The relationship between Twitch streamers and their audience is a balancing act between letting viewers in on every detail of their lives and keeping some things private.
Casters spend so much of their days talking to people in chat, detailing what’s happening in their lives, that the physical boundaries and limitations to the relationship seems to dissolve away. As genuine connections between streamer and fan are formed, it may seem like personalities have no reason to hide their private lives.
In recent weeks, a number of streamers have revealed major life developments to a growing audience of viewers, detailing some of the most painful moments of their lives. Boogie2988 has been extremely open about his separation and divorce situation; Dr. DisRespect broached a conversation about an affair that impacted his marriage; most recent of all, beloved Twitch streamer ManvsGame returned to the platform after a month of dealing with crippling depression.
All three streamers never stopped sharing what was happening in their lives. Katrina Gay, a director at the National Institute of Mental Health, told Polygon that streamers belong to a new trend that doctors and researchers are seeing with how public personas dealing with mental health issues.
“There’s a trend right now to be very transparent and not hide the raw and rugged, Gay said. “Part of it is the impact that comes with how we define community. Community has been changing and evolving over the years, but it’s still so different now. You can be intimate in a way that extends beyond hearing a voice; you can see the person, all your senses can be involved and be in a room with someone. You can join in these virtual communities that have a lot of the same sensory input that an in-person community has. It’s become a very real community.”
Gay said that because streamers spend the majority of their time developing these communities, they can’t shy away from the problems they’re dealing with. When Dr. Disrespect announced his infidelity during a stream, the award-winning caster said he wanted to be as transparent with his viewers as possible.
“I just wanted to let you guys know that, and I apologize to you guys,” Dr. DisRespect said. “I apologize to you guys, my sponsors and Twitch. This is not who I am. This is not what I represent.”
As Dr. Disrespect made his announcement, commenters shared positive messages for the streamer, with their support taking up the entirety of the chat. While some streamers would make jokes in the coming days or added gossip to the conversation, Dr. Disrespect’s community acted as a support group for the man many felt a personal connection with.
“You can’t really hide,” Gay said. “You have a decision to make. ‘Am I going to not talk about this and compartmentalize, or am I going to be authentic and admit this is part of who I am and my experience?’”
For the most part, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive toward streamers who do share these extremely vulnerable moments with their communities. It’s nothing short of courageous to talk about an ongoing struggle with mental health or admitting to a wrongdoing and that you need time away. ManvsGame and Boogie2988 have all thanked their communities on stream, in YouTube videos and on Twitter for the ongoing support.
Damn it feels good to be back. So grateful for all the support and good conversation tonight. NGB has been a total blast so far, even if the camera is somehow EVEN WORSE than I remembered it. Probably because it's 2018 now. Cameras have come a loooong way since the Xbox days. lol— ❄ MAN ❄ (@MANvsGAME) January 9, 2018
Still, some are hesitant to engage during these rough moments. Dr. DisRespect hasn’t streamed or tweeted since his initial announcement, and ManvsGame took time away to deal with his mental health concerns.
Gay told Polygon that stepping away is a recovery skill that public personas need to learn to equip in their career. From her experience dealing with people in the spotlight, when they take that first step to address their issues, the support is enough to keep them going more often than not.
“Sometimes they’re worried, ‘This is going to be a negative for me, this is going to make me look weak, and I’m going to get haters,’ but what actually ends up happening in most cases is that they get the opposite. It strengthens their recovery journey instead of hindering it. I think it’s overwhelmingly positive, but I do think that we need to be careful.”
Still, Gay advises all public personalities to take a second, breathe and think about how much information they want to give away.
“You don’t need haters in your life,” Gay said. “I think it’s nice to stop and think about it before you do it, and it does mean you’re going to be more raw and vulnerable.
“There are times when it’s better to not be there.”