The Parasocial Relationships of Twitch


Twitch Streamers Swita Anita and xChocoBars

In September of 2020, Dextero reported how popular Twitch streamer “Sweet Anita” collected the tales of multiple female streamers who found themselves facing “police inaction” at the hands of their stalkers (Glaze 2021). Anita notes how her stalker has gone as far as to move “within four minutes of where she lived” and “followed her to a shop and chased her out into the street, purportedly carrying a knife” (2021). Anita collected the stories of multiple streamers, those who entertain online “communities” typically by playing video games and engaging with an active “chat” of viewers, who experienced similar stories of stalkers or threats.



While these horrifying examples are perhaps rare, it is worth noting that there is a reason an application such as Twitch fosters these parasocial relationships. This article intends to look at the multiple ways in which Twitch allows viewers to “interact” with their content, and then analyze why those interactions foster a parasocial viewing experience that can occasionally breed directly dangerous relationships. In these extreme examples it is easy to see how the viewer’s typical rules of media literacy has been superseded by this parasocial relationship with the streamer, but it is worth analyzing if and why this parasocial viewing manifests in all Twitch viewers.


An experiment in which users were placed into a simulated Twitch-like viewing experience allowed users to record their emotional response when they performed certain interactions with a Twitch channel. For example, users could record their immediate reaction when their “subscription” popped up on a streamer’s screen, or their feelings when a streamer responded when to the chat, and overall how much it affected their feelings of “parasocial interaction” with the streamer (Wulf et al, 2021). While the data and multiple graphs provide structural ways to view how the interaction affects the viewer, there is one glaring and consistent point: interaction with the streamer in any form increases the viewer’s parasocial relationship to them.


These parasocial relationships are not unique to these new streaming platforms. In fact, according to Cohen and Hoffner’s research many would not consider it unusual if a celebrity death sparked a dedicated fan to go through the typical grieving process (2016). This is a fairly simple concept to understand, as a consumer experiences multiple instances of gratification and probably feels a sense of “knowing” the celebrity. Fu & Yip’s research goes as far as to state that the suicide of a celebrity can lead to increased suicide ideation amongst those who encounter news of the celebrity suicide (2007).


This shows the way even a typical media diet can affect even a typical consumer to the point that it affects their sense of empathy towards the celebrity. Therefore, it is easy to understand how a platform that encourages viewers to send messages and money which in turn offer a chance or sense at immediate gratification directed towards them can lead to them forming an even stronger sense of community with the “celebrity” or streamer in this case. This could explain in part why the daily viewership time for a typical Twitch stream is “106 minutes”, much higher than the typical television program. Two conclusions can be drawn from this; the first that viewers of streams “generally feel closer to the streamer than they do the other viewers in the chat” and the second that “increased freedom to communicate directly with viewers (i.e., break the fourth wall)... overcomes the weaknesses associated with specific content types” (Leith 2021). All of this results in a more parasocial, and a more intimate relationship between viewer and streamer.


The Twitch stream, and especially the chat, seem like a new example of McLuhan’s classic “the medium is the message.” No matter how distant the viewer may believe they are, participating in the interactive elements of a Twitch stream is in some form fostering a parasocial relationship. Thankfully, most of these relationships will not result in stalking or other malicious behaviors like Sweet Anita experienced, but these dangerous tipping points are worth analyzing when we consider new platforms.


Streamer xQc

As a final note, it was just recently on April 4th, 2022, when the streamer xQc broke his viewership peak, as he hit 233,000 active viewers during a stream taking part in the collaborative Reddit art project known as /r/place (Patterson, 2022). In a chat with thousands of participants, surely these individual viewers do not feel seen. Yet, the chat “community” continues to experience a never ending scroll of new messages leading us to wonder how powerfully developed these parasocial relationships truly are.


Blight, Michael P. (2016). Relationships to Video Game Streamers: Examining Gratifications, Parasocial Relationships, Fandom, and Community Affiliation Online, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,

https://www.proquest.com/openview/a07c5773a3ab32ab8b489d0720719bd7/1?pq-origsite=gsch olar&cbl=18750


Fu, K. W., & Yip, P. S. (2007). Long-term impact of celebrity suicide on suicidal ideation: results from a population-based study. Journal of epidemiology and community health, 61(6), 540–546. https://doi.org/10.1136/jech.2005.045005


Glaze, V. (2020, September 8). Sweetanita, xchocobars & more expose police inaction to Twitch Stalkers. Dexerto. Retrieved from

https://www.dexerto.com/entertainment/sweetanita-xchocobars-more-expose-police-inaction-to-t witch-stalkers-1416467/


Leith, Alex P. (2021) Parasocial cues: The ubiquity of parasocial relationships on Twitch, Communication Monographs, 88:1, 111-129, DOI: 10.1080/03637751.2020.1868544


Patterson, C. (2022, April 5). Xqc breaks his twitch viewership record again after viral r/place stream. Dexerto. Retrieved from

https://www.dexerto.com/entertainment/xqc-breaks-his-twitch-viewership-record-as-viral-r-place -art-stream-censored-by-reddit-1797391/


Tian, Q., & Hoffner, C. A. (2010). Parasocial interaction with liked, neutral, and disliked characters on a popular TV series. Mass Communication and Society, 13, 250-269. \


Ward, T. (2018, May 1). The biggest gamer in the world breaks down Twitch for us. Forbes. https://

www.forbes.com/sites/tomward/2018/05/01/the-biggest-gamer-in-the-world-breaks-downtwitch for-us/


Wulf, T, Schneider, Frank M., and Queck, Juliane..Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.Oct 2021.648-653.http://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2020.0546


 

Paul Ippolito is currently a graduate student of Media Studies at Brooklyn College. In 2019, he graduated from Arcadia University with a bachelor’s degree in Digital Communications. Currently, he is an employee of the New York City Department of Education where he focuses on developing communications and technology for a public school. Beyond educational communications, he is also interested in emerging media relationships in video game and online streaming communities. He is an active member of several small online video game “speedrunning” communities.



8 views0 comments