For an ever-expanding corner of the internet, a game controller is a symbol of work, not play.
The industry for watching other people play video games is growing exponentially with 666 million people around the globe tuned in to gaming video content made in 2017. That number is expected to grow to over 740 million by 2019.
The growing market is inspiring more and more content creators to set up a camera and start streaming with the promise of cash and internet fame – but at what cost?
Just last week, one of gaming’s most popular content creators Sean McLoughlin, known as Jacksepticeye, posted a heartfelt video to tell fans that he would be stepping away “for a few days” to deal with burnout and mental health problems. It marks the first time in more than four years that a day has gone by without the streamer putting out a video.
With the World Health Organisation (WHO) classing gaming disorder as a recognised mental health condition last month, The Big Issue spoke to two content creators to find out how the demands of playing video games for a living affected their mental health.
And both shared “bittersweet” feelings on the WHO classification, which advises people who partake in gaming to be “alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities”. They also suggest, “changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning that could be attributed to a pattern of gaming behaviour” are a sign of the disorder.
Josh Wyatt, 26, known as ‘Phy’ online, is a professional streamer and YouTuber who has built up a 615,000-strong following playing League of Legends on YouTube. The free-to-play MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena game, is one of the world’s most popular. He said: “I think it is not a bad thing that gaming addiction being recognised as a condition. There are a lot of down sides and negatives about playing without moderation.
“I think that it’s not a bad thing to discuss it and I think the discussion is important even if I don’t agree with some of the ways that WHO have defined it, like the 20 hours threshold. It’s not a lot of hours and a lot of people are over that.”
Tom ‘CapgunTom’ Roberts may have made his name on different experiences, FIFA and tabloid-baiting runaway success Fortnite, racking up a YouTube follower-count of just over one million in the process.
But he also feels conflicted about the WHO designation and said: “At first, I thought it was awful for gaming but after looking into it, I think that it will help people.
“I think it will get some negative media attention but if people are suffering and need that early intervention then it can be a big thing to get help. So it’s bittersweet.”
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The pair both contributed to a Gaming and You report, by analytics firm Qutee, assessing the personal and social impact of gaming.
And as professional streamers, the pressures that come with gaming are somewhat different to your average gamer.
Phy’s schedule of playing games for online audiences is a seven-day-a-week operation, starting at 8am every day and encompassing around seven hours of playing, editing and interacting with fans. In fact, he estimates that only one-to-two hours a day of gaming is for personal time. But this hectic schedule is the result of a competitive industry.
“You have to work hard because it is a new and fast-moving industry and there is always someone else there to take your place,” said Phy.
“I think competition is always a good thing and it is the same thing in gaming. The way to get somewhere in this industry is to get working harder than other people. You have to keep grinding and hope that you catch a break and it is going to get more and more competitive as more people come into the industry. “
I’m never going to be as good as the pros so I have seen my viewers start to tail off. Who’s going to watch me when they can watch someone better elsewhere?
For CapgunTom, the games themselves can provide the pressure. FIFA’s massively popular Ultimate Team Weekend League competitive mode can require players to play 40 matches every weekend to maintain their rank.
The EA Sports game is by no means alone on using devices to keep players hooked – loot boxes in games like Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront II have even faced bans in Belgium after being ruled as gambling with other countries also mulling over similar action.
Tom streams for seven or eight hours a day for six days a week – but it this is the source of his greatest stress.
He said: From Monday to Thursday, I have no problem in dealing with everything and I spend a lot of time in the menus chatting as well as being in the game but it is from Friday to Sunday where things get really busy.
“As part of FIFA’s Ultimate Team competitive Weekend League you have to play 40 matches over every weekend. I’ve always been quite a casual gamer and I’ve not really wanted to get in to that side of things. I don’t like the stress of it. I had to stop playing it this year because it was a shift in how FIFA has been in the past.
“It has seen traditional content makers like myself merged with FIFA pros. I’m never going to be as good as the pros so I have seen my viewers start to tail off. Who’s going to watch me when they can watch someone better elsewhere?”
The battle for viewers on a tiny corner of the internet may be never-ending but for many gamers, it would still be the dream to play all day long. And Phy insists that gaming with pals does blur the lines before social gathering, work and play, offering a healthy way to keep in touch with likeminded souls.
Phy said: “While it does take a lot out of you. I do spend a lot of time with my girlfriend too and hanging out with friends. But also when I’m streaming online and playing with friends on Fortnite is like hanging out too. As long as you put some barriers up and do it in moderation then I think it can be ok.”