How Pixelsmixel Built A Streaming Career Fighting For Nuance

How Pixelsmixel Built A Streaming Career Fighting For Nuance
Image: Twitch (Pixelsmixel)

Pixelsmixel’s stream in many ways is the antithesis of what a lot of people would imagine when they think of Twitch. It purposefully avoids the kind of virality that often consumes the livestreaming meta: no hot tubs, no VTubers, no flash, no over-the-top antics nor exaggerated reactions for clip bait.

Instead, the Australian has found success through providing a constant source of discussion and community investigation. She’s built herself into one of the largest local “educational” streams, providing a neat window into not just the future of Twitch, entertainment and the micro-communities along the way.

Like every other successful streamer, the growth wasn’t planned. Pixelsmixel, who began streaming in March 2017 playing Counter-Strike, Dota 2 and PUBG, played video games just like everyone else.

But while the common Twitch path proved more fruitful for Pixel than most — her stream regularly getting around 60 to 100 average concurrent viewers by late 2018 — eventually things plateaued. “I was about ready to end streaming about a year and a half ago now,” Pixel explained in an interview with Kotaku Australia over Discord.

“I think for me I was under the illusion that in order to be successful on Twitch I needed to have the support of advertisers, or brands, to be able to make enough money to make it a viable career decision at this point in my life,” she said.

So Pixel made a choice: she stopped caring about brands.

Pixel’s channel today looks nothing like other channels centred on Fortnite, DotaEscape from Tarkov, GTA roleplaying, slots, or the other games that occupy the top of the Twitch pyramid. Instead, clips often highlight the Melbourne streamer’s musical talents and humour, with the most viewed a short cover of Abigail Barlow’s If I Were A Man featuring lyrics retooled for simps and the Twitch ecosystem.

But beneath the singing and the occasional memeing is what’s best described as an educational stream. Chat is surprisingly placid, with less emote spam and more of a conversational tone akin to a Discord server. Nights might focus on history, philosophy, psychology, or current affairs. There’s even an odd bit of video games on the weekend. (Singing was part of the mix as well, but in Twitch’s post-DMCA nightmare world, that’s a lot less frequent.)

When it’s current affairs, Pixel — deploying a transition reminiscent of another popular Australian variety streamer, PaladinAmber — adopts the gentler voice of a radio newsreader, switching to a more classical, heavy Australian twang as she breaks down the detail. It sounds a little like a classroom, but the vibe is more like a multiplayer version of hitting the “random article” on Wikipedia, where the stream processes information collectively as everyone adds their own experiences into the mix.

“Even though I read out the news in my newsreader voice — and everyone enjoys that because it makes it somewhat easier to consume — the informality of the conversation that happens after is one of the most important parts,” Pixel added. “You never know what’s going to jump out of the news article that people want to talk about, and the freedom to be able to have relaxed candour about these topics that are quite heavy, I think, makes it so much more bearable than something like official news.”

Pixel also rarely leans into the caustic, more combative approach powering so many streamers and online content in the same space. The stream explicitly focuses on constant, upfront engagement, so people can feel supported in having a nuanced conversation about the news of the day. It also helps that Pixel’s naturally funny, which is almost a necessity for dealing with life on the internet, let alone the meme-able whirlwind of Twitch.

A good example of Pixel’s approachable balance can be seen in one stream where — after checking with chat if a bottle of wine is too pricey to open — Pixel fires up a YouTube video. The video is pitched as a vegan’s response to a series from Goodful called “Is It Wrong”, and Pixel and the chat process the arguments as they play out. As a former vegan, most of the opening arguments about sustainable eating are sound.

But as the video plays out, Pixel openly takes issue with the polarisation of those who are trying to improve themselves. “People fucking demonise the middle all the time — now I am not a centrist, but it’s very interesting to me, how on these specific issues, people demonise people trying to move others in a better direction,” Pixel explained.

That “not centrist” approach plays out a lot as Pixel’s streams cover multiple perspectives. It’s less of the devil’s advocate style and more through analysis of the presentation of information. Sometimes it’ll be a breakdown of a single article or a report, sometimes a YouTube essay on a topic. But often the videos will be stopped as everyone discusses how facts and statements are framed, and how that compares to the framing in similar or competing media.

That constant focus on perspective is aided by the stream’s scheduled cadence of topics, which Pixel argues is necessary for enabling a healthy discussion about anything that’s even remotely political. “I’m absolutely a generalist, in that you can’t be an expert on one topic without learning about so many other things to be able to frame what you know about that topic.”

“So when I learn about psychology, yes: psychology is interesting to know on its own. But when paired with philosophy and how we got to certain psychological beliefs in the first place, it provides perspective that we didn’t have. Then when paired with history and the political goings on of the time, again that’s more perspective. And in capitalism, what is so encouraged is this specialisation — it’s much easier to get paid if you specialise in something.”

Australia’s Twitch ecosystem doesn’t have a lot of political streamers, so there’s some irony in Pixel finding success specialising in her generalism. But that success makes more sense from a longer perspective when you consider the growing apathy against the polarisation of today’s media. So it’s logical that some would be drawn to a corner of the internet that’s designed to gently foster learning and engagement, particularly when it doesn’t come with a side of doomerism, debate bros intellectual flexing.

“I feel like the reason a lot of people don’t consume news and political content is because it is all too hard; the problems are too big, and most people feel like there is nothing they can do to affect change,” Pixel said.

For Pixel, the change she can foster is within her corner of the internet. “I am openly learning; I’m sharing my learning process with the community. I’m not sitting there telling them, ‘This is what you have to think.’ I’m sitting there, learning about topics myself and they are there with me, learning along with me, providing insight and perspective,” she said.

Image: Twitch

The community, as Pixel explains, isn’t just the secret behind her channel but Twitch’s explosive growth more generally. “Society has gotten to a point now is that the only reason I have a job is that we are lacking the energy and availability of community in real life,” the Victorian-based streamer said over Discord.

“Why do you think platforms like Twitch, TikTok, community building apps are exploding right now? Everybody’s working 9-5, we’re surviving a pandemic, and people still need the sense of community that makes life seem important. It’s such a fundamental part of being a community — it’s just what that looks like now is changing. And that’s why Twitch is becoming so big, because people go looking for that sense of community.”

“People are scared, and they go looking for answers in really interesting places,” Pixel said.

It was a comment made about Facebook and the spread of disinformation. But really, it works just as well for the future of Twitch, modern entertainment, the current malaise with modern media, and Pixel’s own success.

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