this post. If you get a chance before Thursday, take a look at Chapter 6, LiveStreaming as Media.
IT IS FOR USE BY MEMBERS OF THIS CLASS ONLY. Do not steal copies of this book.
If you’ve ventured into your virtual world and found yourself bored by the tedium and appalled by the low-brow silliness of your surroundings, you may find yourself asking: Why am I doing this?
That’s good! You really should understand why you’re doing something before you do it. It makes for the most meaningful learning, but it also makes for better worlds: If human beings had done this from the start, we might have skipped over millennia of brutality and stupidity.
But since you asked, here are two reasons why this matters.
Innovation Ain’t Easy
That’s why a lot of folk admire the work that the ethnographic method encourages: It is very open-ended, very outcome-agnostic. It leaves open the possibility (no matter how small) that during your fieldwork in Fiji, or in the Maldives, or in Athens, or even in Warcraft’s Azeroth, you are witness to something no one has seen before. It doesn’t insist on that, but it does allow for that remote possibility.
That’s why virtual ethnography works so well, I think: It allows for novelty in our research, but also for predictable outcomes. In any event, it is hard, it is work, because the ethnographic tools we bring with us try to stay out of our way: There is scant room for theories or conceptual frameworks. There is just you, your notebook, and a lot of strangers.
Digital research of any sort is a challenge because it involves computers, software, and long, frustrating periods of troubleshooting and repair.
It has always been this way, and it will continue to be this way for the foreseeable future. That is the nature of consumer-grade computation. If you are interested in digital environments, digital toolsets, or both, then you must accept that frustrating software and unpredictable hardware are part of your future.
You don’t have to read these two chapters, but (1) they are concise and well-written, and (2) they go a long way to justifying some of the digital research methodology we’re adopting this semester. If science (or the human sciences) are an important part of your worldview, I think you’d find the short articles especially interesting: Boellstorff (who used to be the President of the American Anthropological Association) and his colleagues have a lot of well-reasoned arguments to make about the scientific nature of ethnographic research.
CH2 & CH3 from Boellstorff et alia, Handbook of Ethnography and Virtual Worlds Research. Not for distribution.