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Gaming against superficiality

In the online world, Andrea Amstutz’ is andi686 – she plays video games while tens of thousands of people are watching her. This makes her one of the most successful gamers and entertainers in Switzerland. In this interview, she talks about artificial intelligence in video games, the pressure to succeed and manners and mental health in the digital space.

Tobias Imbach spoke to Andrea Amstutz

What does an ordinary day in the life of a streamer look like?
That depends on the season. I stream a lot more in winter, when I'm hardly ever outside – the cold and me, we're not friends. I like to take an hour for myself in the morning, with coffee, away from the screen. Then I devote myself to my "office work" – I update my computer and prepare the stream. I create my own emojis to use before I turn on the camera at some point during the day. In summer, I like to be in nature during the day, I help my mother in the garden and I usually only stream in the evening.

How do you determine your streaming times? Do you time them to coincide with the end of the day for potential viewers?
No, I don't follow anyone else's schedule. I started streaming when I still had a regular job. I haven't changed the times since then.

How did you start streaming?
I wanted to show a game a friend I had beta access to. He pointed me to the platform twitch, where other people can watch you play. We wanted to meet there so he could get an insight. However, during this first test run, a stranger joined before my friend logged in. Only then did I understand the concept – and thus began to meet people around the globe. I started regularly streaming what I was playing and new people joined constantly. At the same time, I had a burnout at my regular job, after which my doctor prescribed a year off. So I invested more and more time in streaming, and the exchange with the people who watched me helped me a lot.

Meanwhile, you can make a living from streaming. Is it just work for you now?
At the beginning, it didn't feel like work. After the year off, I had to decide what to do next – I didn't want to go back to my job and I couldn't motivate myself to look for a new one. At the same time, streaming was going really well – more and more people were watching me. I had reservations about going down this path, but I also knew about the many advantages. Even though I make a living out of streaming, I don't want it to lose its ease for me. I don't stream with the aim of being successful or getting sponsorships – I am actively opposed to that. I want gaming to continue to be the hobby it has always been for me.

Nevertheless, I suppose your approach to gaming has somewhat changed?
Yes, my gaming time used to be much more limited – I gamed a lot as a teenager, but rarely more than three hours a day. That's different today, I have to be in front of the computer even when I don't feel like it.

What criteria do you use to choose the games you play?
That has also changed – I've become very picky. I get inspired by trailers and professional fairs and I like the big game series Battlefield, Call of Duty and Halo. But I wouldn't play a game like Amazon's new MMO "New World", even though the whole gaming world raving about it at the moment.

Why not?
I find its game world terribly boring. Besides, it doesn't help that there's a giant corporation behind it. Business-wise, it would make perfect sense to play it, but I'm simply too unprofessional to make a profit out of this.

Twitch

twitch.tv, is a live streaming video portal. It is primarily used to broadcast video games. Founded in 2010, the portal now has three million monthly broadcasters and over 15 million active users per day.

Broadcasters earn money through subscribers, advertising, donations, sponsorship contracts, affiliate income and merchandise. In return, the users of the platform pay a user fee. Since 2014, twitch has been part of amazon.

How do other streamers do it?
They have hundreds of thousands of viewers who are online at the same time. Unfortunately, this also leads many streamers to lure their followers with false or not entirely fair methods. They promise give-aways like in-game items and drive up their viewer numbers that way.

What do you do to keep viewers tuned in?
I aim at doing a real stream, showing personality – I don't want more people on my channel at any cost, only to find that they're not on my wavelength at all. Luckily for me, I have some people among my viewers who I value as friends and who follow me faithfully.

Do you also watch other people's streams?
Yes, regularly ...

What motivates you to do that?
I am a lurker, someone who watches quietly. I'm on my PC when I'm making new emojis, I have a stream running in the background and I take a look every now and then. It's comparable to someone turning on the radio and passively listening – plus I'm supporting someone at the same time. When you stream yourself, I think that's part of it.

You prefer to play against human players ... why not against AIs?
There are AIs that are challenging and don't give you a chance if you put them on the highest level. But in the end, playing against human players remains more challenging, and the sense of achievement is greater when you know you've won against humans.

In the end, playing against human players remains more challenging, and the sense of achievement is greater when you know you've won against humans.

