TGP 24 Dr. Michelle | Online Harassment

S2: E24 | Streaming Games, Online Harassment & Mental Health With Dr. Michelle Fynan

Daniel A. Kaufmann, Ph.D
Dr. Gameology on Twitch & The Gaming Persona Podcast
Owner of Area of Effect Counseling

Female gamers often report experiencing harassment during their times of playing video games online. For this episode, the Gaming Persona welcomes Dr. Michelle Fynan and her expertise on sex therapy issues to explore insights from recent research findings on why people watch streamers, and why it feels acceptable to behave poorly on the internet.

Listen to the podcast here

Streaming Games, Online Harassment & Mental Health With Dr. Michelle Fynan

I am DrGameology on Twitch and other social apps. You can find me on this show. The Gaming Persona Podcast can be found on Apple, Spotify, Google, anywhere else podcasts can be found, and also DrGameology.com. Thank you. We have a stranger with us. I’m going to flip the script. We’re going to go straight into the introductions because I’ve been super excited to have our guest on the show. It seems like the first time I talked with her about being on the show was a long time ago.

Jenny, the two of you have a similarity in the space in my mind that we will share later in the episode. I’m pleased to welcome to our show Dr. Michelle Fynan. She is a licensed Mental Health Counselor with a PhD in Clinical Sexology. She’s also a board-certified Clinical Sexologist, Sex Therapist, and Relationship/Intimacy Coach. She is a university instructor and has co-authored textbooks on the Psychology of Play and Behavioral Sciences.

She has taught courses to undergraduate students for years. The last time we were coworkers, she left me where we were so she could go teach before I got to fulfill that part of my identity. She also offers virtual coaching for singles, couples, and groups on the topics of dating, relationships, sex, and intimacy. She is the original co-conspirator to building a mental health Death Star and overthrowing all of the rebellions that are ruining the field.

I’m honored.

Welcome to the show, Michelle. How are you?

Thanks. I’m great. What an intro. Thank you for that.

I try to improvise. I said I was going to paraphrase and by paraphrase, I didn’t mean shorten for brevity. I meant, “Let’s explode this like Alderaan.” It’s so nice to see Alderaan in the Kenobi show. Is anyone watching?

I’m watching.

There are crickets on my part.

Alderaan is the planet that the original Death Star blew up in the original Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. There are scenes on it in the Kenobi show because it hasn’t been blown up yet, which is one of my favorite things ever because it’s using the timeline to do effective storytelling. You, the Death Star, Alderaan, and Kenobi are a confluence of synergistic themes and elements that make me feel alive inside in a way that I normally don’t.

Games are social and collaborative. People use this tool to combat loneliness. Click To Tweet

Let’s go into The Ordinary World where we share everyday life through our games. Michelle, you’re our guest. This is the place where we talk about how things are going for us specifically as it relates to video games, but that frequently also blends into professional accomplishments and situations. Jenny, would you like to lead us off and share your Ordinary World?

It was a no-video games week for me. I have a good excuse. I hurt my shoulder. I’m clearly getting older. I have bursitis on my shoulder.

Are you 23?

I’m much older than that. We were older than that when we met. I thought I dislocated my shoulder. It hurt badly. It’s still hurting a little bit, but I’m feeling a lot better. I had a very busy life. I was an actual guest at a wedding this time, which was different for me. It was super fun and exciting. My nephew got married. We also had an Obi-Wan party. A couple of friends of mine and I watched the first two episodes of Obi-Wan. We made all these themed types of snacks, drinks, and stuff. There was Jabbacado toast. I don’t think I sent you a photo of this, but it was the coolest thing ever.

That word makes it sound like it should not work from a culinary perspective.

It was so cool. If I can, I’m going to post a picture in our notes so you can see it.

You should at least try.

I will do it.

We almost got her, everyone in the audience.

I almost sent it to you. It was one of my best friend’s birthdays. My other best friend is having a baby boy. It has been a very good, wonderful, and lovely week.

We use the word best very differently, Jenny. I’m counting how many best friends you have. My brain is overloading.

I have a few. You’re on the list.

I have one question. How many times did you reach out to alleviate the itch of Phantom Camera syndrome at this wedding? You took pictures anyway, didn’t you? I knew it.

It was only because they asked me to. Their photographer was only booked for the ceremony through the reception.

