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Live video streaming platforms are discussed today as virtual communities that attract not only broadcasters but also spectators. In China, Douyu TV is one of the most popular streaming websites. The platform’s content covers not only gaming videos but also outdoor videos, and TV shows (Osawa par. 2). The phenomenon of Douyu TV in Chinese society is similar to the phenomenon of Twitch TV in American society; however, the ethnographic research needs to be conducted about the online community of Douyu TV. The ethnographic question that is aimed to be answered with the help of this research is the following one: How can such a developed virtual community as Douyu TV based on the idea of the live video streaming influence or change the everyday life of Chinese young people? The popularity of the website has increased significantly, and it is important to examine how the website can affect the lives of young individuals.
Douyu TV is a live streaming video platform in China that was established in 2013 under another name. The website’s content is focused on video gaming, including League of Legends, Counter-Strike, DOTA, and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft among others. In addition to individual broadcasting, there are also popular e-sports competitions, outdoor videos, and shows that are actively watched by spectators (Osawa par. 2). Douyu TV takes the leading position in the live video streaming market of China. Moreover, the financial potential of the website has increased to almost USD 100 million recently (Osawa par. 7). Douyu TV is also selected by investors to sign contracts with the most successful broadcasters who can work to increase the number of viewers not only in the region but also globally. More than 1 million viewers watch different types of videos a day (Osawa par. 8). This fact allows speaking about the impact of this virtual community on the development of young people’s visions and their daily life in China.
The virtual community that is associated with sharing and watching the live videos broadcasted with the help of streaming platforms similar to Douyu TV is characterized by features typical of other virtual communities, and it can be discussed in the context of such issues as the personal and virtual identity of young people, the role of online activity in the users’ everyday life, and privacy. Also, the specifics of the community related to living video streaming can be explained with references to the analysis of the connection between the virtual and real lives of broadcasters and viewers in the context of the gratification theory.
The self-identity is an important concept that explains the young people’s attitudes to oneself and each other, and their vision of personal identity can influence their life significantly. According to Hongladarom, today young people are inclined to focus on the development of not only their identities in the real life but also on building the specific kind of self in the virtual world (533). The researcher states that the online lives of virtual personalities can influence the real life of young persons significantly because individuals often do not distinguish between their virtual and real selves since their virtual identities are formed depending on the inner desires of young people and their actual visions of themselves (Hongladarom 535). Such projection typical of online communities’ members is important to be understood to clarify how the virtual life can influence the users’ everyday life about different aspects, including their visions of themselves. While applying this theoretical approach to the virtual community of users of live video streaming platforms, it is important to examine how the daily lives, personalities, behaviors, and attitudes of broadcasters and viewers are influenced by their virtual lives as successful or unsuccessful gamers and spectators.
Following the findings and ideas by Haight, Quan-Haase, and Corbett, it is possible to state that the level of the online activity is traditionally the highest one among young people, and this fact allows speaking about the significant role of virtual communities in the young people’s social practices (504). According to the researchers, the active life in the online setting is possible only with the help of using the latest technologies. The young people have the most developed skills in this area, and their social practices, attitudes, and behaviors become considerably affected by their online activities (Haight, Quan-Haase, and Corbett 504). The active users of live video streaming platforms like Douyu TV are young people for whom the use of computers and the Internet is the natural part of their daily life. It is possible to state that the impact of the virtual life and activities in the virtual communities on the everyday life of a young person increases proportionally to the time spent on communicating, gaming, or watching how others play using live videos.
While providing the theoretical background to the discussion of the phenomenon of live video streaming, it is also necessary to focus on the issue of privacy. According to Rosenzweig, the protection of privacy in the online world will be a significant problem in the future as more and more members of online communities can violate privacy rules (345). Rosenzweig states that “we need to look at privacy as a construct we use to protect other important values – things like autonomy, self-determination, democracy, and liberty of conscience” (344). The development of different online platforms is associated with the spread of using nicknames that often become brands in the virtual environment. However, the privacy and autonomy of young people who become public persons because of their online activities are usually not protected enough. Thus, non-protected online privacy is an issue that can affect the real life of a person.
