I returned to TwitchCon this weekend, aiming to update myself on the world of hardware, video games, and streaming culture. Last attending in 2015, I am apparently interested in video game streaming even though I'm a decade too old to participate in it.

First off, if you've heard horror stories about the lines, yes, they were bad on Friday, so bad I tried to attend that day but couldn't. But by Saturday morning I was able to pick up my badge, and the lines were under control, so it didn't kill the whole weekend.

If you hadn't heard that the lines were bad, forget I just said all that.

exhibit hall

TwitchCon had the whole main convention space set up as their exhibit hall, and with the main lights off and screens glowing bright, the room was a gigantic cacophony of noise and light. It was wonderful.

I headed straight over to the hardware vendors, checking out Corsair's booth. They were showing off all their components and peripherals, but especially mice, keyboards, and headphones.

Corsair is even putting LEDs on their memory now, which the part of me that's a child (i.e. main part of me) is excited about

Next to Corsair's booth was Lenovo, which I learned was no coincidence. In addition to Lenovo celebrating their new gaming line "Legion", and heavily sponsoring TwitchCon itself, they have teamed up with Corsair for components on their hardware. Since I'm a bona fide Lenovo fanboy (I think), while other people were playing games on the devices, I instead spent a lot of time oogling over hardware and chatting with salespeople.

Lenovo Legion laptop

My main take-away from the Legion laptop line is that the devices have similar internals to Lenovo's Thinkpad X-series, but with dedicated video cards, gaming keyboards, and other tweaks to emphasize horsepower over battery life. The Legion desktop lineup had some attractive designs and components, but when it comes to towers I'm still a build-it-myself type guy.

oh, and there were some video games

Arcade cabinets were grabbing audience attention in a serious way. There were banks of both retro cabinets (I played an original Tetris machine!) and modern cabinets showing off new games with high-res flat panel displays and USB-attached game pads. Even brand new arcade-style games were being demoed in cabinets, which people my age love, but I'm surprised that the current generation cares for. But I'm also baffled that 2018 teenagers obsess over the sitcom Friends, so what do I know.

Game makers aplenty were demoing new, old, and yet-to-be-finished games. This above game, Osiris, is a sleek-looking space sim or something.

True to Twitch's nature, the exhibit floor had dozens of spots reserved for streaming games. To be honest, I didn't understand this. It's not like these streamers were reporting on the convention, no, they were just streaming games like they always do, except with strangers walking past in the background. Some booths were more central, so they had more interesting backgrounds, but most were off in a corner of the floor. Whatever.

And of course there were tournaments taking place with fabulous prizes I'm sure, but since none of the tournaments were for how much time you can waste in Age of Empires II, I didn't compete.

Alienware did have a presence, but it was very minor. They were showing off only a few laptops and devices, and most of their booth was dedicated to these two guys talking about some video game tournament. I felt like Alice in Wonderland wandering through this scene, not knowing who or what any of these people or games were.

I have no explanation for the above image. Hershey was not a sponsor I saw anywhere else besides this one booth, nor does it have any connection to video games or streaming that I can figure out.


Kevin Smith!

Never one to turn down the chance to see Kevin Smith talk, I got over to the theater early to snag a seat at the front. DAMN HE GOT ALL SKINNY AND SHIT – I didn't recognize him until he started speaking. Smith talked about his dramatic heart attack and weight loss, how he got his career, his perspectives on fame and celebrity, and the importance of being a creator. All the things he usually talks about, but he's still an excellent speaker and his message is worth repeating.

Out of a rubberneck-ish impulse, I went to a career development panel for streamers trying to break into hosting. I had never distinguished between "streaming" (playing games and talking about them to an audience) and "hosting" (watching other people play games and explain them to an audience) before, but one of my main take-aways is that hosting requires taking a big leap, leaving your computer battlestation behind to instead offer what is in essence a professional service to the video game industry.

I've heard all the business advice before (in relation to both IT consulting and photography), but hearing it from a streamer's perspective was still interesting because it highlighted the specific changes needed to go from streamer to presenter. The steps to change tracks drove home the unhealthy practices common among streamers: metaphorical unhealthiness through being legally and financially vulnerable by making a living as a streamer but not having incorporated as a businesses, and literal unhealthiness through spending eight to twelve hours a day everyday on their computer in front of an audience. Those are the exact kind of poor habits that lead to disaster at the first medical or emotional issue – a break in streaming of even a week will knock them over financially, at a time when they need the extra funds to pay for care.

And if that previous panel weren't downer enough, my final panel was about video game violence. This panel took place just hours after the horrific shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue, an event so recent I don't even think the panelists were aware of it. The discussion began by addressing video games' influences (or lack of) on mass shootings. Unfortunately, the panelists only discussed the topic superficially; rather than a deep dive into the matter, they just stated their personal belief that video games have no part in shooting sprees.

And then, without missing a beat, they launched right into the very real subject of violence within the video game community itself. The panel was especially detailed in their analysis of "SWATing" (I learned about SWATing at my first TwitchCon – it's calling in a fake police report of violence on a streamer in attempt to have the SWAT team raid that streamer's house live on stream), stalking, sexual harassment, and other malfeasance that's treated far too casually by some in the video game community. The panelists, all streamers, had each been personally targeted by at least some form of harassment, and they were able to provide insight into the minds of perpetrators. We learned that online harassers are frequently young, have never had any repercussions for previous acts, and are goaded on and encouraged (or even trained) by others in their community.

While I don't believe video games caused any spree shootings, I can't help but feel there's some connection when even this panel of game streamers juxtaposed violence against strangers with abhorrent behavior being commonplace in certain video game circles. The disconnection caused by acting remotely through a computer, the subtle reinforcement and normalization of misbehavior by peers in the community, the familiarity with firearms and weapons taught by realistic violence simulators, you can't tell me that has no effect. When the movie "The Fast and the Furious" came out in 2001 I wanted nothing more than to make my car look cooler, like the cars in the movie. Media has an influence, everyone knows this, it's why there's so much advertising everywhere. To deny a connection between violence in games and violence in everyday life is overly apologist and itself not healthy.

Sorry to end on a bummer, but that's life.

until next time

Farewell, TwitchCon 2018. Will I attend in 2019? Maybe, if it's in San Jose again. I do enjoy the panel discussions and checking out the hardware, and even if the games themselves no longer grab my attention like they used to, I still like seeing what's out there, what the trends are. And I played World of Tanks for the first time, which was fun.