They partially booked a photographer because they knew you would be there. Conspiracy confirmed.

I did their getting-ready photos before the wedding started, which was pretty fun. It was very low pressure.

It’s anywhere in life where there’s a photo mode.

That’s me.

TGP 24 Dr. Michelle | Online Harassment
Online Harassment: There’s a reason why people are going to these gaming platforms, just like there’s a reason why people are going into chat rooms online or online dating. It’s a way to connect.

 

I’m going to pass it over to Michelle. Michelle, what was your Ordinary World like related to games and gamified life goals?

I have to be honest. For me, it’s often a video game-free week, but you caught me on a week where I played video games with my little ones. I’m introducing them to Mario Kart. I’m obsessed again, much like I used to be back in the day of being about their age. It has been fun introducing them to it and beating them because they don’t know how to play yet.

Crush them and drive them into the ground, Michelle.

I’m not letting them win easily. I’m giving them realistic expectations here of life in general. It has been fun being able to do that with them. School has ended for them. We are now officially in summer. I feel the summer energy. I’m excited.

As a side note, there are a lot of people that run into some of the problems that I help along with, whether it’s not understanding how to research a topic effectively or maybe some of the basic kinds of problems that draw people into counseling services. A lot of their parents did let them win at Mario Kart. They’re not catching how to drift and get around obstacles in a neat, clean, and masterful way. It’s a mental health metaphor.

Even in your play, if everything comes easy to you and there is no ability to overcome a struggle, essentially, you look at every struggle as unbearable, unfair, and ridiculous that you have to be exposed to it. Mario Kart has three tools that you can turn on in cart selection that make it a lot easier to overcome those obstacles at a developmentally appropriate level. The problem is sometimes adults use these features too. I’m like, “What are you doing?” There’s auto-steer and auto-accelerate. It’s a travesty.

I’m almost glad I didn’t know about any of that. I’m even more impressed with their abilities because they’re doing pretty well.

We had a good episode on Mental Health Tips from Mario Kart. That game seems like it’s a frequent appearance maker on our show.

It’s one of my favorite games of all time.

I beat Elden Ring for the second playthrough. I did get my correct ending this time. I gave the universe and the throne over to Ranni. We are now sailing through the cosmos via the moon. We have broken the cycle of the Erdtree. It’s an Elden-thrown dominance over the Tarnished. I’m feeling good about the novice connection I have with the lore of the game. Also, I leveled up my mage to Level 90 in Final Fantasy XIV.

We did a good mental health moment on the stream that I have added to YouTube and put out on social media. Since the website is live, I’ve kicked the social media presence of the Dr. Gameology brand into a much more present and strategic demonstration of everything we do on the show, everything I do as a games researcher, presenter, and trainer, and all the Dr. Gameology things.

I’m excited because I’m meeting a lot of new people through social media as well. It’s interesting how social media works when you start looking at it like a video game that you need to play well. That’s my Ordinary World. Let’s do our Call to Adventure where we get into our topic. We did things out of order, Jenny. What are we even talking about?

We are going to talk about online harassment and streaming.

I have a bit of an Ordinary World connection with this topic, not that I’m online harassing people myself. That would be a plot twist. I have a hero’s journey experience to share with the audience. It’s reflected in the famous Vader quote, “When I left you, I was but the learner, but now I am the master.” I have a dissertation student who defended his proposal.

I’m not going to say exactly what the study was because it would be cool to have him on the show in the future. One of the things I’ve been talking about a lot with him is how online harassment starts, who it targets, how it happens, and whether it’s a conscious or an unconscious decision. If it’s a hate raid, there is deliberation to that. We will talk about hate raids probably sometime in this episode.

There are other kinds of harassment that function a lot more like microaggressions, where it’s a person who is in their head not aware of how they affect other people. They are doing some pretty terrible things consistently. Other people in society are developing a voice, speaking up, and telling them, “That’s messed up.” They continue to do it. A lot of it is about several psychological concepts that don’t translate the same as they would in real-life contexts in an online situation.

I thought I would turn to you, Michelle, and bring you in as a person who helps people to dive into their ideas about what they think about themselves as a sexual being, as a person who’s part of activities, and as a person who observes or participates in their sexual identity and how they see other people as a result. What are some of the things you probably are thinking about on the ground floor of these people getting harassed while they’re playing games, streaming games, or being themselves on the internet?

