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The flexible conscience of a streamer

Online Games Bay

Recent events in the world brought the best in some people, the worst in others, but left one group completely indifferent to a lot of things and that group are streamers, youtubers, influencers and other -ers that I probably never heard of.

The flexible conscience of a streamer

I know it’s a statement so vague and broad that a lot of people might feel offended right now, so let me clarify what exactly I mean by that.

Recently I watched a video from well known youtuber, who specialize in World of Tanks and World of Warships videos, and sometimes wanders into the realms of War Thunder. While the war in Ukraine started he just said "let’s not talk about it, I mean we are here for the games". Few days later, in his more private video, he summed this up stating more or less "my audience seems to agree with me that in gaming videos there should be no talk about outside world". He spent the rest of this off-topic video talking about war in Ukraine, but still mentioned that some people suggest that games like World of Tanks and World of Warships should be removed from current uploads.

He argued "why should youtubers give up their income?" and moved on to explaining that company behind WOT and WOWS is actually from Belarus, not Russia, that War Thunder is a Russian game, but their office is in Cyprus, and few other excuses why by showing their videos he does not support Russian government. I guess he forgot that, according to several sources, Belarusian forces take part in invasion of Ukraine, that their president was shown in front of a map with strategic plan of attack... Not to mention that Wargaming, company that runs WOT and WOWS, have the "main" office in Sankt Petersburg, something that he himself mentioned on numerous occasions.

So, a Russian company with office in Cyprus is not really Russian, while Belarusian company with office in Russia is... also not really Russian? To be fair this particular youtuber took stand against predatory practices of Wargaming last year and resigned from their Community Contributors Program, but then again nothing much has changed in his videos and Wargaming titles are still his main content. So, it was more of a moral stand against those practices, while in real world he will still use their material for the money ("because it seems what my audience wants to watch"). Don’t get me wrong, I think he is one of the few actually sane people in this world and overall positive model for other youtubers, but still it wasn’t the first time that he used a... flexible approach to a touchy subject.

Few months back he got a deal with audible, an Amazon company that offers audiobooks, and his off-game videos were sponsored by audible. Funny thing is, it was at the same time that many of the audible creators were alarming about audiblegate, a dubious practice surrounding the service (you can read more on this website). The problem was audible was selling audiobook with return exchange policy, which means that you could give them back the audiobook you bought and get a different one for free. What’s the problem with that? The problem is the author / publisher of the audiobook you returned will not get any money for it, no matter if you listened to it or not. The youtuber I mentioned was spending each week several minutes talking how great audible is, while any mentions of audiblegate in the comments were removed.

I also recalled a tiny thing from years back, in one of his videos showing how he played War Thunder live with one of his mates and they suspected that the guy, who killed them was stream sniping (watching their live stream to know where they are and what they plan to do). Both of the gentlemen spent several minutes repeating that the other player was "a scumbag", even though they had no evidence to support it, just a hunch, so more or less defaming him. In the comments for that video the player in question explained that he was not stream sniping, explained what he was doing and why, but the youtuber never mentioned it again. I mean he defamed someone and moved on. Unless you read all the comments, you will take the youtuber’s word for it that the other guy is in fact "a scumbag".

But this particular youtuber, was not really the reason why I wrote this article, he was just a trigger that brought back the tiny things that put together shown more complex problem. Recently I saw dozens of videos of, sometimes well known, streamers, who clearly cheat in games like Call of Duty Warzone and not only they are not banned by the services, but also they get preferential treatment from the publishers, like Activision. Well, Activision doesn’t really have much credibility left after recent scandals, but still letting streamers blatantly cheat, just because they are streamers, is a bit of a stretch.

