Today, after teasing big news, streaming service Twitch announced that it will hold its very own TwitchCon this year. The convention will take place at the Moscone West conference center in San Francisco on September 25-26, around a month after PAX Prime finishes up. TwitchCon is still light on details, but it will presumably celebrate the streaming service and the culture that has built up around it.
I don't have an affinity for Twitch. I'm still largely bound to the written word. I like to load up a bunch of long articles on my Pocket and flip through them on weekends. I use my Kindle a lot. If there are games to be played, I want to be one playing them. Watching someone else play just doesn't hold the same spark for me.
Being a one way used to be enough, becuase we used to be a tighter, singular culture in gaming. The games we cared about were on fewer platforms and how we learned about those games tended to be rather uniform. We all read magazines: Nintendo Power, DieHard GameFan, PC Gamer, Computer and Video Games, GamePro, and many others. It solidified our culture: "Ninja Gaiden is the game to play!" "Did you hear about Sonic the Hedgehog?" "Final Fantasy VII is the new hotness." "Did you hear that Sheng Long is real?" We all shared the same information in schoolyards and lunchrooms, all taken from the same magazines.
Things change though. Gaming got bigger. 59 percent of Americans play video games now, with an average of two players and one console per household. 71 percent of players are over the age of 18. We play games on PC, console, handhelds, smartphones, and tablets. 62 percent of players play with someone else, be it friends or family.
As gaming grows, how we talk about games changes as well. Magazines are still around, but online stole the crown once everyone could get on the internet. In turn, YouTube was the next step, allowing players to watch pre-recorded footage of their favorite games and personalities in tandem. Twitch followed, letting us share live gameplay and interact with viewers at the same time. Each marked an evolution in how we talk about games.
The internet via message boards, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch brings people together. In the past, players were closed off: you played what the other kids in town played. When Nintendo Power said a game was the next big thing, everyone picked it up. (That's why we all have Battletoads shellshock.) Now smaller, fervent niches of players can find out that they're not alone. We're building strong, varied communities online.
If you play Dark Souls, there's a deep community waiting to welcome you with shields at the ready. Perhaps Minecraft is your thing? Minecraft videos are huge on YouTube. Retro-only? Join the club with Retro Magazine! Are you a gay gamer? There's an entire con where you can meet like-minded souls to talk about games. MOBA players focused on Dota 2 or League of Legends, MMO players raiding in World of Warcraft, free-to-play fiends rocking Puzzle and Dragons, knowing the tank history in World of Tanks. As gaming has beyond, the niches have gotten bigger and become their own markets. How we all talk to each other has changed.
Living in all these worlds can be difficult. I understand some of Twitch culture, like what "Kappa" means, but I'll never be able to live on Twitch chat like some do. I'm only barely understanding the ins-and-outs of eSports and that's before I pick a single game. Five Nights at Freddy's is a goddamn mobile and PC phenomenon that completely passed me by until the third game released. We feel closer to those who like the things we like, but farther from everyone else.
These schisms can be hard on the original monoculture. To some it feels like the culture is fracturing. People who identified with what was once mainstream can feel left behind or decide that those outside of that norm are ignorant of the culture's true gems. But that's not true. There are players who live for games they can stream or watch on Twitch. They'll probably never play Breath of Fire or Unreal Tournament. Their relationship to Final Fantasy of Half-Life is completely different from yours or mine. This shift has its benefits, like the growing love of visual novels or otome games in the West, but it also has its trials and tribulations.
That's not all that different from any other medium really. Following his win at the Grammy's, people online were asking "Who is Beck?" That doesn't make the people who are asking that question any dumber than those who have heard of or love Beck. Beck just doesn't figure into their lives, any more than Shalamar, Bobby Sherman, or Joseph Haydn figured into your life as a kid or adult. We're entering a generation where Star Wars will be defined by Disney films, not the original trilogy. Where Transformers is a series of Michael Bay movies and Bumblebee leads the Autobots in cartoons. Anime is defined by what's available on Crunchyroll. Aquaman looks like Khal Drogo and people take genre television like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and The Flash seriously.
Twitch is part of the evolution of our culture. You don't particularly have to get it, just understand that it's important to a lot of people and it's here to stay. I'm personally going to try to understand it more because I like to explore new territory. I want to understand Twitch, YouTube, eSports, and more. I want to dive into these subcultures that are foreign to me and see what they're playing with. To see how they're defining themselves and the games they play.
So while TwitchCon fills me with caution - as I asked on Twitter, "What happens when Twitch Chat meets the real world?" - it also fills me with excitement. I'm looking forward the next evolution of Twitch, and TwitchCon is a part of that.Hope they nail the landing on their first convention.