Inclusivity of the Modern Gaming Community and the Reinvention of Online Gaming Identity through Streaming Platforms


This paper explores the online gaming community and the facilitation of this community in the modern era through the growth of the Twitch video streaming platform. Also examined within this paper is the new way in which self-identity is formed within these gaming communities without taking into account the skill factor of the players themselves, but rather their presentation of self. This identity is not only redefined in a modern online context, but also brings about emphasis on generating social capital through identity. This paper presents a focus on the research conducted by Goffman (1959) on defining identity and presentation of self through its overarching, social based context. Whilst seemingly outdated research from a technological context, this paper will be applying this research to the modern technological world we live in today from a gaming perspective. Further research on this area from Pearson (2009) reports of how peoples online identities are shaped through worded exchanges however this paper demonstrates that nowadays, construction of online gaming identity goes beyond this. Gruzd, Wellman and Takhteyev (2011) discuss the topic of imagined communities which is heavily incorporated in this paper with the worldwide gaming community continuously growing, albeit in an “imagined” space whereby players interact digitally and not physically. This paper will illustrate how this interaction is becoming closer through live streaming platforms.



As a worldwide community, it is without a doubt that the gaming scene has met with dramatic change in the demographic and number of members throughout the last decade. Through the rapid expansion of technology, gamers have been met with a wealth of ways to reinvent themselves with an online identity and create a cult-like social community following. Online platforms such as Twitch present any gamer with the opportunity to grow an audience and community through a smooth live streaming experience. It is through platforms like Twitch that gamer personalities can ultimately reinvent their own identity in an online version and form a presentation of self that is uniquely attractive to a large worldwide audience. This paper will attempt to demonstrate that through the evolution of technology, online imagined communities within the gaming sphere have been conjured and facilitated through astronomical social capital development. As a result of this social capital, the overarching identity modern game streamers has been reshaped and is no longer so heavily associated with the game itself, but the way in which they visually portray themselves.


Gaming Community facilitation through Social Capital

Through the growth of the gaming community in the twenty first century, the social presence of prominent gaming personalities and their own community that support them have brought gamers to all new heights within the social hierarchy. In terms of the online gaming community, social interaction is what allows it to flourish through constant multiplatform engagement between members and personalities. Social Capital is a term that incorporates relationships within online communities that continue to allow the community to flourish as one such as cooperative behavior and the reliance on one another (Jiang, 2012). Because this community is entirely virtual through the actual games themselves, social capital as discussed by Trepte, Reinecke and Juechems (2012) has accumulated incredibly through different social networking opportunities besides playing the games alone. Although physical distance may remain large from player to player within this community, specific online gaming communities represent a reachable digital distance which is unmatched and the opportunity for social capital acquisition grows through the gamers connection to a game and its players (Trepte et al 2012).

With technology playing such a significant role in the lives we live today, the ways in which these online gaming communities are facilitated is evident in many cases throughout the modern day. Platforms including YouTube as well as Twitch, whereby gamers can share their gameplay content in a live or compiled manner attract hundreds of thousands of viewers from within the widespread gaming community. Modern games of juggernaut popularity such as ‘Fortnite Battle Royale’ and ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ have accumulated incredible viewership of game content on different creator channels. With an amassed average total of over 250,000 viewers of these games on Twitch at any one time (“The Most Watched Games on Twitch, May 2018”, 2018), the growth of this online gaming sub community has propelled streamers like Tyler ‘Ninja’ Belvins to celebrity status. Not only has social capital been generated through viewing gaming content, but also through interacting with the community members on multiple social networking platforms. Through prominent social media programs including Twitter, Facebook and again YouTube we see gamers generate a sense of belonging and grow social capital within the community as a whole through commenting and posting. Meanwhile as I write this paper, we see 420 tweets under the hashtag #fortnite in the past hour from around the world!