It is also important to focus on discussing the specific phenomenon of streaming in the context of analyzing the virtual community and its impact on the life of young people in China while referring to the users of such live video streaming platforms as Douyu TV. According to Edge, streaming is not only about playing computer games online (2). Thus, streaming can be associated with the “two-way communication” that “fosters a unique relationship between the streamer and its spectators” (2). As a result, a new virtual community that consists of gamers, who prefer playing the games online and share their experience with spectators, and viewers, who can become the real fans of broadcasters, can develop (Edge 2).
In this context, it is possible to observe the changes in the daily life of both groups as members of this particular online community because broadcasters can become ‘stars’ in the community, and viewers can choose gamers as role models to follow, share their values, and repeat their successes (Edge 3). From this perspective, the life on broadcasters change because they begin to associate their real and virtual successful identities according to Hongladarom’s ideas, and the life of viewers can change as they spend more time watching the videos and practicing because the involvement in the online activities is typical of many young people, as it was noted by Haight, Quan-Haase, and Corbett. These facts also allow discussing the gratification theory that tends to explain the impact of the virtual community on young people’s life.
The gratification theory explains how people are inclined to choose their communication practices and behaviors with the focus on the media. The choice of media depends on the person’s motivation and intentions. According to Edge, it is characteristic of young people to choose the communication within online communities because the Internet as the medium provides individuals with an opportunity to share the information quickly, get feedback, entertain, and spend time with pleasure (3). Moreover, in contrast to the use of televisions, the Internet provides more opportunities to control personal behavior within the selected community. This theory allows understanding why many spectators who watch live videos prefer to follow the gamers’ successes without being involved in the game as active participants.
The online ethnography was selected as the methodology for this research. The selected virtual community is the community of Douyu TV, the video streaming platform that is popular in China. The community includes broadcasters or gamers, who play such popular games as League of Legends, Counter-Strike, and DOTA among others online; the viewers or spectators, who regularly watch individuals playing games or competitions; and managers, who are responsible for organizing the process. For this research, it was important to interview two viewers (Viewer A and Viewer B), one broadcaster (Broadcaster A), and one manager (Manager A). The names or nicknames of participants are not mentioned in the research to maintain confidentiality. In addition to interviews, the observation of the selected community was conducted while watching the live videos and discussing the gamers in the virtual setting. The interviews were analyzed in the context of the proposed theoretical framework, and the observation was analyzed with the focus on the possible impact of the website on the daily life of an individual.
Findings and Analysis
The results of the observation of Douyu TV as the virtual community indicate that the website is designed effectively to select the type of videos to watch, including games and outdoor videos; to find the broadcaster to watch and follow; to get the updated information regarding the competitions, and to choose the game to try as a broadcaster. Furthermore, it is possible to find all the necessary contact information to send a message to managers. Also, while watching the video, it is possible to share the ideas in a chat that supports Douyu TV. As a result, viewers are involved in the virtual community as active participants who can watch live videos passively or share their views, support popular broadcasters, and influence their ratings.
The target and actual audiences of the website are young people who are interested in gaming, and they prefer to spend much time while playing the game or observing how broadcasters play. This fact is in line with the discussions by researchers (Haight, Quan-Haase, and Corbett 504). While following the principles of the gratification theory, it is possible to state that the activities in the community of Douyu TV provide viewers with the expected pleasure, entertainment, vivid emotions, and the feeling of control and significance (Edge 3). Moreover, the feeling of personal significance is also explained with the focus on the virtual identity that can influence how a person sees oneself in real life (Hongladarom 535). The positive experience in the community of Douyu TV fans influences the viewers’ vision of themselves positively, and this aspect can affect their behaviors in daily life.
The interviews also provide information regarding the impact of viewers’ experience on their life. Spectators are even more important actors in the community than broadcasters are because the number of viewers is more than 1 million people about Douyu TV. Viewer A, a 23-year-old male interviewee, stated that even though he studies at the university, he spends about 5 hours per day watching videos on Douyu TV. The simple reason to spend so much time watching live videos is boredom. Moreover, being the part of the virtual community, the male also becomes the part of his real-life community while interacting with roommates, “We talk much about Douyu TV, and all of my roommates watch LOL on Douyu TV. If I don’t know the specific word they use on Douyu TV, I feel like being out of date.” Thus, the virtual community influences the life of the viewer significantly as he spends much of his free time watching videos, and he feels separated or isolated in the real-life while communicating with his friends if he does not understand the used slang or nicknames.
