Clash of Clans, Runescape, Fortnite, Counter Strike, Battlefield V, and Dota 2. While these titles may not mean much to those outside of the video gaming world, they are just a few of the wildly popular games thousands of players are live streaming to viewers worldwide this very minute. However, with all the endless hours of entertainment this cultural phenomenon offers tweens, teens, and even adults, it also comes with some risks attached.
Each month more than 100,000 people log onto sites like Twitch and YouTube to watch gamers play. Streamers, also called twitchers, broadcast their gameplay live online while others watch and participate through a chat feature. Each gamer attracts an audience (a few dozen to hundreds of thousands daily) based on his or her skill level and the kind of commentary, and interaction with viewers they offer.
Reports state that video game streaming can attract more viewers than some of cable’s most popular televisions shows.
Ask any streamer (or viewer) why they do it, and many will tell you it’s to showcase and improve their skills and to be part of a community of people who are equally as passionate about gaming.
Live streaming is also free and global so gamers from any country can connect in any language. You’ll find streamers playing games in Turkish, Russian, Spanish, and the list goes on. Many streamers have gone from amateurs to gaming celebrities with elaborate production and marketing of their Twitch or YouTube feeds.
Some streamers hold marathon streaming sessions, and multi-player competitions designed to benefit charities. Twitch is also appealing because it allows users to watch popular gaming conventions such as TwitchCon, E3, and Comic-Con. There are also live gaming talk shows and podcasts and a channel where users can watch people do everyday things like cook, create pieces or art or play music.
Although Twitch’s community guidelines prohibit violent behavior, sexual content, bullying and harassment, after browsing through some of the live games, many users don’t seem to take the guidelines seriously.
Here are just a few things to keep in mind if your kids frequent live streaming communities like Twitch.
- Bullying. Bullying happens on every social network in some form. Twitch is no different. In one study, over 13% of respondents said they felt personally attacked on Twitch, and more than 27% have witnessed racial or gender-based bullying in live streaming.
- Crude language. While there are streamers who put a big emphasis on keeping things clean, most Twitch streamers do not. Some streamers will put up a “mature content” warning before you click on their site. Both streamers and viewers can get harsh with language, conversations, and points of view.
- Violent games. Many of the games on Twitch are violent and intended for mature viewers. However, you can also find some more mild games such as Minecraft and Mario Brothers if your kids are younger. The best way to access a game’s violence is to sit and watch it with your child.
- Health risks. Sitting and playing video games for extended periods of time can affect players and viewers physical and emotional well-being. In the most extreme cases, gamers have died due to excessive gaming.
- Costs. Twitch is free to sign-up and watch games, but if you want the extras (no ads), it’s $8.99 a month. Viewers can also subscribe to individual gamers’ feed. Viewers can also purchase “bits” to cheer on their favorite players (kind of like badges), which can add up quickly.
- Stalking. Viewers have been known to stalk, harass, rob, and try to meet celebrity streamers. Recently, Twitch announced both private and public chat rooms to try to boost privacy among users.
- Swatting. An increasingly popular practice called “swatting” involves reporting a fake emergency at the home of the victim in order to send a SWAT team to barge in on them. In some cases, swatter cases connected to Twitch have ended tragically.
- Wasted time. Marathon gaming sessions, skipping school to play or view games, and gaming through the night are common in Twitch communities. Twitch, like any other social network, needs parental attention and ground rules.
- Privacy. Spending a lot of time with people in an online “community” can result in a false sense of trust. Often kids will answer an innocent question in a live chat such as where they live or what school they go to. Leaking little bits of information over time allows a corrupt person to piece together a picture of your data.
An endnote: If your kids love Twitch or live stream gaming on YouTube or other sites, spend some time on those sites. Listen to the conversations your kids are having with others online. What’s the tone? Is there too much sarcasm or cruel “joking” going on? Put time limits on screen time and remember balance and monitoring is key to guiding healthy online habits.