Whatever picture you've mentally crafted of me is likely incorrect. I'm a 31 year old black woman. I live on my own.I'm in shape. I eat healthy about 85% of the time. I enjoy long walks and fresh air.I travel the world.I've climbed the corporate ladder and have created a more than satisfying career for myself. I'm not at all the pale, pupil-dilated gaming caricature that most people envision. Still, I probably watch gaming more than Netflix and people are always shocked to witness it.
I was introduced to gaming culture about two years ago when I'd just moved to a new city and wanted things to do that didn't involve going outside. To be clear, I wasn't overly happy about the move, so exploring the town wasn't high on my to-do list. Therefore, my hibernation was an act of protest.
A couple of friends convinced me to buy a PS4 because "this game they were playing" called Smite was "TOTALLY AWESOME." At the time, I was twenty-nine years old, and the most experience I had with gaming was at six years old with my sister and I fighting over the Duck Hunt gun. In my adulthood, I didn't know anything about gaming culture but "what the hell..." I thought "...I'll give it a try." Gaming was an outlet for me to be social without actually having to be in the physical presence of people. I was down.
I strutted into the nearest Target, stared blankly at the game console section and asked the store clerk "can I get the newest one of that?" as I pointed at the stack of Playstations. I reassured, "Is this the newest?" My friends made sure to reiterate that I should get the PS4. I took my new toy home, plugged it up, downloaded my first game, and to my surprise I freaking loved it.
Smite is one of many MOBA games. MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena which essentially means you have the option of getting online with your buddies from all over the world and entering a match together. The primary objective is to pulverize the enemy team and achieve whatever objective that particular game mode is built around. MOBA gameplay is a highly communicative experience. During the game you call out strategy, you save each other, and you shit-talk the enemy team. The level of camaraderie you develop with your teammates can easily surpass the relationship of irl (in real life) relationships. It's easy to spend hours online with these folks, talking about your days, cracking jokes, sharing news, talking about your personal life, things you like to do, what you're eating, it's pretty intimate. It's not all roses though if your buddy makes too many dumb plays you may get pissed off at them. Some gamers are of the rage-y variety where they likely have control issues in general and therefore get pretty toxic during games. Racism and misogyny are also rampant in gaming. It's not uncommon for players to angrily call other players "n*ggers" (whether they know their race or not) and female gamers regularly get called things like "titty-cam wh*res" in their chats. Still, none of the toxic shenanigans are enough to turn me off.
Nowadays, instead of TV or a movie, game streams to play in the background of my life. In the midst of any number of menial tasks you can regularly hear "YOU GOT ONE GUYS!" or "YOUR TOWER IS UNDER ATTACK!" squawking from my living room. It was only recently that I started to question why I love streaming so much, and while I haven't reached total clarity, I do have a few insights.
First, gaming is highly competitive, strategical (when well-played), and stimulating. Maybe you don't break a real sweat, but you indeed break a mental one. I think, for me, watching a stream rather than playing gives me enough stimulation without the total concentration and intermittent pausing of my life. I've got shit to do, and when I'm playing a game, especially a MOBA where my teammates depend on me, I can't just get up and do things like answering the door for my pizza delivery.
Next, I learn a lot about certain games by watching seasoned players. I get to see how different players position themselves, buy items for different objectives, counter-build against the enemy team, etc. That said, I can really only watch streamers whose gameplay I admire. Don't get me wrong; personality is essential, but on my list of priorities being good at the game is at the very top.
Lastly, gaming is a community, and when you're a gamer, it feels good to connect with so many other like-minded people. In-game streams are booming with people talking all things video games. A good streamer will moderate their chat community to weed out the spam and negativity leaving those folks, like me, who are there for a good time.
The streamer's personality makes the stream. Some streamers are all about music, so their followers are constantly recommending songs. Other streamers get technical during gameplay, so they attract followers who are analytical and ask questions. I think you get my point. Currently, my favorite streamer is a Fortnite-only streamer who is incapable of managing her volume. She can become extremely loud the more excited (non-toxic) she gets. The screaming is her schtick whether or not she wants it to be and it's undoubtedly one of the main reasons why I faithfully tune in to her stream. When she's on a roll, I'll type something like "oh shit here she goes!" which is immediately followed by her shrieking.