The online community can provide the person with a better vision of oneself and with the feeling of belonging (Hongladarom 536). However, Viewer A does not want to become a broadcaster because the process of watching videos is more pleasant and relaxing for him than the process of playing. This situation is explained with references to the gratification theory when a user chooses the medium to entertain oneself (Edge 3). Still, the community of Douyu TV plays a key role in the life of the young man as he is ready to spend all his free time watching videos, compensate for the lack of emotions in the real-life, and combine the real and virtual communities while discussing videos with friends. In his turn, Viewer B, a 22-year-old male, noted that outdoor living videos are more attractive to him because he can observe popular female broadcasters. His motivation is also based on the idea of being entertained quickly. Moreover, such behavior can influence his daily life as the process of watching videos broadcasted by females can substitute face-to-face communication with young women. Following the ideas by Hongladarom, this male can regard his virtual personality’s experiences as equal to his real ones.
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It is also important to analyze the experiences of broadcasters. In the virtual community of Douyu TV, broadcasters are responsible for playing well to attract more viewers, and they are also motivated by the potential salary, as it is noted by Broadcaster A. Those broadcasters who sign the contract with Douyu TV need to broadcast at least 60 hours a month according to the certain schedule. This aspect makes broadcasters deeply engaged in the development of this virtual community as the success of gaming influences their popularity and wages. From this point, live video streaming can affect the young person’s life directly while becoming his or her career and the main occupation during a day.
However, according to Broadcaster A, he tends to control the influence of the community on his life as he does not leave his main job. The reason is that “broadcasters are changing so quickly. I may keep my audience on my channel for five months but not for one year or more.” These notes indicate that the male tends to perceive his virtual personality of a gamer as separated from his real personality (Hongladarom 536). Broadcaster A is more focused on the fun component of broadcasting in contrast to many users who are inclined to perceive live video streaming as a significant part of their life. The man’s life is influenced as he is part of the community and can interact with other gamers and his viewers, but he understands that broadcasting is like a hobby rather than a career.
The interview with Manager A also added to the examination of the impact of Douyu TV on the life of young people. Managers in this community are young persons who control the activities of broadcasters and viewers and resolve ethical and legal issues. The broadcaster’s and managers’ activities can be discussed in the context of the privacy issue. While speaking, Manager A tends to protect his privacy and confidentiality, and he does not disclose such information. However, he answers the question about legal issues, and there is a risk of disclosing private information regarding broadcasters who used pornography movies to attract more viewers to their channels. The issue of privacy influences the life of members of the virtual community significantly as there are many risks that the confidential information will become public (Rosenzweig 346). This problem is urgent for ‘star’ broadcasters whose private life can be influenced if fans learn the information regarding the broadcasters’ real names and addresses.
The analysis of the ethnographic data indicates that the use of live video streaming platforms similar to Douyu TV can influence the life of Chinese young people in several ways. On the one hand, young individuals can spend many hours while watching videos and sharing their thoughts with friends online and offline. From this point, watching videos becomes a kind of hobbies and entertainment activities that influence personal identity and creates a feeling of belonging to the community. On the other hand, the experience of a broadcaster can change the life of many young people who choose to play games online as not only amateurs but also as professional broadcasters who develop a kind of career in such a community while becoming popular among viewers. Still, the research demonstrates that those broadcasters who receive wages can evaluate their activities with the lower level of commitment than viewers do because of discussing the community as the way to change the life in terms of receiving the additional compensation.
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Haight, Michael, Anabel Quan-Haase, and Bradley Corbett. “Revisiting the Digital Divide in Canada: The Impact of Demographic Factors on Access to the Internet, Level of Online Activity, and Social Networking Site Usage.” Information, Communication & Society 17.4 (2014): 503-519. Print.
Hongladarom, Soraj. “Personal Identity and the Self in the Online and Offline World.” Minds and Machines 21.4 (2011): 533-548. Print.
Osawa, Juro. Tencent Nears Deal with Chinese Game Video Streaming Platform Douyu TV. 2015. Web.
Rosenzweig, Paul. “Whither privacy?” Surveillance & Society 10.3 (2012): 344-347. Print.