How Twitch Limited My Feelings of Anxiety and Isolation in Lockdown
Coming off the back of one of the most turbulent years of my life, Twitch provided a sorely needed safe space amidst the ongoing global pandemic that defined 2020. Like many others, I searched online for some form of social interaction. Having gone from working in a busy office to working from home and eventually finding myself made redundant, I struggled to adapt to the new normal.
It didn’t help that lockdown arrived early for me. Myself and my now ex-partner decided it was best to start isolating early as our two premature twins were especially susceptible to illnesses. For this reason, we went into lockdown at the beginning of March. My employers at the time also shifted the entire office to home working ahead of the official lockdown.
Initially, the lockdown was a blessing. Having not long finished my paternity leave, I spent a lot of time away from my children. I consider myself a fairly hands-on father, so being able to work from home while spending time with them each day was a win-win situation for me. However, it didn’t take long for the fatigue of spending each day locked in the house to set in. Fortunately, a good friend started streaming to beat the boredom of lockdown.
My friend, Fizzy Joose, started streaming the Dark Souls games each day from 2pm. Starting with the first game, he played through the entire series, finishing with Dark Souls 3. After being made redundant, those 2pm streams gave me some semblance of daily routine. More importantly, at 2pm each day I felt like I was socialising. I could not only interact with my friend, but also speak with other viewers in chat.
I wasn’t alone in finding refuge online. Every major streaming platform experienced a rapid growth in viewership right around the time the first lockdown began. Twitch’s average concurrent viewers jumped from 1.26 million in 2019 to 2.12 million in 2020—that’s an increase of 76% in one year. Facebook Gaming similarly experienced growth, growing by 72% between March and April and by 238% compared to the previous year. Those figures continue to grow well into 2021, showing how COVID-19 has shifted our media consumption.
A small community was built from those watching Fizzy Joose’s streams. It was at this point that I felt comfortable enough to stream myself. Working as a freelance writer and father to twins, my time slots for streaming were pretty narrow. I picked a late night slot, finding solace away from the long day by streaming to a few friends into the early hours of the morning. It was during these streams that I felt relaxed. The anxiety of being out of work and missing my friends seemed to melt away. A sense of community that came with speaking to the same group of people daily replaced it.
Streaming games to friends became the weird, new de facto way to sit and play games together in 2020. Whether it was through Twitch, Facebook Gaming, or a more private affair over Discord, those platforms brought us together. It helped me feel like I was less alone, especially towards the end of the last year as my relationship with my ex-partner broke down. Being able to stream on Twitch and over Discord for friends during those tough months was a lifeline I sorely needed.
Mexican Scenographer Lucero Isaac once said, “Technology grows, and so does loneliness,” but I’d say it proved to be the opposite in the last 12 months. Technology brought us together when physically being with one another was dangerous. It gave us weekly pub quiz zoom nights, movie nights over Facebook calls, and hectic 20+ people Discord chats. Furthermore, technology helped us to retain our humanity amidst a global pandemic.
If you look back at art created during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, it’s mostly portraits of solitary figures sat around. Just over 100 years later, we may be physically alone, but our friends are only ever a few clicks away.
Just when I thought streaming couldn’t help me anymore, it provided the safe space I needed following the breakup of my relationship at the start of this year. This was the period that I felt my lowest and most anxious, but I found comfort in watching Autumn Games Done Quick (AGDQ) on YouTube. Each day had a set structure, featuring beloved childhood games. It was in those moments that the world around me melted away and I could briefly forget the pain I was in.
Streaming was a necessary lifeline for me in 2020 and 2021. For all the damage that COVID-19 caused, I at least know I can always count on the kindness of friends and strangers on Twitch to provide the community and support I didn’t know I needed.