Tracing back the history of online exchange since its earliest days, Twitch chat is as defining and quintessential an experience as it can get. The exchange doesn’t have set parameters or defined parties it must occur between–the beautiful thing about Twitch chat is that it makes the stage whatever it wants it to be, and it made manifest this highly-improbable, yet not-entirely-novel form of communication that is unlike anything else on the internet.
The technical aspects of Twitch chat are in a way the least interesting–it’s a consolidated real-time-updating discussion channel in which all viewers of a stream are able to interact with the content in near-harmonious synchronicity. What ends up setting apart this construct from everything else on the internet is its culture–regulars of the platform see themselves still largely as renegades and outcasts, proponents of a form of entertainment that has yet to hit its greatest strides. Reading any popular streamer’s chat without the full suite of emote extensions installed is a good exercise in knowing just how far removed you are from Twitch’s distinct linguistic and cultural identity–if you understand next to nothing, you’ll likely have to embed yourself in it for a good while before it ceases to become an amorphous wall of illegible text streaming down at an uncomfortably-rapid pace.
In the early aughts, it wasn’t always the case that Twitch chat served much of a social function–back when I first set foot on the platform circa 2012, cultivating a civil discussion space wasn’t exactly high on the list of priorities, and Twitch’s moderation tools were abysmally primitive for the daunting challenges they were created to tackle. It’s not to say the company still doesn’t have a lot of work to do in that department, but it is through the ability to navigate the chat without coming across a racial slur every two messages that a space of constructive — and often pointless fun — interaction was able to exist and thrive.
The best way I could distinguish the vintage Twitch chat experience from its contemporary counterpart is that in yesteryears, the exchange was more between viewers as they quibbled over the pettiest of details and assumed a…