in Fails, Games

I’ve been watching events and streams on Twitch for some time now, but it’s been during my sabbatical break from work that I’ve spent a decent bit more time paying attention to what’s out there and what people are streaming.

Because it’s my children’s summer vacation, they have often been sitting and watching with me, learning about games (especially the classics!) and just spending time with their dad while he has time away from work. And partially because of that, I’ve noticed something:

Twitch has a massive outbreak of foul language on an awful lot of streams. And it makes the service and consequently the watching of games as a leisure activity for kids something difficult to recommend as a result.

When I stream, I do what I can to make sure my part of the stream is family-friendly. No swearing, no inappropriate references, nothing that would make me embarrassed to have my own kids watching the stream.

I decided to do this not only because of my own family, but also because of BigJon, who is currently my only Twitch subscription because his content is always family-friendly and his speed runs are a huge hit with my kids. His dedication to being family-friendly and keeping drama out of chat is a big inspiration to how I approach streaming.

GameJ06, aka BigJon, probably the most notable specifically family-friendly streamer on Twitch.

GameJ06, aka BigJon, probably the most notable specifically family-friendly streamer on Twitch.

A Hard Call?

I know it’s hard to find what that line is when trying to determine “family-friendly.” (For instance, what to do when I’m playing a game that has non-ff content in it, even though my own language and conduct would be family-friendly?)

But I’d love to see Twitch streamers change it up a bit and realize that we aren’t going to be able to inspire the next generation of speed runners, fighting game aficionados, or modders without providing them with streams they can watch with their parents and siblings.

My kids are heavily-influenced by the streams I watch. Because of BigJon, my autistic son is now super-into The Lost Levels. Because of things like Games Done Quick and Evo, which keep their commentary family-friendly (I think) on purpose, my oldest son has purchased Virtual Console copies of Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man. My daughter picks up the arcade stick once in a while and tries to learn Ultra Street Fighter IV and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

(Specific props to FGC commentators like James Chen, David Graham, Seth Killian, and skisonic, about whom I’ve noticed a tendency to keep the language clean even when crazy things are going down.)

There are lots of things I just won’t watch with my kids because the language is just too over-the-top–and I suspect it’s likely it limits the potential audience for lots of content. Several Mega Man X runners I respect otherwise are fountains of cursing. A runner I was going to watch who is playing through the entire NES catalog had to be turned off because the first sentence after I loaded the stream had two f-bombs in it.

I’m not anti-swearing. I think there’s a time and a place for it. But it doesn’t need to be in streams, and I want to think we can carve out a safe space for kids and families to be watching this content to engage and interest new generations in the games we love. (Not to mention the fact that it could have a significant halo effect in making the communities around these things friendlier to more people in-person.)

Teaming Up

I’d love to create a Twitch team that embraces the concept of family-friendly streaming. To find like-minded people and give them a place where families who want to watch together can find streams that would be language-free, non-discriminatory, non-sexual, etc.

Of course, there are problems with this, not the least of which reason is that I can’t create a team because I’m not streaming enough to build the audience one needs to be partnered (though time, we have time). :)

But there are other things to consider. What if I want to stream a Saints Row game (which is decidedly not kid-friendly) late at night my time, but I’m on the list and there are people either with kids up late or in a different time zone? How would you handle that? Splitting a stream into two streams isn’t always the solution to the problem because then partners wouldn’t get the full attention necessary.

And there’s the added problem that the non-web apps don’t support the team structure or (I believe) the mature flag on streams. (Thinking that members of the team could set the flag if they are streaming something not-appropriate.)

This is mostly thinking out loud, but it’s an interesting problem to consider.

So What Then?

In the meantime, I think the best thing I (and you, if you are interested) as a streamer can do is just make sure that I do what I can to keep my conduct family-friendly. If I’m playing a game that’s not, I can either turn on the mature flag or depend on viewers to know that what I’m playing doesn’t lie in that spectrum (and play later at night, of course).

I’m interested in your thoughts. What do you think about how family-friendly (or not) video game streaming is? Do you keep your stream that way on purpose? Do you think streamers shouldn’t care? Do you know of streams that are friendly that you’d like others to know about? Do you think this is important to growing the audience for this type of content?

Leave a comment on the post (all comments are moderated) with your musings.

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  1. This is a fun problem to think through.

    What I see is a platform (Twitch) that facilitates a many-to-many relationship between creators and consumers, and a desire by the community to extend that platform to allow both to make independent decisions about what is appropriate.

    Spitballing here… adopt the ERSB rating system (or similar), and allow content creators to attach three separate ratings to their stream: for the game content, the streamer’s audio, and the chat text. These ratings could be declared every time a stream goes live. Then you have content consumers who set their tolerances for each, and the platform can suppress anything that exceeds the consumer’s threshold. It’d be possible, for example, to watch a game with content rated Teen but the audio/chat both rated for Everyone.

    Compliance would be voluntary, of course, and at first that seems like a hurdle. What happens if I set my stream audio rating to 10+ and then start dropping F-bombs? From Twitch’s perspective, nothing. But the community can self-police this and remind the streamer of their intended rating, and bring social pressure to bear to change it. Additionally, if you assume all content is NOT family-friendly, and streamers can choose whether or not to assign ratings, then only those who intend to stream family-friendly content will attach family-friendly ratings, and those who wish to watch family-friendly streams should have a high degree of confidence that those streams really will be as advertised.

  2. Exactly this. This is my desire in a nutshell. I stream and have 5 kids. I take pride in my family friendly nature and insist my viewers abide by it. I’ve also wrestled with the non-ff nature of some of the games I play… I would love to be part of a ff team if such a thing existed!

      • I am a faithful Christian who just started streaming some games on twitch, and I have been contemplating this very issue. As long as I stream, my viewers (if I ever get any lol) will never hear me utter a cuss word. Family-friendliness a niche I’m striving for after years of listening to downright filthy commentary in modern streams. The idea of forming a sort of squad of ff streamers is so very appealing to me. Twitch name is Pr0saic. For anyone reading that is interested, please get back to me. This is a very well written article btw. Thank you.

        • I know there are pros and cons to the many different social/communication sites, and different folks prefer one over another. But I would really like to see us put our preferences aside and pick a single platform to network and let others know we exist and where to find us.

          I would not make different groups for the different ‘ratings’ of family friendly, just distinguish them within the group.

  3. Hey What’s your twitch? I’m also a dad who streams as well (so does my wife) and wanted to show you support!