Tapping your secret support team

Today at work I watched a Twitch livestream of an indie game developer troubleshooting a programming issue he had run into, in front of 200 of his followers.

For those who are unfamiliar (and I count myself among you), Twitch is a social platform primarily focused on video games: talented gamers play video games live, and narrate their gaming, and their fans can watch along and comment. The platform has also been co-opted for lots of other things. I have a friend who livestreams piano improvisations.

While I can understand there being an audience of eager gamers wanting to watch the most advanced among their ranks sailing through levels and annihilating enemies, this particular scenario was new to me: a developer, in his home, debugging some code live. He’s just there, talking into the camera, being frustrated, getting ideas and trying them, and then making notes about what worked and didn’t… all live. And hundreds of his fans are watching. Not just watching, but live-chatting, giving him ideas, tips, and if nothing else, commiserating.

I was absolutely entranced by this new-to-me social phenomena. Here was a person who had not yet even built his game. He wasn’t famous in the traditional sense. What he was was committed: he had publicly committed to this project, and instead of toiling in solitude day in and day out, he toiled publicly, his every hour of work openly visible and there for anyone to join. It’s like when Marina Abramovich sits in an art gallery and invites the public to interact with her… except with coding, and the entire internet is there.

The thing that really got me was what a genius mechanism he had created. Building a video game is hard. Immensely hard. Just like any other enormous creative endeavor (writing a book, starting a business, composing a symphony), there are going to be ups and downs, challenges and roadblocks you couldn’t have predicted, an ever-expanding timeline, and emotional highs and lows that tempt you to drop the project entirely.

But by showing up every day in public, and making the commitment that no matter how stuck he is, or how un-victorious he’s feeling about his progress, he’s showing up, and sharing where he’s at. And you know what? His ever-growing audience appreciates it. They’re enthralled. They show up every day too, and why? To live vicariously through his creative process? To learn from his trial and error? In prolonged anticipation of his game? Yes, for sure. And also just to support. To help. To give suggestions when he got stuck.

Watching this guy struggle to solve a technical problem, with the presence and support of 200 people from the internet whom he’d likely never met, was honestly pretty moving. It made me think about the other types of challenges we tend to go alone, and what they would look like if we did them in public. What would it feel like to share the daily ups and downs of achieving a long term goal with a group of people who could help you weather the bumps and encourage you along the way? How would it change the likelihood of you completing a big project if you knew that people were showing up every day to cheer you on? What would it be like to know that showing up with a solution and showing up with a problem were equal in the eyes of your audience, that they were there for the process, not just the wins?

The world is full of these support systems, just waiting to be tapped.

Gillian BenAry