You hit it right there with themselves on the internet part. I talk a lot with people who are online dating or are in chat rooms and these virtual spaces attempting to meet people. Even if they’re not meeting them in real life, they’re looking to meet someone, connect, and have some form of a connection. That’s something that gaming gives people as well. Games are social and collaborative. These are ways that people use this tool to also combat loneliness.

You can gamify anything that you want to be more enjoyable. Click To Tweet

There’s a reason why people are going to these gaming platforms, just like there’s a reason why people are going into chat rooms online or online dating. It’s a way to connect. When I’m thinking about this idea of harassment, I hear about a lot of how online dating can be pretty much a nightmare from the perspective of both people identifying as men and women. It’s across the board where nobody is enjoying it. As far as the harassment goes, I’m hearing a lot more harassment, specifically from women and things that are said about them. I could imagine how that would also translate to this gaming space.

Jenny, there were some ideas inside that first answer from Michelle that I wasn’t even thinking about. What do you think about the whole cross-section we got there of people behaving on the internet, online, or in apps that are internet-connected?

Honestly, I didn’t even draw the connection between online dating and online harassment streaming. I don’t have as much experience with being harassed online. I’m not a streamer. I tend to play video games in a way where I don’t subject myself to the opinions of other people because I’m playing with my friends but I do have experience with online dating. It was overwhelming what it was like to be a woman on these apps. I honestly wasn’t prepared for it. I’ve heard horror stories from people, but I was not prepared for the influx of awfulness that I received. It was intense.

That was in 2020 when we were dealing with a social shutdown, in a way. That was the only way that we could deal with dating and still be attempting to meet people and connect. There was a big shift into online dating. Needless to say, that was an extreme influx of commentary on how things were. It wasn’t surprising, unfortunately. I’m interested too. We use games to overcome offline social limitations in a way. That was what we were seeing when it came to meeting people on online dating sites as well.

I’m listening to this as a complete outsider. There’s the point about gender labels and adding a sense of fluid interpretation to those because you end up interacting only with someone’s online persona. We may make assumptions that their use of all the labels is going to match ours. That isn’t a realistic interpretation of the situation. As a cisgender male who is married and hasn’t used these apps either, I need to be aware of what I contribute to the conversation. I’m excited to be in the conversation as well. I am always curious to ask someone who would know more than me about this. Is online dating a game?

One of the things that I like to do with my clients is to gamify the experience because you can gamify anything that you want to be more enjoyable. They’re coming to me saying, “I desperately want to meet someone, but I loathe online dating.” There we were where nobody was meeting anybody in person. This is the tool that we have to work with.

What do we do? Either we change our perception or we don’t do it. You have to decide. Gamifying, something that you don’t want to do, is one way to do it. I had so much fun doing that because that’s essentially what I did in my life to make it a fun experience when I was online dating back in the days when it was very different. That’s how I met my husband. That’s what I love to do.

It’s a success story. You described that if we’re saying that this could be interpreted as a game, the people who choose to play it are answering the call to adventure. The people who are going to let their anxieties and fears about what could happen prevent them from getting out there and forming these potential connections, that’s the refusal of the call in a monomythical structure of understanding this. You can’t succeed at the journey because you never started it.

Using gaming and game mechanics to make it something fun is a great way to lessen the blow.

We have connected a few of the dots that we’re going to need out in the open of our conversation. The one thing I want to add to this is how does this translate into people viewing the stream or playing a video game? To keep it simple, there are many other gender identities available for us to talk about. In general, there are male streamers and female streamers.

There are people who have allowed their sexual orientation to be a part of the audience they’re trying to attract in the community they’re creating online. When you do that, you become a target for somebody. I’m trying to figure out what are the necessary elements for people to stay safe and build communities that are supportive. Why is this such a phenomenon of aggressive, grieving, angry, and hate-filled behavior?

We have had a guest on the show before, Dr. Diez-Morel. We talked a little bit about online toxicity. I can’t remember the statistics, but I do know that marginalized people are the groups of people that get targeted the most. It’s a huge issue and problem. Online harassment goes beyond the virtual world. It’s something that can affect you in real life. There are doxing, hate raids, and online stalking.

What is a hate raid? Let’s add that to the content.

