Streaming Stressful Games to a Crowd Actually Makes Them More Enjoyable

Wrecking through 'Dead Cells' wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable without the people cheering me on.

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Aug 9 2018, 3:00pm

Image courtesy of Motion Twin

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Most of our gaming accomplishments happen in private. Maybe a trophy or achievement pops up, or the credits start to roll, but any fist pumping will be witnessed and appreciated by a single person: you. The dynamic changes when you stream, though, and outsiders can become emotionally invested in your progress (or, often, lack thereof). Some of my favorite moments in games happened while streaming, whether it's trying to dismantle Dan Ryckert's Mario Maker nightmares, finally defeating Yama in Spelunky—or, as happened this week, making it to the very end of Dead Cells after only a few hours, even though everyone expected it to take a lot longer.

I value my privacy, and streaming runs counter to this preference. I used to stream a lot more in my free time, but after becoming a parent, I largely removed non-work-related streaming from my life. (Sorry, horror fans.) But there are very specific scenarios where I find streaming enhances my enjoyment, and I'll put off playing precisely so I can indulge with my followers: roguelikes. Now, Mario Maker might not actually be a roguelike, but it functions similarly during the super hard stages I tend to play; I die over and over.

It's the one time where I'm able to experience the flipside of my own fandom. I don't spend much time watching gaming streams because games already take up so much of my life, but I do watch a lot of sports on television, especially football. Whether or not I watch a particular Chicago Bears football game has no meaningful outcome on the match's result, but nonetheless, I find myself cheering, screaming, and jeering from the couch on lots of Sundays.

It's hard to explain why I enjoy something I have no control over, positive or negative, but I do, nonetheless?

Part of it, I sense, is community. We know others are cheering, too. You're not alone, but part of something bigger, random or not. (Also, on a more primal and selfish level, it can be satisfying to watch other people lose.)

It doesn't exactly map, though. You can't move the needle of a football game while watching on the TV, but if you're in the stadium, part of the crowd? That's different. You can make noise, and potentially disrupt the efforts of the team on offense to call plays. The folks in the crowd are the equivalent of a stream chat. A win or less may ultimately rest on the skills of the player (or, in the case of football, team), but the crowd isn't irrelevant.

For Mario Maker, Spelunky, and most recently Dead Cells, these are games where I'm often coming in without any prior knowledge. Part of the pitch is being able to watch someone learn in real-time. And so, I die a lot.

But in death, we learn. In death, we make progress. I say "we" because it's very much a communal effort. I derive energy from the people watching and cheering, I grab hints from those with a smart observation. There's a good chance I'd have given up on those games far earlier without an audience, but my fans? I live for them.

To that end, it's been a joy to discover Dead Cells with people this week. The game hasn't put up the kind of fight I was expecting, but it's been a tremendous amount of fun, anyway. And it may not be the game's fault, you know? For people who've been watching me stream for the last few years, I've been streaming and mastering games like Dead Cells for a while now. Dead Cells is very much Spelunky-adjacent. Same with Dark Souls.

If you've been following my journey, you've seen me put in the work. This is the payoff.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com.

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