The Inclusion Factor of the Twitch Community

In the online world we live in today, the notion of a community has taken dramatic twists and turns. Not only are we seeing the word “community” becoming a more talked about topic, but also through the work of Gruzd et al. (2011), we see the idea of “imagined community” coming to life as technology becomes more prominent in our own lives. They discuss how through the internet, we are now able to interact in numerous ways, without actually meeting physically in person (Gruzd et al. 2011). This in essence has spurred the notion of “imagined community” to come about. In the context of the gaming community, this is ever-present in the ability for people to join online sessions without knowing the people physically in person, and then simply cut the online ties by disconnecting from this session. In the modern day, the gaming community expands further than simply games however. Through the growth of platforms discussed previously including Twitch, we see the gaming community interact in multiple new ways. Labeled as the “rapidly growing live-streaming multimedia phenomenon” (Hilvert-Bruce, Neill, Sjöblom & Hamari, 2018), Twitch has risen to become a go-to platform for gamers to share their live gameplay content to a wide audience. In fact, the live streaming genre of gaming has become so popular in recent years, that sometimes we see more people viewing someone play games as an audience, than the number of people actually playing the games themselves (Kaytoue, Silva, Cerf, Meira Jr & Raïssi, 2012). This communal growth is highlighted by the doubling of audience figures annually, with viewers in 2014 reaching heights of over one hundred million unique monthly users (Ewalt, 2014).

Twitch’s broad community is formed through the ability to comment live through a text-based chat room function and have an audience interact with the streamer in real time. This feature allows the streamer to answer questions from their audience or comment on messages sent to them whilst they publicly broadcast their gaming stream (Hamilton, Garretson & Kerne, 2014), which in turn generates a complex, more engaged online community. When compared to platforms such as YouTube for example, Twitch caters heavily towards this closer community integration to the creators, and hence is used extensively by todays streamers to entertain their viewer base. Ultimately, the consistent interaction with other members of the online gaming community via the Twitch platform results in a sense of belonging for people within this community (Blight, 2016).


Identity through a Gaming Perspective

The topic of identity is extremely broad and can contain differing definitions depending on the context. Identity as a general term as discussed by Goffman “is seen as part of the flow of social interaction as individuals construct identity performances fitting their milieu” (Goffman, 1959). In the current day, identity takes shape in differing formats with arguably the most recent form being an “online identity”. In an online setting, identity tends to be controllable and of disembodiment (Boyd, 2006), meaning people on social networks can filter content in ways that best represent them. It is through technological innovation that a shift in the coming about of one’s online identity has been seen. Originally, online identity was conjured through simple worded exchanges, however nowadays it is formed by characters and their actions throughout a digitally constructed and competitive environment (Pearson, 2009). Pearson’s referral of this is to games and their ability to generate a player’s identity by the degree of difficulty of their actions within the digital environment. In the modern environment, it could be assumed that this remains, with many players’ online identities being characterised through the difficulty in which they play their games. Through rising audiences in the live stream genre however, we are seeing streamers attempting to differentiate themselves from the herd and their identity being formed from a fictional portrayal by the player. In a bid to entertain on a gaming platform, modern streamers have been seen use their reimagined, fictionally constructed self-identity as a huge marketing tool to generate a community on their channel. This is compared to previously, simply presenting high difficulty content and with the characters within the game generating much of the identity for the player (Pearson, 2009).


Constructing an Identity separate from “High Tier” Gameplay

Modern gaming has a dense and widespread player base. With a booming market and an incredible amount of games to choose from, today’s players are spoilt with a plethora of different skill-based games in which they can play for hundreds of hours per year. From the hardcore players of war games such as the ‘Call of Duty’ franchise, to strategy games like ‘League of Legends’, these many hours of experience can forcibly generate gamers who build up an identity of being highly skilled. Research demonstrates that it is simply through consistent and intense practice by which these players generate this skill (Huang, Yan, Cheung, Nagappan & Zimmermann, 2017). These players tend to become interlocked in the ever-growing competitive world of electronic sports, or more prominently known as e-sports. Within this extremely competitive arena, players belong to specific franchises and compete in teams across different leagues as well as tournaments throughout a season in their game of preference (Hamari & Sjjblom, 2017). Constructing an identity as the best player of a game is significantly challenging however when taking into account the incredible skill and hours of playing it takes to achieve this high tier gameplay. It is for this reason that members within the gaming and streaming community have found alternative ways to reinvent themselves online. This reinvention, whilst attempting to attract a viewership, allows for the creation of a fun, fictional identity pioneered by the use of the Twitch service alongside the widely known market leader in YouTube (Sjjblom & Hamari, 2017). This allows gamers to both play the games they love and also build a fictional online identity to entertain their inclusive community of viewers, regardless of their playing ability.