On Twitch, there is the ability for you to raid a streamer. You’ve gotten raids on your stream before, at least I’ve witnessed. It’s where another streamer is ending their stream and passing along all of their viewers onto a stream that’s already happening and isn’t ending. At the end of your stream, you’re ready to log off. You find somebody you know or someone who looks interesting and pass along all of your streamers or viewers onto their stream.

Hate raiding is a similar concept. Instead of a great new audience that you get to reach, it’s people there specifically to attack you and flood your chats with harassment. A lot of times, they’re full of bots and stuff like that. It’s what it says. It’s a big group of people that raid your stream with hate speech and that kind of thing.

These are people that have already congregated online, hating the world equally together and deciding, “We found a person that is the poster child of the very thing that we hate. Let’s ruin their evening.” That’s pathetic.

Beyond being a nuisance, I imagine that’s discouraging for someone who’s a streamer, someone who’s a new streamer, or someone who has been around for a while. It’s awful.

Teaching the Psychology of Play, that class was specifically taught to creatives. There were game design, graphic arts, film, and game development students. A lot of them were into streaming. They were big into playing online games. There were a lot of women that were focused on building the name for women gamers and the support of women gamers for this very reason.

TGP 24 Dr. Michelle | Online Harassment
Online Harassment: There was a big shift into online dating in 2020 when we were dealing with a social shutdown. That was the only way that we could deal with dating and still be attempting to meet people and connect.

 

I remember a student sharing on one of our discussion boards. She got a ton of responses from other women students that were saying essentially, “Me too. I’ve gone through this as well.” It’s because of their gender. I’ll never forget. There was this one student. In it, she said, “If a guy is bad at the game or isn’t doing well, he’s just not doing well at playing the game, but if a girl is not doing well at the game, it’s because she’s a girl.” I was like, “That’s so interesting.” They were confirming everything that we’re talking about here and that this hate is being directed at them.

There are certain biases that make that happen. In streaming, in particular, a lot of those most powerful biases are the things we’re talking about on the show.

When I can overcome that stereotype and be good at a game in spite of what people think about “girls who play games,” it’s exciting for me.

I remember one of them being like, “I feel like I’m doing it for all girls everywhere.” There’s that, but then that’s a lot of pressure to be carrying as well. When the win is a win, the high associated with that if you feel as though you’re doing it for women everywhere is great, but the loss is then that much harder as well where you’re feeling like you’ve failed.

You’re a representation instead of just being yourself.

That mentality reminds me of, unfortunately, Batman. I wish I had a female superhero on my mind that I could have used instead. It’s the idea of, “I have to save Gotham.” He gets his butt kicked sometimes, and then it’s like, “I have to go out and save Gotham.” It’s this neurotic cycle of, “You can never win that fight, so you keep fighting.” I don’t think that this is an issue that is unwinnable, but I also don’t think the standard idea of wins and losses is a healthy or rational way of looking at this.

The people that you are up against are organized sometimes, but they’re endemic to how society operates, which is a failed structure in and of itself that allows people to be terrible pieces of existence. That’s why mental health professionals need to understand video games, streams, and apps because if people are terrible in the actual world and they use these things, they’re going to be terrible in there too.

They may be even more terrible because of the nature of what online gives them as far as distance and anonymity. It’s interesting.

I am going to transition us into Finding Our Allies. Michelle, I want to talk with you about the way that you connect with games and find our allies because it’s too dangerous to go alone. Cue the sound effect. You completed your Gamer Motivation Profile for us and came across as a calm, persistent, driven, social, immersed, and creative gameplayer. Most importantly, you are not afraid of high scores on Likert scale questions.

Is that what you got from this?

Yeah. Some of our friends have been on the show. For a few of them, their highest scores are 35%. It suggests that you’re afraid of the numbers 3, 4, and 5 when it comes to video games. I don’t understand this phenomenon, but you have 89% in some of the best categories like Achievement. You have a high socialization score as well. You are also somehow a kindred spirit serving as a motivational bridge between what I am as a game player and what Jenny is as a game player. I don’t even understand how you pulled this off.

I’m looking at this. It’s funny to me because it’s describing me as a person even outside of games. That makes sense.

It’s the entire concept of the show, Michelle. That’s why this show exists. My hypothesis is that the reason you are this way in video games is that that’s what you’re aiming for in life. Games give you a better way to manifest it most of the time because the structures in society are holding you down or reminding you of what you can’t do. The only place where you can be the hero of your story is in Horizon Zero Dawn, not your university. It’s in a Call of Duty match, not your counseling room. We play.

