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professor presentingHarrisburg University’s own Dr. Kelly Boudreau, Associate Professor in Interactive Media Theory and Design, recently presented her peer-reviewed research paper – “Playing the (Streaming) Fame Game: (Re)presentations of success, challenges, and demand in streaming simulation games” – at the 2024 Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS). Dr. Boudreau was joined by her co-authors, Nicholas Bowman (Syracuse University), Mia Consalvo (Concordia University, Montréal, Québec), and Andrew Phelps (American University).

This was the 57th installment of HICSS, which got its start in 1968 and is the longest-running scientific conference focused on information technology management. In 2024, the conference hosted top scholars from more than 60 countries as they offered thought leadership on breakthroughs, developments, and controversies in the world of computer and information science.

Quite a lot has changed in the worlds of technology and gaming since the conference got its start in 1968. “Playing the (Streaming) Fame Game…” addresses a world that is actively grappling with the influences – both the good and the potentially malign – of technologies like artificial intelligence, digital currencies, streaming media, competitive gaming, online bullying, and digital meritocracies.

Dr. Boudreau’s paper provides an investigation into the cognitive, emotional, social, and even physical demands placed upon video game streamers.

These pressures are so well and widely known that an entire genre of video games – streaming simulation games – has arisen to provide an approximation of the experience. Some of the titles examined in the paper include Needy Streamer Overload, Streamer Daily, and Streamer’s Life. Such simulations provide players with a simulated environment in which they can work towards becoming financially successful (or not-so-successful) professional streamers. The paper uses these simulations as a tool with which the gaming and scientific communities can better understand the psychological and social effects of taking part in streaming video games.

But how accurate are these simulations? Do we need a more honest accounting of how our collective psyche is being shaped by the desire to succeed, gain a following, and strike it rich in an increasingly digital world?

Some of the topics covered in the paper include:

  • How games represent value, labor, and production
  • How live-streamed video games impart social pressures to capture an audience and achieve financial success
  • How games and gamers grapple with toxic content in online spaces
  • How video games provide incremental markers of success
  • How (and whether) streaming gamers can manage and sustain their success, and maintain a healthy work-life balance amid such pressures

The paper lifts the curtain on both the positive and negative attributes of competitive video game mechanics as a whole, and explores the impact of combining already-competitive video games with the terribly real social and capitalistic pressures of the “real world.” It is an effort to, among other things, examine the manifold reasons why individuals engage in video game live streaming in the first place, and to reckon with the direction these digital meritocracies are headed.

At the heart of it all is the universal human desire to be successful. Can streaming simulators mimic the social, financial, and time-management pressures that professional streamers (and aspirants) feel in their everyday lives? The paper observes a “generous creative license” in the way that streaming simulators present (or don’t) various aspects of the streaming lifestyle. This is most evident in the clear focus placed on the “get rich and famous” rhetoric within the simulations studied by the authors, and the games’ relatively narrower focus on other elements, like navigating toxic behavior and streaming motivations that go beyond financial success.

One of the most interesting insights offered is the argument that streaming simulators reduce real-world toxic audience behaviors to “just jokes” within the gameplay mechanics, which the authors argue is contributing to the normalization of antisocial behaviors – bullying, etc. – within the gaming community broadly and the video game live streaming community specifically.

The entire research paper is available online and offers many more insights than we have time to unpack here. The social, emotional, and financial impacts of streaming culture have not been very widely studied, which makes this paper feel timely and fascinating. The more work we do to understand how the pressures of our digital meritocracies bleed into the real world, the more we can work to make such communities safer, less toxic, and more inclusive. If you want to add your own voice to this growing and important body of research, we welcome you to explore Harrisburg University’s several relevant degree programs, including Esports Management, Production, and Performance (one of the only programs of its kind in the U.S.);  Human-Centered Interaction Design; Interactive Media; and Techpreneurship.

ABOUT HICSS

The Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS) has been known worldwide as the longest-standing working scientific conferences in Information Technology Management. Since 1968, HICSS has provided a highly interactive working environment for top scholars from academia and the industry from over 60 countries to exchange ideas in various areas of information, computer, and system sciences. HICSS ranks second in citation ranking among 18 Information Systems (IS) conferences [1], third in value to the MIS field among 13 Management Information Systems (MIS) conferences [2], and second in conference rating among 11 IS conferences [3].