Every evening this week, I live streamed my play of the very soothing, very satisfying game, Stardew Valley, on twitch. Instead of a regular newsletter for this week, let me tell you more about how and why I’m doing this.
During the stream, we talk a lot about books, games, podcasts, and food we like. I’ve been collecting the recommendations here, in a google doc.
Why are you live streaming? During this time of social distancing and self-isolation, live streaming presented itself as a sane antidote to anxiety and loneliness. I had started making videos for my now online undergrad humanities class, so I was already beginning to reframe my relationship to an audience that is distant, and thinking about how to create active community when individuals cannot gather together physically. (Certainly, I have a lot of experience with this — twitter has been a place of community building for me for a long while now, and I had a long history with the internet even before that. But these new circumstances do change things: not having the option to meet physically adds a certain urgency to online community.) When we made the collective decision to isolate, I started thinking about the “tend and befriend” stress response phenomenon described by Rebecca Solnit in The Mother of All Questions (2017, pp18-19):
“Words bring us together, and silence separates us, leaves us bereft of the help or solidarity or just communion that speech can solicit or elicit. Some species of trees spread root systems underground that interconnect the individual trunks and weave the individual trees into a more stable whole that can’t so easily be blown down in the wind. Stories and conversations are like those roots. For a century, the human response to stress and danger has been defined as ‘fight or flight.’ A 2000 UCLA study by several psychologists noted that this research was based largely on studies of male rats and male human beings. But studying women* led them to a third, often deployed option: gather for solidarity, support, advice. They noted that ‘behaviorally, females’ responses are more marked by a pattern of “tend and befriend.” Tending involves nurturant activities designed to protect the self and offspring that promote safety and reduce distress; befriending is the creation and maintenance of social networks that may aid in this process.'”
It strikes me that some things which, under normal circumstances, are considered superficial are right now truly vital — and probably always have been vital. Spending time with people — in whatever ways work best for you (I say this because, despite my need to perform, I am otherwise mostly an introvert) — is not a luxury but a necessity. We are all right now focusing on public health. And mental health is health. So we should be making sure to find and make opportunities for socializing not because we want to but because, actually, we need to. I come from the world of academia where there are few models of contentment and happiness — indeed, we default to the image of performative suffering and punitive self-restraint. In that context, unhappiness is virtue. However, I urge you to take this moment of global distress to shed some of the scripts that we have been running even unwillingly. I quote here the wise words of Adrienne Maree Brown in Pleasure Activism (2019, p14): “When I am happy, it is good for the world.” In this stream, I am consciously trying to activate interconnected goods: 1) the social is good; community is good, 2) play is good.
What is Stardew Valley? Will you be playing any other games? Stardew Valley (2016) is hit indie game originally produced by a single developer, Eric Barone (@ConcernedApe), who had at the time never made a commercial game before. To describe it simply: it’s a farming simulator. You wake up every day, plant and tend to your crops, and the seasons pass. There is a town nearby, where you can buy supplies and talk to people. There is a beach. There is a mine. There is a community center (inhabited by forest sprites). But there’s so much more to this game. Barone designed it as a deliberate meditation upon productivity (I recommend the Vulture article by Jesse Singal on this topic), and as a protreptic towards the disruption of notions of productivity (which is why I keep talking about Jenny Odell on the stream, whose work, How to Do Nothing, I have written about in the newsletter several times). And on top of that, it’s an extremely chill game. It both looks and sounds beautiful, and there are many opportunities for a meditative moment. It is the right game for right now. I might play other games in the future, but for now this is it. By the way, if you want something to help you relax right now, you can also play Stardew Valley even if you don’t consider yourself much of a gamer. It’s currently available on a wide range of platforms, including your phone.
When are you live streaming, and why that time? I’ll be streaming for a couple of hours every weekday starting at 8pm EST. I’m streaming in the evening not just because that’s a natural time for both me and you to relax, but because I wanted to make sure I did not torture myself with the news right before heading to bed. As is becoming clear by now, I am doing this as much for myself as for others — streaming this week has been the thing which gives me the greatest sense of relief, and puts a pause on the dread which I — we — naturally feel right now. I will also sometimes be streaming in the morning during the weekends so that I can hang out with my UK pals: the first morning stream will be Sunday 22nd March at 11am EST/3pm GMT. Currently things are a bit ad hoc, but I see a regular schedule emerging very quickly.
How do I tune in and take part? All you need to do to tune in is head over to my twitch page at 8pm EST: https://www.twitch.tv/hecvb. If you are fine with simply watching or listening (it’s usual practice to have a twitch stream on in the background, maybe while you yourself are playing video games! rather than the sole point of focus), you don’t need to have an account. If you want to join the chat (which I encourage you to!), then you should make one. The chat is where it’s at. Talk to others and to me, and I’ll respond to all the hijinks going on there.
Will you be talking about Classics? Not really, aside from the incidental reference here or there. There are twitch streamers out there who take a more academic approach, but I am doing this to relax, not to make more work for myself. That said, if there’s some aspect of academic work and life that you want to talk about, you can certainly raise the issue. Mostly we talk about nothing of consequence, and it’s amazing.
Do you have any particular goals in mind with your game play? I am not setting out to make the perfect farm. Indeed, quite the opposite. This is going to be a meandering, explorative play, not a goal-oriented one. This is the chill stream.
I am one of your current or former students, is it okay for me to join in? Yes. I understand if it might be strange for some to see me in a less formal environment, so I get it if you don’t want to take part. But you are certainly welcome.
What tools do you use to stream? Can I do it too? I am playing Stardew Valley through Steam on my Mac, and I’m using OBS (free and open source) to broadcast the feed. It probably took me about half an hour to set up the stream on the night I decided to do it. Honestly, I just googled “twitch stream on Mac” and the rest came together quickly. So yes, you can and you should!
Which other twitch feeds should I be tuning into? Deirdre Donlon is a cast member over at WanderingDM. Professor Steel has been playing Apex Legends and Control. Hamish Cameron started streaming the Classically themed Apotheon last night. Earlier this week, frequencydata was live streaming the composition of ambient music. Daniel Libatique streamed some of Pokemon Shield earlier this week. (Please help me keep this list updated!)
*Note: Solnit (p19) later adds: “Not only women do this, but perhaps women do this more routinely.” Solnit’s emphasis on “tend and befriend” as the behaviour of women comes out of the fact that in this piece she is trying to shine a light on the alternatives to traditional theorization of speech, thereby showing that women have always had their own communicative strategies, even if they have been by necessity operating under the radar. For my purposes here, the gendered aspect is not necessary. All of us can tend and befriend, and benefit from it.