I am always happy to support a hypothesis of yours. I’m glad to do it.

You’ve got the Gladiator as your primary gamer type, according to the Quantic Foundry system. You also have the Gardner, which is the frequent player type that we have covered many times and sometimes with episodes dedicated to it. The Gladiator type is competitive, identifies as liking hardcore immersion in games and hardcore challenges, and likes epic skill-based experiences like Elden Ring. What are some games that become a highlight for you as you think about things you’ve played in the past that unlocked some of that tendency?

Truth be told, I’m leaning more towards the Gardener resonating. When I’m thinking about it, I’m like, “The Gardener resonates.” When I’m thinking about the Gladiator, I’m introducing my little ones to games. There’s one carnival game. I’m pretty competitive. It’s funny because maybe I’m not the traditional competitor in my head. Society tells me, “Sports are competitive.” I’m not super sporty, but academically, I’ve always been competitive, and apparently, in my games, I’m also very competitive. I could see that coming through. Even in Mario Party and Mario Kart, you’re competing. Clearly, I like all of the old-school throwback games there. That stands out for me.

Since you brought academia into this, to get to the top of that, you were a student for a long time. As a Gardener, you like to complete checklists and tasks. How well would you do if you felt like there would be no consequence to not doing an assignment?

Not well. I don’t think that I would.

Gamify your life. Throw a few badges in there. Click To Tweet

You would probably turn it in any way just because.

I am a rule follower. If someone is telling me to do it, I would do it and I also would do extra credit. That’s not a consequence, but deadlines get me going in there.

They’re so easy. You look when something is supposed to be done, budget your time, and complete it.

There’s the achievement part. It’s seeing your score go up and knowing that you can directly affect it.

You’re talking about this like it’s a leaderboard in a competitive video game.

That’s competitive. That’s the Gladiator.

Jenny, we heard the whole constellation of Michelle’s Gamer Motivation Profile.

Gamify your life, everyone. Throw a few badges in there. I’m all about it.

Achievement hunting is the worst. I was compelled in Elden Ring. I beat the final boss for my second playthrough, but now the map is completely open. I have to decide when I’m going to be done exploring and picking up some more items or when I am going to go and say, “I want to start Journey 3.” The game resets and you go through with the power levels you have and do it a third time. That’s harder than the second time. I was compelled. I had to find all the legendary sorcery spells and incantations. I went boss hunting and got all of those two because the next time I would have that shot is completing playthrough three. I hate that I had to do that, but I’m so excited that I did that, too, if you’re hearing the contrast.

You collected them all.

On that topic, here’s a perfect segue. I got notified by Kickstarter that The Psychology of Pokémon has gone to the printer. That should be coming out for people to buy and get it shipped to their possession on July 5th, 2022, tentatively. That is a huge achievement as well. It’s not related to your Motivation Profile, Michelle, but you gave me a perfect segue. I had to take it. Let’s go to The Ascent and elevate the topic. We’re talking about harassment, the internet, and places where video games happen and people play them. We have research to talk about.

I’m interested to talk with you about these two studies, Michelle, because your take on it is coming at it from the different ways that people behave when some of their goals are sexual or intimate in nature or also when they’re terrible. We have McLean and Griffiths from 2019 published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. That was on Female Gamers’ Experience of Online Harassment. Let’s start right there. We have some main themes that come from this article. As you look at the graphic there from Figure 1, do you see anything of note that could get our conversation started for elevating the topic?

What stood out to me as I was reading through this study was that it reminded me a lot of what I talk about with the women I work with who are in the workplace at the executive level. That, too, is a male-dominated area. I’ve had them reporting to me that they’re doing some of the same things that were reported by these female gamers in the study.

In the study, they said things like they would not reveal their gender, use pseudonyms, and downplay their achievements, which has been similar at the executive level to wanting to downplay what their abilities were to avoid or even navigate that toxic workplace. That’s essentially what these gamers are reporting that they’re doing too to navigate it in a way that will reduce the level of harassment that they experience.

It’s an interesting cycle because they’re often turning to the games for social support because they have a lack of social opportunity or maybe because they feel a little bit more insecure and anxious in social situations in person. They’re shifting to these games to alleviate some of that stress and social anxiety. They’re confronted with this harassment, which then puts them in this space of feeling the need to hide their identity. How do you create a connection then if you’re not even able to show up as yourself? I saw that as an important link too.

