In this episode of Research Review, we going to be tackling a 2020 study published in the Frontiers special issue on digital games and mental health entitled Live Streams on Twitch Help Viewers Cope With Difficult Periods in Life by Wit and colleagues.
The aim of this exploratory study was to evaluate how viewers’ behavior on Twitch might change during difficult periods in life. The authors hypothesize similarities between the experience and benefits with watching others play, like through twitch, when compared to actually playing themselves. They note while a sense of agency is lost because the player becomes an observer, the presence of the streamer and the possibility of interacting with the social community in and around streaming could provide new sources of entertainment and community.
Although the specific role of live streaming platforms such as Twitch in coping with difficult periods has not previously been researched, the authors frame their work in the context of several related research avenues have indicated that people active on the platform that are going through a difficult time, and that Twitch has had a beneficial effect on them.
For instance, in Wohn et al. (2018) viewers are quoted saying they received valuable help from streamers as well as from other viewers. This was a reason for them to provide (monetary) support to the streamer.
Hilvert-Bruce et al. (2018) found that a lack of external support in real life served as a motivator for engaging more with live streams and highlight the potential of using online communities as a way to fight loneliness, and as a safe alternative for people who struggle to engage in real-life social interactions.
Well what did they find?
Generally speaking, their sample was pretty well engaged with Twitch, with the majority of respondents watching more than 10 hours a week spread across 6 or 7 days.
Interestingly, participants reported that they chose channels based on the streamer and not the game being played and that streamer and their community are more important in keeping them engaged than the game that is being played.
In regards to using twitch during difficult life periods, many reported using twitch as a way to help with challenging periods relating to mental health, work, relationships, and loneliness. Other difficult periods reported were those related to physical health, stress, and gender and sexuality. The authors note that these categories shouldn’t necessarily be evaluated independently, however, as several factors can be interconnected and difficult periods can last for a prolonged period of time.
That said, the authors also note the potential pitfalls with Twitch as a source of support during difficult times. Several participants expressed concerns that using twitch may even exacerbate the problems they are experiencing.
All in all, this is a solid exploratory study. Let’s explore more about it together, in this episode of Research review.