Participatory online media has generated some incredible characters, who from a gaming standpoint have transformed the identity of the everyday gamer. Much of this change has been spearheaded by the astronomical rise of YouTube personalities such as ‘PewDiePie’, whose identity has been shaped by the ability to deliver humorous content himself to his online community whilst almost unskillfully playing games. Nowadays we see streamers and creators alike going beyond this and forging a fictional online identity separate to that of their own personal identity. Prominent twitch streamer Guy Beahm, who goes by his alias of ‘Dr. Disrespect’, facilitates what Gruzd et al. (2011) calls his online ‘imagined community’ through his ability to entertain and create a presentation of self as a dense fictional character. With a previous world record of 388,000 concurrent viewers on a live stream video of his at one time, Beahm has attracted an extremely broad community following of his Twitch channel (Alexander, 2018). Beahm fictionally presents himself as a macho posturing and hyper aggressive character whilst wearing a humorous mullet wig, glasses and thick moustache. This character in which Beahm has created in order to prioritse the entertainment aspect before the gameplay heavily falls back on research from Pearson (2009). This research is regarding identity being formed online through simply the actions the person behind the screen makes (Pearson, 2009). In this case, it is the actions that the gamer player makes within the game on a competitive level. However, we see through examples such as Beahm that this visual aspect of someone in character whilst streaming games moves beyond this possibly outdated research in the context of gaming. This shift is seen through identity originally being constructed by worded exchanges in its simplest online form (Pearson, 2009), to now a more densely constructed visual identity by the player, that is different to their own.



The online gaming community has seen astronomical change both in size and social stature in the past decade. This paper has demonstrated that through modern digitalisation and social networking platforms, the gaming community has generated a wealth of social capital associated with its existence. Whilst considered an “imagined community” as it is entirely online, gamers have found many platforms and routes to generate further communication to grow the community. Platforms including Twitch and YouTube have facilitated this social capital, allowing for constant inclusivity and interaction with community members through the viewing of gameplay videos from fellow members, essentially creating a close digital distance between one another. Not only this, but it is also clear that the fundamental identity traits that were previously associated with gamers such as the difficulty of their gameplay are no longer so existent. Amazingly, we see that through live streaming platforms, gamers are able to generate an entire new identity separate to that of their gameplay. This in turn contributes heavily to the entertainment aspect of watching gaming and heavily benefits the social capital within the community. Gamers such as Guy Beahm demonstrate just how the community is producing aliases such as ‘Dr. Disrespect’ to provide a fresh avenue of content creation, sharing and entertainment within the gaming community.



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18 thoughts on “Inclusivity of the Modern Gaming Community and the Reinvention of Online Gaming Identity through Streaming Platforms”

  1. This paper was very interesting. In the past few years, through my experiences with online communities on Twitch and YouTube, I started to realise that content creators’ personalities were more important than their gameplay. This paper proved that if content creators want to create the largest community possible, they need to display their own personality and make social connections with their audience. I liked how you mentioned streamers’ use of multiple platforms to interact with their community on multiple levels. I find it fascinating how content creators’ get their “followers” to interact with them on multiple platforms. I often see creators produce different content and even show a different side to their personality based on each platform’s allowances, social norms and audience/users. Do you think it is sustainable for these complex personalities to be made up? Or do you think that these personalities are true to their creator’s actual identity, even if some parts are exaggerated more than others?