The hiding identity piece is a big decision on the internet. When you create a channel and decide to go out there and start sharing your gameplay experiences with people, your username doesn’t start being you, but as you pour more of yourself into it, it becomes either you or an offshoot of you psychologically. Even people are coming in and being nasty to the online identity or that persona. It’s still going to hurt you emotionally and mentally to continue engaging as that persona in a toxic environment. It’s so fascinating, Michelle, hearing you so easily connect terrible behavior in real-life situations and how it’s the same. It’s not surprising. It’s devastatingly the same.

It’s similar. In a lot of ways, many of the women that I’ve worked with have quit their jobs in spite of being very competent at their jobs because the added stress at the top wasn’t worth it. The extra pay and the title weren’t worth it. In the same way, we’re seeing too that some female gamers are questioning maybe, “Is it even worth it to play this game?” As you shared, Jenny, “Is it worth it to play with people that I don’t already know and risk getting all of this harassment?” That’s the risk-reward. When you’re trying to meet new people, maybe you don’t already have strong social support. The only way to fix that is to connect with people who are not yet friends. There’s risk involved.

I don’t have experience playing games with people that I don’t know. At least in voice communication, I have played with strangers on the internet before, but it is my fear. There are certain types of games that maybe if I tried, I would be great at them or maybe I would enjoy them. Maybe I wouldn’t even have to be great. I would just enjoy them, but I won’t even go there because I know that it’s not an accepting place and it’s not a place that will help with my stress, anxiety, insecurities, and any of that. Even if I did go there, I would be the type of person that would hide the fact that I was a girl.

TGP 24 Dr. Michelle | Online Harassment
Online Harassment: Gamifying something that you don’t want to do is one way to do it.

 

They’re in the same way at the top or even in male-dominated fields, let’s say. It doesn’t even have to be at the top of an organization but just male-dominated fields. There’s a lot of similarity to, “I can’t hide who I am.” That would go along with someone who goes ahead and says, “I am a female gamer.” They’re finding that they’re overthinking everything they say and do and considering how it will be perceived and what that’s going to cause, “Is this going to ruin this thing that I enjoy doing?”

That is the key thing behind all of this too, for people who decide to stream. It’s a way to convert something inherently enjoyable to you, share it with other people, and build a community that is centered around you as the game player. It can stretch into other things once you establish that core element. One of the things in this list of themes is the perception in your audience that you are lacking support in different ways, whether it’s viewers who have your back or a support system when you log off. This systemic issue rears its head because people perceive that they can get away with it.

By the time you react, if you don’t freeze up in the middle of a hate raid, cutting off someone from being a boundary-crossing individual, realizing, “This is my show. It should be comfortable for me to do it,” and dealing out consequences, that takes time and awareness. Your stream chat is not always lining up with what you’re doing in the game. Before you know it, this can flip into a very bad situation. It’s not that people that this happens to are ill-prepared. It’s not that they don’t have the support at all. It’s that even if you have the support, this can still happen to you. You can’t prevent it.

You said, “Am I going to freeze when this happens?” Even in preparation for this, you’re essentially saying, “How is my body going to react during this fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response?” Can we even predict if something’s happening? It’s not something that has ever happened before or maybe it is something that has happened before, so it’s even more triggering at that point. There are so many levels to it.

When it does happen, too, the perception of the cause is an interesting notion because we’re here dissecting it, analyzing, and trying to have a rational mental health provider conversation about how these games work and the people who play them. The cause is in the boundary-crossing individual. The cause is their needs are not being met. They are projecting those unmet needs onto other people and trying to ruin their time as a way to avoid recognizing how empty and pointless their existence is. Take that.

For the person who is streaming and trying to put a show on, be high in their spirits, enjoy the game, and interact with these people whom they have direct relationships with or even successful parasocial connections with on their chat, all of a sudden, that fight or flight is the only thing that matters for the next 5 to 10 minutes.

It’s being viewed by them and everyone.

You’re on onstage. The webcam is the stage. How do you even recognize all that unmet need, psychoanalytical choice, theory, systems, and issue stuff when you’re not a trained mental health professional? You’re just trying to enjoy a video game. People are being nasty to you.

