I'll be defending my dissertation on May 30th. I've got a lot of conflicting emotions about that, but I think it boils down to: very ready. My dissertation is titled, Performing Play: Cultural Production on Twitch.tv. I've copied the abstract below,
Streaming is an emerging practice of digital game-play, where a player broadcasts a live capture of their game-play to an audience. Every day Twitch.tv, the most popular streaming platform, features thousands of streams broadcast to millions of viewers. Streams are detailed multimedia artifacts, and their study allows us to understand how the culture of games is produced, reproduced, and reinvented.
In this dissertation, Performing Play: Cultural Production on Twitch.tv, I examine the act of streaming using a theoretical concept that I have developed called ‘performed play’, which combines social performance theory, game culture studies, situated learning in games, and sociological perspectives in order to understand streaming as an act that produces culture. Through the theoretical construct of performed play, I argue that we may be able to better understand digital game-play as a cultural act. My approach is informed by the theoretical framework of ‘field analysis’. Field Analysis seeks to understand the production of cultural artifacts in terms of their 'fields', or the relationships of power and access of cultural producers within a certain domain: in this case, streaming on Twitch.tv.
Using concepts from Field Analysis, I present two interrelated studies: a grounded theory analysis of a social space dedicated to streaming, and an ethnographic study comprised of seven individual streamers. I find that streaming is a practice comprised of three connected behaviors: assembling technology to produce the digital artifact of the stream, acting as a curator and manager of one’s audience, and projecting a persona as a player. These behaviors are moderated by the goals and desires of the streamer, and influenced by the metrics displayed by Twitch (e.g. viewership). Activity within the practice is further mediated by one’s history, relationship to games, and communities that are imported into the space of the stream.
Furthermore, I find that streaming is very much a day-to-day activity, making the stream a blend of one's personal identity alongside an individual interpretation of game culture. By synthesizing findings across both studies, I find that due to the highly personal and quotidian nature of performed game-play, the practice has the potential to change larger game culture by allowing previously marginalized populations to form their own communities as players of games.