    I also found the idea of the “imagined community” interesting, although possibly outdated, I believe Katz (2004) describes these types of communities as “pseudo-communities”. This is because they are virtual (i.e. not physically close) but still have a strong group/community focus. I might go back and read Gruzd, Wellman and Takhteyev (2011), and explore in further detail their idea of imagined community. I wonder if new research would define online/gaming communities as something other than “pseudo” or “imagined”?

    1. Hi Zachary,

      Thanks for the feedback!

      I think it is a great question you bring up here regarding multiple personalities on multiple social media platforms. I believe that it is sustainable for creators to have a different identity on their videos which their audience is particularly attracted to, as well as a more real identity on various social media platforms even though they have accumulated most of their following through their identity on streams. In my personal opinion however I believe assuming the role of a fictional identity and committing to this on various social media accounts would pay huge dividends in bringing the identity to life even more. I believe that many of the fictional identities that creators conjure on these platforms are really exaggerated forms of their actual personality. I believe in the spotlight, creators will always have a side to their videos and social media whereby they will showcase their real self because ultimately a community acceptance for the REAL you is particularly important in continuing to generate a following.

      In regards to your second paragraph, I found Katz (2004) to contain some very good research and opinion on the matter of the “pseudo-communities”. I looked at incorporating this into the paper but found Gruzd, Wellman and Takhteyev (2011) to be slightly more relevant and contextually focussed. I definitely agree that Katz (2004) it has huge potential to be outdated, especially from a gaming perspective in that the growth within the industry since 2004 has been immense and unlike many others. Ultimately, I do think that we will eventually get some more clear research that defines online gaming communities in a more concrete fashion.


      1. Thanks for responding! I agree with everything you’ve said. I particularly like, “many of the fictional identities that creators conjure on these platforms are really exaggerated forms of their actual personality”. I think this is true for the expression of people’s identity online and even offline. Like you mentioned, people trying to create a following often exaggerate. This is true for personalities and for the everyday person telling a story to their friends. From my experience, a identity, story, situation, etc. is almost always under or over exaggerated to fit the audiences expectations and what they want to hear. This may be somewhat off-topic but is important to remember in an era of “fake news”, click-bait, and echo chambers.

        1. Definitely agree here Zachary, you bring up some valid points. I think exaggerating specific aspects is key to generating an audience on platforms such as twitch. I think it is very hard to act normal without some exaggeration otherwise it is possible to come across as boring or just an average person. People on these sites with online communities that they have generated themselves through their audience have no doubt spurred this through a slightly altered or heavily altered identity that attracts viewers.

  2. Hi Thomas,

    This was an interesting regarding Twitch and Identity. I have a couple of questions for you;

    1. You mention that at one point there were more people watching a game than playing it. What game was this? In recent memory the only game I can think of with this potential was Hearthstone during the early beta when invitations were hard to come by.

    2. You wrote about Twitch’s chat allowing for the development of a closer relationship between the streamer and their community which makes sense. How do you think this is effected by larger communities such as those in the tens of thousands, it seems that it would be difficult for the streamer with reasonably communicate with their community while continuing to play the game.

    3. As someone who has tried to watch Twitch streams but has been unable to get into them, can you try to explain the appeal to me?

    1. Hi Jamie,

      Thanks for the comment and questions! Im glad you found it an interesting topic.

      Q1: I believe this is true regarding Hearthstone as I had heard about this previously. However the research regarding this statement was more to do with the rapid rate of growth within these streaming platforms, compared to the growth of people playing video games themselves.

      Q2: This is a great question. I think it is a very valid point that the popular streamers would find it extremely difficult to reply to comments from all in the chat in that it is extremely spammed by many people. Furthering on from this I believe that donations through twitch are where the interaction is more primary. I’m sure you are aware of this yourself perhaps but it essentially allows viewers to donate money and have a comment appear on streamers screens that they acknowledge and reply to. For lesser popular streamers I believe the simple free side chat is a great way to improve community interaction.