There’s our answer. We don’t know.

You’re reading this and practicing, “You are the weakest link, sir. Goodbye.” You ban them.

There is somewhat of a responsibility on platforms, games, and things like that to be at the very least reactive to some of this type of behavior and at best proactive, making sure that this stuff doesn’t happen to people.

It’s certainly happening.

It would be so simple to create IP banning if you’re something like Twitch or Facebook Gaming. The problem is if you ban someone’s account, they go create another account and a new Google email that they are never going to use to verify that this is an account now. They go right back and start hurting the streamer again. The problem is there is a perception if you create these blocks. For example, if I say you have to watch my stream for two hours before you can type in the chat, that hinders my growth.

A lot of people will not stay. They will see that notification and say, “To heck with this. I don’t care what they’re talking about. I can find somebody else that offers the same thing.” It’s frowned upon to have things like follower-only chat or to spend lengthy periods in subscriber-only chat and have these blockers on that would make your harasser have to support you for a long period before they have the privilege of letting their jerkiness out.

Boundaries are almost discouraged because of the system.

It plays into the idea that streaming is perhaps another male-dominated environment because if we had more of an equitable approach to what the streaming world is, then we wouldn’t have this social contract that frowns upon empowering the victim. We have a whole other research article too. We can do this quickly. I am certain that we have talked about this article before or at least that I’ve read it a minimum of five times in my life.

The question in this article is, “Why do people watch other people play video games?” There were five hypotheses that were proven to have various statistically significant connections with watching a stream. Those are affective or emotional needs, cognitive or thinking, personal integrative needs, and social integrative needs. These are the needs that determine how I connect with the environment and other people in the environment and tension release.

This one is close to escaping motivation and using the stream viewing experience as a coping skill for unmet needs. Those translate into affecting hours spent watching, who you’re watching, who you’ve clicked follow on, and who you’ve put your Amazon sub or other money into. Those Prime subscriptions are great things. Everyone should be using them. If you’re not using them, you can always go to Twitch.tv/DrGameology.

People are shifting to games to alleviate their stress and social anxiety. They're confronted with this harassment, which puts them in this space of feeling the need to hide their identity. But how do you create a connection if you're not even… Click To Tweet

Before the shameless plug, that was a good summary of the article. We have that situation and those five needs that we’re trying to meet when we play video games. Both of you, and I’m certainly thinking about this for me as well, if you spend any time watching streams or watching people do things on YouTube or anything live, what compels you to spend your time that way if we’re breaking it down into a structure like this?

I’m glad we’re talking about this because when you posted the article we were going to talk about, I was like, “I’m curious. Why do I watch Twitch?” I don’t watch it as much anymore, but there was a period in 2020 when photographing people was illegal. I couldn’t leave my house. I had a lot of time. I watched a lot of Twitch. I watched the types of streaming that I watched for enjoyment. It was a form of entertainment for me.

Unlike my motivation to play, my motivation to watch was not social at all. I never typed in a chat. The only chat I typed in was yours. That’s my only social component to streaming and enjoying Twitch. In terms of other types of streams that I watch, I never once typed in the chat and considered myself as a part of their community. It was more so something that was exciting. It was entertaining to watch people that were great at video games that I was playing. It was cool to see different game strategies. There was a cognitive approach for me as well. This article is interesting.

What about you, Michelle? Does anything come up in your motivation for watching live things online?

I am very much the same way when I’m thinking back. It’s interesting. My Gamer Motivation Profile Social is 87%. It’s pretty high, but when I think about things that I’ve watched that are streaming, it has never been for social. It’s similar. It has been the entertainment aspect and also admittedly the escapism of it where I would probably sit there and zone out while watching it.

For me, it was even less about the actual game that was happening and more so about the person and being intrigued by who they are and them as a personality in that way. I was introduced to Twitch by one of my students. They were on there, “Check this out, follow me, and do all of this.” You go down the rabbit hole and start exploring, but it was never a social part. It was more about admiring the creativity of these personalities. They’re putting themselves out there and being entertained by it.

You can learn a lot about what streaming is by looking at who has the viewers. I’m thinking about these needs specifically. I hear both of you saying, “It’s about entertainment and having something to do during that pandemic setting.” I went on Twitch to look at the top channels that are live. We have 84,000 people watching a Counter-Strike stream.