One of the streamers was shown in Call of Duty Warzone being delivered money by his fans, who were stream sniping so they know when he is in trouble, where should they help him and how. Once he was in dire straits out of nowhere came a player or two in a helicopter or a truck, patiently and quietly waited until streamer will kill them so he could get money and equipment. While this is pathetic way of progressing in the game for the streamer, the bigger problem was with his serious speech that was also presented in the video, in which he condemned stream sniping and people hunting streamers using that method are bad. So, in another words, when you use stream sniping for your advantage it’s just for fun, if someone else is using it to kill you, that’s a crime against humanity.

I think the best way to summarize my point is a quote from one of the videos I watched when Cyberpunk 2077 was still a thing - one of the youtubers was angry that he wasn’t provided with a code to test the game before premiere and he burst into "I’m a content creator FFS!" tantrum. Oh my, how many schools you need to finish to become a "content creator"? How does it distinguish you from regular players? Why are you better than regular players?

As a streamer you play games for a living, while receiving donations, which is modern equivalent of musician busking in the streets, but you have access to worldwide audience. As for "creator" part, you play games that someone else made, you use platform that someone else made and, if it is your job, all you need to do is have interesting personality or be good in a game or two. First one is given by nature, second one requires work and dedication, so... of course you will cheat. After all, you don’t have time to improve yourself, you’re a content creator FFS!

And there is another problem in that story - there are people, who are such huge fans that they are ready to support their favourite streamers no matter what (as in the example above), even though they know they are spoiling the game for the rest of the players in the match. Some of the streamers or youtubers are using the tactics to do what their audience wants them to (like not mentioning the real world in gaming videos, showing WOT and WOWS material no matter what) or what they think their audience expects them to do. This is a very healthy approach - they are dependent on money from their audience - but at the same time a slippery slope.

I remember one video from well known gaming channel, they wanted to show they support for Black Lives Matter back in 2020. They invited a mixed-race youtuber to play Call of Duty Warzone with them, while they were collecting money for NAACP organization. I’ve checked again few days ago and this video has one of the lowest number of views on their channel. Not only in 2020, in history of their channel. To be fair the video was bad - it was rather boring, they did not really knew much about the game, the game wasn’t that great at this point - but to know it is bad, you need to watch it first. And very, very few of their subscribers have (about 1%), while two months earlier the same game (so in earlier stage of development), but without the guest youtuber, got 3 times more views (rather usual number for their channel).

You can interpret this information in many, many ways, f.e. their viewers are not interested in this particular title, one video was enough, they do not like the idea of guest youtubers, they just were unlucky and more interesting titles were available at the same time, maybe the charity element put people off. But one of those interpretations needs to be that the BLM cause or the mixed-race youtuber was the problem. Does that mean their audience consists mostly of racists? No. Maybe. Who knows? But what if it is true? Should they just follow the audience then? Should they protest? Should they have a honest talk with the audience? Enough said they never returned to that format or collecting money for BLM.

Now people are angry at companies like Coca Cola or McDonalds after they announced they will be operating in Russia as they done so far, but why not with the streamers, who do similar things? If you held accountable companies for their decisions and actions, why not streamers? Because the streamers need money to support themselves? Even the biggest companies and corporations have employees, who take care of their operations, those employees most likely also have families, don’t they need to support themselves?

The answer is rather prosaic: because streamers want to be seen as one of us, those little people, who have no choice but doing what they do. But only when it suits them. Some of the big streamers or youtubers brag about their wealth, yet they often end up with contracts linked to shady businesses (like cryptocurrencies), but when it comes to taking a stand against real life problem, they again are the little people, who struggle to support themselves. They don’t have employers, or rather have thousands, if not millions, of small employers and they don’t want to upset any of them. So they slide along, avoiding difficult subjects or just dig themselves into escapist world of the games.

It’s hard to expect streamers to be different from the rest of us - they are human beings like all of us (or most of us), they need money to support themselves and their families, but at the same time they do not live on another planet. They do what they have to do to make money, so they should not pose on moral high ground while at the same time doing things that are hard to defend from moral point of view. People are dying in Ukraine, people lose their homes, children have to flee their homeland, but let’s not forget about the real victims - the youtubers that can lose their income...


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