Performing Play: Cultural Production on Twitch.tv

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2017

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Abstract

Streaming is an emerging practice of videogame culture, where a player broadcasts a live capture of their game-play to an audience. Every day Twitch.tv, the most popular streaming platform, features thousands of streams broadcast to millions of viewers. Streams are detailed multimedia artifacts, and their study allows us to understand how the culture of games is produced, reproduced, and reinvented. In this dissertation, I examine the act of streaming using a theoretical concept that I have developed called ‘performed play’, which combines social performance theory, game culture studies, situated learning, and sociological perspectives in order to understand streaming as an act that produces culture. Through the theoretical construct of performed play, I argue that we can better understand digital game-play as a cultural act. I present two interrelated studies: a grounded theory analysis of a social space dedicated to streaming, and an ethnographic study comprised of seven individual streamers. I find that streaming is a practice comprised of three connected behaviors: assembling technology to produce the digital artifact of the stream, acting as a curator and manager of one’s audience, and projecting a persona as a player. These behaviors are moderated by the goals and desires of the streamer, and influenced by the metrics displayed by Twitch (e.g., viewership). Activity within the practice is further mediated by one’s history, relationship to games, and communities that are imported into the space of the stream. I find that streaming is very much a day-to-day activity, making the stream a blend of one's personal identity alongside an individual interpretation of game culture. Synthesizing findings across both my studies, I conclude that due to the highly personal and quotidian nature of performed game-play, the practice has the potential to change larger game culture by allowing previously marginalized populations to form their own communities as players of games.

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