      Q3: As a viewer of Twitch myself occasionally during my spare time I find it appeals to me in its ability to provide unedited, live streaming gameplay by prominent gaming and social personalities that YouTube simply can’t offer through its video publishing. I believe a huge reason for twitch’s growth in recent times is through Fortnite. Unlike many games, it really caters to quick and fun gameplay that has flexibility to incorporate funny moments into the streams as compared to the more serious gameplay.


      1. Hi Tom,

        Thanks for the reply to my questions. Regarding your answer to my second question, it sounds like it could be interpreted that viewers of larger streamers are literally buying their attention by donating. I understand that to the viewer it may simply be them wanting to support the streamer.

        I appreciate the live nature of the platform peeling back any fake nature of the streamer and allowing you to see the live/real personality. When choosing what to watch on Twitch do you base your choice off the personality or the game?


        1. Hi again Jamie,

          Another great question there. I completely agree with what you have to say about the donation side of the platform. I think that through factors such as donations and paying to subscribe it does aid in making the viewer want to be recognised by the streamer. I think that this all together evens out with the viewer being able to support the streamer through a donation, whilst the streamer bringing some added engagement with the viewer by answering their comment/question.

          When I personally go to watch a streamer, I look for firstly who is streaming at the time (of course), but also mainly for me it is about the game first and foremost as understanding what is occurring is key. Watching a streamer playing a game you’re unaware of can be a bit like starting a TV show midway through the second season for example. If I know the game I will definitely pick a streamer who entertains me the most with their personality and in particular their humour being the main attraction. I hope this gives enough insight.


  3. Hi Thomas,

    I found this to be a very interesting and engaging paper, good work!

    I think your argument was very insightful and provided a deep analysis of the role gaming has within communities, particularly in this technology-reliant world we live in.

    As a regular user of technology, I was very interested to learn about the world of Twitch and the role it has within the gaming community. As someone who was not known to the platform Twitch before reading this paper, I found it to be very insightful and educational.

    I was very captivated to learn about the apparent nature of Twitch that not only skill is a factor that should be incorporated into creating a following on these kinds of platforms and personality and social connection is something that entices audiences in.

    In your opinion, why do you think avid gamers are prepared to follow and watch other gamers alike who are untalented at particular games when the goal of most games is to accomplish a goal? Is it to do with a the comicalness of being unsuccessful? Or is it due to a sense of togetherness or relating to a figure who, like you, isn’t a pro gamer.
    Would be interested to hear your thoughts!

    Again great job!

    1. Hi Charis,

      I really appreciate the compliments! I had a read of yours earlier and loved what you wrote regarding perceived identities online.

      In relation to your question, I think that for me personally it is about entertaining the viewer nowadays. I believe that the whole skill aspect and reaching a goal, whilst attractive to every viewer and gamer, actually comes after the entertainment aspect. This can include moments whereby the player acts in a laughable manner in the game. That being said, we can also see players who play games religiously become so good at it that they can actually create entertaining moments for their community following by simply humiliating opponents in the game due to their skill. I found that through my experience within the gaming community, the players who contain the largest fan bases are both entertaining and skilled at usually one particular game they specialise in.

      Just a few of my opinions!

      1. Hi Thomas,

        Thanks for the reply!

        I can certainly understand that viewpoint. It’s very interesting to see the standpoint of the gaming community shift. It’s definitely not all about completing a mission or goal anymore, is it? And, it’s absolutely proving to be a community filled with individuals who seemingly want to support and interact with each other in multiple different ways. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on where the future of gaming could progress.


        1. Hey again Charis,

          There really has been a large shift in the perspective of the gaming community from an outsider point of view as well as the gamers themselves. As for the future of gaming…thats a tough one! I feel games will continue to be what they are now and always have been, immersing the player in an experience that they cannot find elsewhere. I do feel however that the gaming community will only grow from here. With games and technology constantly evolving who knows what type of cooperative gameplay or interactive experiences await players! Virtual reality is one example that people have only begun to scrape the surface of. Have you got any opinion on this?


