Stream Age: Origins
“Character develops itself in the stream of life” – Goethe
It was the summer of 1998, I was hanging out in the dingy basement apartment of a small time drug dealer, watching him smoke something off a piece of tinfoil. I wasn’t there for the drugs, but while sitting on the grubby couch I was getting excited. Things were about to get scary – we were about to play some Resident Evil 2.
I had bought a walkthrough at the magazine store I worked at, and I was guiding us through the game. He played, I navigated. It didn’t seem that odd at the time, I had a few sketchy friends in my day, and this lad was nice overall despite his criminal inclinations. Besides that… dude had a PS1 and this was frickin Resident Evil 2!
I haven’t seen that guy in years and years. Last time I did was on the metro and it looked like he had cleaned up his act and was doing well. He brought up Resident Evil 2:
“Those dogs man… those f*!&ng dogs crashing through windows”
I watch video game streams. It still feels like a confession, even though I have friends who watch Reality TV for gosh sake, but here I am meekly admitting it. These days watching a player stream a game on twitch or own3d tv is how I spend many hours out of my week. Watching Dark Souls speculation on youtube? Guilty as charged.
It’s part of my origin story, I suppose. I grew up with a PC, a 286, a 600 baud modem, and some games. Alleycat was a fave, Montezuma’s Revenge, Seven Cities of Gold, later it was the early Sierra games and of course BBS games like Pimp Wars or Trade Wars 2002 (… Stop to reflect about playing TW2002 in 1986 and then later blogging about it in 2012… lemme get my bearings, breathe deep… ok I’m back).
PC games were always kind of janky affairs, and while fun, they weren’t the same as Atari or Nintendo games with their simplicity and (relative) polish. To me it felt like PC games were puzzles, console games were toys. It’s only in the last couple of years that I have gotten adept at controller use, back in those days playing games at a friend’s house I was all thumbs. But that was ok because I preferred to watch.
When visiting friends I would always try and steer the day’s activities towards the Nintendo. I wanted to help them, I wanted to see bosses get beat, I would buy Nintendo Power magazine in order to get walkthrough or easter egg information even though I had no system of my own. Games had the power to bring people together to try and solve them. Sharing tips and tricks was the currency, doing things like travelling to world -1 in Super Mario bros was the prize. It was co-op gaming before the term existed. It was great.
Time goes by though and my friends don’t really play games all that much. I found myself on the wrong side of 20, without a career, before games came back and saved me. I started making games, got into the industry as a tester first, now as a full on developer with multiple shipped titles. I played TF2 with co-workers, leveled a druid to 75 with my best pal, but when my ol high school buddies want to get together games were no longer on the menu. Even Rock Band only rekindled their interest for a few months. Games kept me company at times. But that original co-op experience was missing, people are too busy, or have moved on. I did my time as an server admin, forum moderator and 25+ hour a week FPS player, but those interactions weren’t the same. WoW guild life wasn’t for me either. But now I think I have rediscovered that connection through video game streams.
Watching streams is not entirely passive. There’s the chat which is, to some, an integral part of the streaming experience. People make friends and discuss the game being streamed, the streamer interacts with her viewers, links are shared, all-caps posts are deleted. There are games I watch streamed in order to play them better, League of Legends and Binding of Isaac are recent examples for me. Some games I watch that I wont be playing. Last year I got to see a big chunk of the Japanese release of Ni-No-Kuni PS3 played and translated on the go by MANvsGAME, a streamer I follow. It was a great experience and I made sure to be home and ready by cast time. I’ve been watching videos of Dark Souls boss fights after throwing myself at them for a while to see if there are strategies that I’m missing (I’ll save you the time by saying that the secret is almost always simply being extremely patient).
E-sports and streaming go hand in hand, and I should give it some mention. Watching pro League of Legends players stream was a big part of bringing me into that game, and I certainly learned a lot from their matches. It made me a fan of certain guys, made me dislike others. It gives one a chance to know the players beyond an occasional interview. Watching e-sports competition streaming and the leaps and bounds it has taken in the last years has been great. The recent LoL and Dota2 championships show production values that are getting close to what your reggo sports fan is used to on an ESPN or NBC Wide World of Sports*.
What I really enjoy are the guys who stream because they want to show you a game they like. Like I love that the guys from Idle Thumbs are doing weekly streams now. It’s that sense of sharing and long form interaction that reminds me of those days of my youth on a couch with a buddy.
At the end of the day there are too many games out there that I want to know about but don’t have the time to play or master. Streams help on both counts, and give me a little bit of that experience that was such an important part of the origins of my love for games. As a kid I never had the console that I could invite friends over to play, but someday maybe I’ll set up my own stream, and have a chance to invite folks to share in my gaming experiences for once.