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Twitch as a Social Learning Platform

A couple weeks ago, the live-stream video service designed for the gaming community, Twitch, came up in my reflection on a couple new social video streaming apps. I was surprised to find that what these apps lacked had already been incorporated into Twitch's platform on both browser based and mobile application platforms. What I realized was that once again, gamers are at the forefront of innovative designed interactions. For this reason, I decided that for this week's critique of a digital storytelling device I would take the time to write an in depth reflection on the features that make Twitch stand out as a social learning platform that enables streamers to share their stories and experiences with viewers in new and creative ways. Yesterday, Tech Gen Mag featured an article by Kristian Markus called Generation Twitch: how millenials are shaping social media that aligns with my findings and experiences in relation to how Twitch is paving the way in online social interactions.

I began my experience with Twitch nearly two years ago, with a desire to get better at playing my class in World of Warcraft. After conducting some online research, I watched several video tutorials with tips on gameplay and suggestions on what choices were best for specific scenarios. I came across a series of tutorials from one YouTube user that were particularly helpful. In an effort to find more of this streamer's videos, I continued my search online and discovered his Twitch channel. I was quickly drawn in to the live-stream video as it gave me a genuine window into the decision making that goes into gameplay, free from revision and editing. A chat feature made it easy to participate in the social environment of the stream, and viewers could ask questions that the streamers would (most of the time) answer or respond to right away.

Viewers also contribute to the discussion, making problem solving open and collaborative. The availability of expert knowledge in real-time exchanges and interactions made the space an excellent platform for social and collaborative learning. Just last week, I watched a streamer assemble a new PC computer on stream, frequently getting feedback from the viewers on the assembly process and tips for cable management inside the computer housing.

In addition to the collective information and knowledge available, the social network created by the viewers and the streamer add significant value to the experience. After watching the same streamer a few times, I began to recognize names of other viewers through the chat feature. The smooth functionality and ease of use are further enhanced by playful features like channel specific emoticons and icons for those who subscribe to a streamer's channel. Viewers often like to "spam" specific emotes that have a particular meaning to those who I would consider to be an insider in the community. Pushing the chat feature to the limits of it's functionality, mini games based on lotteries and random chance are also commonly used through a bot program. Twitch bots can be programmed to have lots of different functions, from providing chat moderation, games, marketing for the streamer's channel, and more.

Twitch bots are not the only programming that has occured as a result of the video streaming service. Recently, the first Twitch-based and Twitch-funded game, Choice Chamber, was released. The game relies on viewers to participate in the chat for the streamer to play the game by asking them to make decisions about gameplay. Viewers type a keyword from a variety of options listed on screen, with one vote per poll. This type of innovation and enthusiasm for creating mods to the existing Twitch platform demonstrate how engaging the platform is and give a great example of learning as a result in participation and engagement with the community.

Each streamer tells his or her story in a different way, with varying levels of interactions. As a platform for interactive social learning and digital storytelling, Twitch creates the opportunities for sharing stories and makes collaboration not only possible but also intuitive and rewarding. A final quote from Kristian Markus' interview with Twitch streamer MrSamKim shows the motivation and enthusiasm shared by 100 million visitors each month:

"MrSamKim’s experience hints at the direction social media is headed, one that seeks to enhance social interaction in ways that strengthens and enhances the bonds of human interaction. Although digital purists lament these trends, I remain optimistic in saying our fears about the loss of direct socialization is bunk. At their best, social media services like Twitch, SnapChat and YouTube (just to list a few) ask us to participate in a dynamic interactive experience in which we are creators, innovators, viewers and participants all at once. Social media is what we make it, and streamers/millennials like MrSamKim are showing us the way."

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