          1. Hello Thomas,

            I agree with you that the world of gaming is headed in a really exciting direction! I absolutely believe virtual reality will be the future of gaming. Who knows what virtual reality could bring about for gaming, allowing individuals to immerse into completely different experiences will be something really enticing and I think it will actually engage a lot more people into gaming and allow for a larger demographic and therefore will encourage the industry to grow exponentially!

            I’m really excited to see the future of the gaming industry.


          2. Thats great that you’re so interested!

            Virtual reality provides a whole new world of opportunities for the industry I definitely agree with you there. I’m glad you brought up demographic as I do believe the gaming demographic has changed immensely in the last few years. I truly think that gamers are now no longer seen as nerds who sit in front of a screen, and that it’s almost just the norm now for most people to be playing some sort of video game in their life. The community has grown so large in recent years that I think the demographic is incredibly widespread and versatile. Would you agree?


  4. Hi Thomas,

    This was a very well-written and insightful paper, presenting a lot of interesting information. In particular, I found it quite surprising that in some instances more people view livestreams than actually playing the game. It’s fascinating to think about how much gaming has grown to become such an inclusive community. I remember when I was a child playing Spyro on my PS1, which was a very secluded and individual experience. While some people still enjoy the solitary gaming experience, it is quite clear that games will continue to develop to become even more inclusive and multiplayer.

    While there are many positives to the aspect of community in online gaming, I know that some people can become obsessed and only socialise within gaming communities, causing them to withdraw from the offline world. Do you think that the growth of community within gaming is making people more social or less? I feel like there are two sides to the argument and I sit somewhere in the middle, so I would be interested to hear what you think about this.


    1. Hi Isabel,

      Thats great to hear that you found this an interesting paper. Thanks for the positive feedback!

      In relation to your question, I think that you’re spot on when you say there are two sides to the argument and you could probably make a very dense argument both ways. For myself, it comes down to whether you define online communication and community as a proper form of social interaction between one another. There is no doubt that the gaming community is almost entirely featured online as those who game rarely interact with each other in person who they don’t personally know. For a lot of people who play games and struggle to interact confidently in person, I think interacting with other gamers within the community online and on the games themselves provides a great outlet that doesn’t include that face to face contact. So in that respect, it can encourage social interaction online between people who may not interact face to face ever due to physical distance or mental barriers. The way it can encourage a less social attitude however I believe is through games that are not only addicting but also do not encourage cooperative multiplayer interaction such as single player story games. I do feel overall that games are becoming a very fun way to not only socially interact when not with friends but also have fun at the same time.

      Thanks again for the comment!

  5. Hi Thomas,
    This is a great paper, and it sounds like you are very familiar with Twitch and with gaming. If so, you have incorporated your personal knowledge and experience with your research really well. Like Isabel, I wasn’t aware of Twitch, and I also didn’t know how far gamers went with creating online identities. I thought it was just about using a pseudonym, but to go so far as to create a visual aspect of their identity with wigs, and acting or posturing, that really surprises me! I was also interested to read how gamers are creating an identity (and following) by being entertaining, rather than through their skill. I’m not into gaming, but I know someone who enjoys PC games. He doesn’t participate in online gaming communities, but he does occasionally view gamers’ YouTube videos – not for the entertainment, but to pick up gaming tips. I’ll let him know about Twitch. Do you think that people who view gamer’s videos without any other type of interaction are still members of an online gaming community? Or is some form of interaction required?

  6. Hi Thomas,
    I found your paper very interesting. Although I had never heard of Twitch before, your paper helped so I could understand the basics and how it plays into the gaming communities. Good job as it has enabled me, as a gamer, to get an insight into Twitch. I also agree with the considerable social capital generated through gaming communities. That’s a point I also talked about in my paper. Do take a look and tell me your opinions about gamers and the way they grow intellectually and socially through their online identities.
    Great paper indeed!

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