You also encounter artificial intelligence in multiplayer games ... how do you perceive it there?
Technology is very advanced nowadays, especially in terms of variation in response behaviour and communication between AI and the player. Games used to be easier and more difficult at the same time – but not because of AI. Today, developers try to make the entry into a game as easy as possible, because games that are too difficult scare off potential customers. So the AI is deliberately limited. This, in turn, annoys professionals – gaming and handling are simplified to such an extent that real skill is no longer required.

How important is it to you that you are better at a game than others?
I grew up in an environment where I was always better than others, simply because of motor skills. It's different with competitive gaming: there are countless help resources on the internet. With enough attention and patience, anyone can easily become a pro. That challenges me. But in gaming I also want to assert myself as a woman. If I lose, I quickly get misogynistic comments. Of course, that's not acceptable at all, but it also motivates me to show it to these half-bakeds. For that reason alone, I have to win.

To what extent does gender play a role in streaming?
There are more and more women on twitch – they often show themselves half-naked, some just chat and have hardly any interest in gaming. That's how money can be made. However, it harms all female gamers who are not taken seriously because of such cases. Actually, I would then have to prove myself all the more. Unfortunately, I don't necessarily play better under pressure.

All this doesn't sound like sensitive and considerate cooperation ...
Yes, I am actually the wrong person for what I do. You have to be hardened, there are always people who are mean out of boredom. Moreover, the online world is often very superficial – and yet I move in this world where superficialities prevail. This world is really black or white. As a female streamer you have to look pretty, as a male streamer you either have to be super strong or funny. It's a fake world that sooner or later breaks many people. That's also the case for me. I hardly know any streamers who haven't had a burnout or fallen into depression. Because they don't fit into this world.

Big streamers have a real responsibility, but often they don't take it. Many could change the world with their reach.

How do you manage to keep your head above water in the digital space with this kind of behaviour?
I have countless notes next to my PC with messages that help me through the day. But I can't defend myself against all influences. For example, since I hardly wear any make-up, I often look quite sleepy in my screen shots, even though I don't look like that in real life. I now ask myself whether I should counteract this – with filters or make-up. As long as I make it public and transparent and comment on it, it's a good thing. But I really struggle with it, and many in the gaming environment have similar difficulties and share their thoughts. This way, a lot of encouraging and positive messages come together.

Do the positives outweigh the negatives for you? Or have you already thought about quitting?
I have. But it would be very difficult for me, especially because of the people who follow me. Big streamers have a real responsibility, but often they don't take it. Many could change the world with their reach. Personally, a large following would motivate me to do good and have a positive influence.

Have you already lost followers?
When I was open about my depression, I lost some people. I also didn't take this illness seriously for a long time until I suffered from it myself. In this black hole, you can no longer control yourself, your whole perception is poisoned. Even positive and friendly messages triggered negative feelings in me. Looking back, I didn't deserve so many people remaining loyal to me. I acted in a very hostile way – it's incomprehensible to me that so many people weren't fooled by it. But at the time, I scared away 200 regular viewers who never came back. In retrospect, I am very sorry about that. Now I hope that I have learnt something from this experience and can approach people who are going through similar things with help and understanding.

You seem to be at a point where you don't want to hide anything anymore ...
Yes, I reveal everything – other people who do that on the internet are usually anonymous.

And with your kind of streaming you make money ... what keeps you going?
I don't want to force it, but I have hope that there are many people on twitch who appreciate honesty. I don't want to pretend, I don't want to go to the fake side. If it tips over, I'm not afraid to look for a new job. But at the moment, I'm motivated by the certainty that there are a lot of people who feel alone and who can find each other on twitch. We feel understood there.

How do you feel in the world outside, away from the screen?
Ironically, I often feel that the world outside is also very superficial and somehow unreal. All those people staring at their mobile phones all the time ... but luckily, I manage to find something human and real in both the offline and the online world.

About Andrea Amstutz

33-year-old Andrea Amstutz from the canton of Zurich is a professional gamer – and thus an exception in Switzerland. Under the pseudonym Andi686, she plays shooter games every evening, films herself while doing so and shows it to the world – almost 70,000 people follow her on the streaming platform Twitch. This way, she earns around 3,000 Swiss francs per month.

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