THE CHAT

Everyone lashes out, and everyone is hurt by the lashes, but with every strike the masochist attachment intensifies, up till the point when the Chat is in pure, colourful, Pepe-the-frog-filled ecstasy.

STREAMERS. They try to focus on the game while also talk and engage with their audience. This produces a strange free-flow of consciousness, that is often-times a bit monotone and boring, however, successful at deriving their core personality traits and quirks. When you spend some time in a streamer’s stream, which usually lasts between 4-8 hours per day, you find that the only content you end up consistently engaging with is not even the game, that is being played, or the streamer, that is playing it, but the peculiar intersubjectivity that emerges in the communication between the streamer and their audience. Communication is key in a streamer’s stream, so much so, that the chat window delivering the barrage of messages (lines upon lines of colourful text that move at such speeds that their readability is not something that is given but gained through time, through the training of the eye) becomes an autonomous entity, the Chat.

When a streamer communicates with their audience, they don’t address particular usernames, they address Chat in general. The reason for this is not only in the speed of the messages, which the streamer surprisingly does not have difficulty keeping up with, but in the financial incentive for the streamer and the platform providing the stream. Watching the stream and engaging with the streamer is, of course, free of charge, however, the donations and paid subscriptions are not without perks. If you donate, your message can be highlighted outside of the chat window, and in many cases read aloud by AI. This is one of the rare instances when the streamer engages with a particular individual. Even when streamers do a ‘collab’ (a joint stream), they keep on addressing Chat as the only addressee, although in this case, the chat window is inhabited by now multiple Chats, one for every streamer, differentiated only by streamer specific emojis and the manner of communication. 

Such relationship produces an excess of subjectivity. As much as there is no particular viewer that is not a mere modus of Chat, there is also almost no successful streamer without their Chat. Chat is the main subject. Something that is noticeable especially in the power-dynamics between the streamer and their audience. One would think that such pay-to-speak dynamics would put the streamer in a position of power, yet this is simply not the case. The chat can troll the streamer with their donations, “forcing” the streamer to endure an insufferable wave of AI-read messages, and notifications of new paid subscriptions. Not at all a rare sight in a stream. As much as the audience relate to the streamer’s personality, and in a way adore them for it, they also resent their own sub-subjective position within Chat and the commodification of their affective attachment to the streamer that comes with it. Hence, they act out and bully the streamer with their loose change; forcing the streamer to be ever-mindful of the sensibilities of Chat, while the viewers (on the other hand) need to ration their use of power so to avoid being banned from the stream altogether.

The enjoyment that comes from participating in a stream is thus seemingly the enjoyment of an intersubjective surplus that arises from the reciprocal bullying of the streamer and their audience. Everyone lashes out, and everyone is hurt by the lashes, but with every strike the masochist attachment intensifies, up till the point when the Chat is in pure, colourful, Pepe-the-frog-filled ecstasy. This might very well be the enjoyment of the post-quarantine self. 

Author: Domen Ograjenšek

Writer, art critic, curator

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