What if I told you that you could play video games for a living? What if there was a way for you to do what you love to do every single day, work from home, and people would give you money? How do you think that would go? I used to ask myself these questions all the time and fantasized about a life pursuing something I truly loved. Then I learned about streaming.
I became a Twitch Affiliate in June. I figured it would be a great way for me to do what I love, create entertaining content, and maybe make a few bucks on the side. I spend a lot of my time creating digital media outside of gaming so this type of thing was always right in my wheelhouse. In speaking with my wife about it her response was, “hey, you’re doing it anyway, might as well get paid for it if you can.” And so it was. I was off. I got the okay. I worked for weeks setting up my stream. I worked through several OBS platforms and hours of YouTube tutorials. I created emotes and alerts from scratch.
The thing I’ve always found interesting about creating digital content is that it is the only artform that requires an audience. You can play an instrument in the comfort of your own home or paint in your spare time and nobody would even know that you are doing it. At its core, content creation and streaming require that other people need to see it being completed. Not only that, but your followers get to interact with you the entire time. Think of how good of a painter you would be if people were constantly watching you do it. How well would you play the piano with fifty sets of eyes on you?
It was not too long into streaming that I started to feel what gamers call burnout. I remember sitting at my desk inhaling the largest breath I could take through my nose then pushing the air out as hard as I could out of my mouth before hitting the “go live” button. What was once something I looked forward to was something that I began to dread. What was troubling to me was that I could not adequately articulate what was wrong, but I could feel it. I had lost control of something that was once a deeply personal and meditative exercise. I cared less about the games themselves and the feeling I got from them and more about how entertaining I was while playing them. I became obsessed with the viewer count and the chat activity. As soon as I was done streaming I would pore over analytics, see what time people were watching and use that data to try to better my content. Everything became about numbers, and I found myself annoyed when they weren’t what I wanted them to be. I was putting myself on display and not getting the results I wanted. For the first time in thirty years, gaming felt like work, and I hated it.
I began watching more successful streamers. I studied what they were doing, how they were doing it, and tried my best to emulate their habits. I even considered playing Fortnite just to grab a couple more viewers, but that thought was gone as quickly as it came. It was all-consuming. I even started livestreaming my podcast in a way to attract more viewers on a specific night. What happened then was the emails and DMs telling me that the audio now sucked because we were doing it a different way and that the content was becoming a bit too formulaic. Thoughts of “Hey, nobody is making you watch this. I don’t come where you work and slap the broom out of your hand. Don’t tell me how to do my job” began to creep up in my head, but I bit my tongue because I needed the numbers more than I needed to make a point.
Another thing to consider: I recognize that being a straight, white male means I have far fewer issues to deal with than others. For the life of me, I can’t fathom how anybody who doesn’t fit the mold that I do handles this. I have witnessed first-hand streamers breaking down on a live stream because of something that a viewer said or did mindlessly. I’ve seen content creators judged on how they look, not taken seriously because of their chosen gender, and mocked because of a perceived lack of ability based solely on what is being shown.
Streaming is the digital gold rush. We have all heard the tales of successful people like Ninja making $500,000 a month. We have sat around our campfires and heard whispers of sponsorships, free stuff, the allure of fame. We have taken our digital wagons to the wild west of Twitch, YouTube, and Mixer. But, the reality is and has always been that nothing in life comes for free. Everything is transactional. The question always lingering, “What are you willing to sacrifice for this?” That is not to say that all of streaming is bad. I can say that the process of bringing my video gaming to life is something I loved doing, and will continue to do for the foreseeable future. Sharing what you love to do with people is an amazing venture, and something I get to do everyday both in my professional and personal life. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my passions with any audience, but have learned through struggle that I need to keep my goals realistic and in perspective.
If you are reading this as a cautionary tale, I urge you to see this more as a recognition of something we all feel no matter what we choose to do. While burnout is a reality for streamers, it is not exclusive to us. Streamers put themselves on display and willingly risk letting in negativity, but it is not and will never be a welcomed guest. Inside all of us exists a need to feel accepted and worthy of other people’s time. The sense of belonging and community are things that motivate us to be our best selves. But, like any good game, the best part is being able to reset, regroup, and come back better than ever.