Parasocial Relationships and The Gaming Community

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It was said that no one would ever watch someone play a video game when they could be playing it themselves. In a similar way that people said that people wouldn’t sit in their house, watching people sitting in their house. In regard to the latter, the extent of human boredom never ceases to amaze me and terrify me. YouTube personalities and twitch streamers to name a few have made a name for themselves in the gaming community, to the extent of becoming celebrities in their own right. Compared with the majority of our celebrities who get by with simply being famous and nothing else, I am happier that those who have something to say about games, or play games in an entertaining way are recognised for it.

Gaming is evolving constantly, and the rise in recognised personalities is a sign of the wild west of the internet coalescing into something more structured and professional. The recent swell of interest in the E-Sport scene in the last decade has the potential to very easily overtake (in some cases it already has) traditional sports in terms of viewer-ship.

The line perhaps becomes blurred in regards to gaming personalities who also review or give comments on a game. Due in part to the nature of the internet and also not being attracted to say a channel, but often a single person. It differs from traditional media, in the way that traditional media was never truly a dialogue between reviewer/content creator and the audience, but instead providing a service for those interested in the medium. Modern gaming personalities have the potential to create a relationship between the viewer and the content creator unlike anything before. So much so that many gaming personalities are often championed as an alternative to traditional media due to their largely free-form structured way of providing content to their community.

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This trend has not gone unnoticed by game developers and publishers; Torn Banner’s Chivalry: Total Warfare tournaments have certainly sold that game to a wide group of gamers by inviting YouTube personalities to compete. Developer Muse likewise with it’s game: Guns of Icarus: Online has maintained a player base with it’s constant community support and YouTuber grudge matches.

In the end it seems, the major difference between many gaming personalities on YouTube and Twitch, compared with say traditional celebrities and game reviewers, is that stepping behind the curtain into their world is not a treat, but the very nature of their business. Now it might be easy to simply cut it off at this point and chalk it up to rising demand for media to be more realistic overall. Whilst this is definitely a factor to some degree, it is a particularly prevalent in gaming due to it’s very nature as an interactive medium. Gaming personalities discuss topics via podcasts and streaming sessions, and much of this particular part of their content is so free form that it might be mistaken for purely unscripted, undirected friends waffling on about their favourite topics.

Media outlets have for a long attempted to use familiarity to their advantage, and so it should come as no shock that the current trend of gaming personality is a potentially damaging one. In terms of advertising, using a recognisable voice or face to sell your product or up it’s profile is very common indeed; tapping into people’s familiarity by presenting their products as ‘friend’ recommended. I say ‘friend’ as a sense of connection to celebrities beyond simple recognition is a fairly new phenomenon in modern society. To a large part this has come about with the rise of mass media and especially with the rise of the internet. Thanks to internet sites and gossip columns, people are able to know pretty much anything about their would-be idols, whilst the idol is unaware of the fan’s existence.

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The aforementioned threat that comes along with this trend is one that crops up in terms of how gaming personalities are able to advertise to gamers and sway opinions one way or another. At the moment this really isn’t a problem due to most personalities not really swaying anyone to purchase games other than by simply playing them. Most personalities that are respected by the community most of the time detract people from buying certain awful games by simply tearing them apart in their videos. This is indeed the case, but the very potential for viral marketing via this method is something not too difficult to imagine, and a road often trod by celebrities.

In short, gaming personalities have greater influence over their audiences due to the very nature that the majority of their content is distributed. By owning their own channels, and by the very fact that viewers are subscribing and following specifically the content creator and not a channel that they work for, the connection is deeper. For now, it is providing content that is controlled by developers or publishers via review copies and established media outlets. Though in the future the potential for exploiting the trust earned via the above, is ripe for the spoiling.


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