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Do you ever feel like an outsider simply observing from the sidelines?

I’m sure everyone has felt like that at some point in their life. For me, it’s a constant. I have a tendency to observe, but rarely have the confidence or drive to join in. Part of it is from a general lack of desire to join in—I do better on my own. But another part of me desperately wants to be a part of something but is way too anxious.

A year and a half ago, that changed.

I had been encouraged to start streaming videogames on a platform called Twitch. I barely knew what that was. I had been forced to watch Dota 2 on it before, but aside from that I knew little else.

“You’re a girl—you’d do really well.”

I had my doubts. I’ve been a gamer since I was in elementary school and knew that most people don’t take female gamers very seriously. Heck, even I didn’t. Growing up the only girls I knew who played videogames were casual gamers who rarely got into anything very interesting.

After a bit more prodding, and delving a bit more into what streaming entailed I decided to give it a go. What did I have to lose?

My first stream was awkward, uncomfortable, and physically painful. I’ve always been incredible self-conscious about being on camera. Hell, I have friends I’ve made online over a decade ago who I’ve only voice chatted with once because I’m so uncomfortable about the idea of anyone listening to my voice let alone also being on webcam at the same time.

However, even though I was in physical agony from the anxiety that first stream caused me, I decided to stick with it. I upgraded my computer and I got a webcam for my PS4.

As I continued to progress my confidence started to increase and I started forming connections with my viewers. So many viewers kept coming back stream after stream for… me. That was a complete surprise. Who in their right minds would want to stick around for me? But lo and behold, they did. Certain ones would leave when I moved on to another game, but there were plenty who followed me when I moved from the Witcher 3 to Bloodborne to Final Fantasy XIV to Star Citizen. For some of them it just didn’t matter. They were here simply for me as a person.

If you’ve never felt like the kid who is always the last one picked in gym class, or the girl or boy that all the other kids made fun of, I guess you can’t empathize with me right now. But speaking as that girl, it means a lot to think that there are people somewhere out there in the world that like you as a human and enjoy spending time with you.

This belonging feeling I got from streaming on Twitch really helped me build a sense of confidence I never thought I had. It has pushed me outside of my comfort zone so many times and  empowered me to speak up in areas of my life outside of gaming. For instance, by the time I started streaming I had been attending post-secondary school for about 7 years. During that time, I think I could count on one hand the number of times I spoke up during class. I used to specifically avoid picking certain courses during registration simply because they had marks for in-class participation or presentations, even if it was on a topic that I loved. However, in my final year of university (after I had started streaming on Twitch) I was suddenly speaking up in class to answer questions and offer feedback, and I was giving presentations with minimal effort. For me, this was a huge change. This was an impressive improvement!

The skills I gained from streaming also apply to my job. It seems crazy, but I actually talked about streaming when I went my interview. The amount of time it takes to prepare, the community building, interacting with others, and everything else in between are all useful skills to have. I honestly think I would have completely embarrassed myself during any of the meetings I’ve had were it not for having to multi-task conversing with chat and killing monsters at the same time. Streaming helps you fill in the awkward silences appropriately, keep a conversation going, and think on your feet.

Of course, this isn’t all to say that Twitch hasn’t been without its frustrations and upsets that have made me question my sanity or willingness to even continue—but that’s not the point. The point is that Twitch has been an amazing tool to help build social skills, if you’re willing to take that leap into something outside your comfort zone. Do I still get anxious about giving a presentation, or having to talk to someone? Yes, that will never go away. However, that sense of panic really calmed down once I realized that nothing bad will happen when I actually speak up or do something I’m not comfortable with. Will I ever be anything more than the observant outsider? Probably not, but it feels great to be momentarily included in something.