We have some chatting also above 60,000. We have some Fall Guys at 32,000. We have two girls chatting and a guy doing a lie detector test. That sounds interesting to me. We have Amouranth down there doing a pool and hot tub thing about 50% scrolls down the page. Those are 9,000 people. Once you get into the 5,000 range, then you get some sports games, Fortnite, and GTA.

Without knowing who all of these personalities are, streaming can be whatever you want, but not everyone is there to watch strategic gameplay and have a social or personal integrative connection because if you’re watching a stream where the chat is moving faster than it’s humanly possible to read, that’s not social integrative. You might be a personal integrative saying, “I was a part of that message stream.” You’re there checking in. It’s like a faculty Zoom call. Zoom meetings are good. I’m so glad that we have them.

Back to the topic, you see in the channels what’s going on and yet that’s too much data to wrap your head around because a channel that has 70,000 people watching it has so many different reasons that you can’t even parse them out without funding and some intrusive measure to figure out who all these people are. We have studies like this where we create some hypotheses, get some asterisks, and break down the process of watching streams into 8 or 9 defining variables.

Overall, that’s how we do it. That was a great conversation. Michelle, follow us. We’re going to do The Return and have you here for the whole episode. The Return is where we go back to our daily lives and take our next step forward. Michelle and Jenny, what are some of the things that feel relevant to the topic we set out to walk through that you’re going to keep with you?

The conversation we had about hiding identity resonated with me because it’s something that I don’t want to play into. I’m not saying that it’s something that people choose to do because some people feel like they have no other choice, but it is something that I would like to explore a little bit more and think about why that is. Why can’t I be whoever I am playing this video game? Why does my conscientiousness take over in these moments? How can I get better at that?

I’m taking that along with me as well. How can I contribute to a change in this? How could I even use this platform to make it all about that change, use streaming, be a woman, use the platform to put myself out there, and maybe talk about some of the topics that go hand in hand like that draw to online dating? Maybe people who would be going to online gaming platforms would also be drawn to online dating platforms. How do we look at what’s going on both of these and have open conversations in a streaming type of environment?

I am thinking while I’m listening to these two answers. Can Twitch substitute for friend hangouts? There are all the questions that spiral off of that basic idea. If we say that dating apps could be a gamified version of achieving intimacy with the person you started not knowing, maybe Twitch is a gamified way of finding a friend group to belong in. Maybe rejection from all the potential friend groups is less ego damaging than being rejected by friend groups, especially if friend groups have done that to you in the past.

Twitch, Facebook Gaming, and even YouTube all ended up being a substitute for something that approximates the things that we think we’re missing. We go there because we’re fairly certain we’re going to find what we’re looking for in a less threatening way than going out there where everyone can ruin our day more directly. Perhaps the people that harass female gamers and others who are vulnerable when they’re enjoying the opportunity to create a space like that for people to find their destination are the people that in real-life contexts don’t have anything better to do but be terrible.

I would support that hypothesis for sure.

With all those ideas coming together and giving us things to think about, I have one last quest for everyone to collect. Never fail to be kind and continue the journey.

Bye.

 

Important Links

 

About Dr. Michelle Fynan

TGP 24 Dr. Michelle | Online HarassmentDr. Michelle Fynan is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with a PhD in Clinical Sexology. She is a Board Certified Clinical Sexologist, Sex Therapist, and Relationship/Intimacy Coach. She holds a Masters of Science in Counseling with a dual specialization in Mental Health Counseling and Marriage, Couples, & Family Therapy.

As a university instructor, she has co-authored text books on “The Psychology of Play” and “Behavioral Science”, and she has taught these courses to undergraduate students for the past ten years. She also teaches courses on “Chronic Illness and Sexuality” and “Sexual Anatomy and Physiology” to doctoral students, and she serves as a dissertation chair and Qualified Supervisor. She offers virtual coaching for singles, couples, and groups on the topics of dating, relationships, sex, and intimacy.

References

McLean, L., & Griffiths, M. D. (2019). Female Gamers’ Experience of Online Harassment and Social Support in Online Gaming: A Qualitative Study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 17(4), 970-994. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-018-9962-0 

Sjöblom, M., & Hamari, J. (2017). Why do people watch others play video games? An empirical study on the motivations of Twitch users [Article]. Computers in Human Behavior, 75, 985-996. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.10.019 

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