How Tarkov, The Internet’s Sweatiest FPS, Became An Unlikely Tool For Men’s Mental Health

How Tarkov, The Internet’s Sweatiest FPS, Became An Unlikely Tool For Men’s Mental Health

When you think of playing or watching the notoriously sweaty FPS Escape From Tarkov, ‘relaxed and welcoming’ might not be the first words to come to mind. However, for Twitch streamer ToastRackTV, that’s exactly the vibe he’s going for as he cultivates a community where men can open up with each other about their mental health and seek support.

ToastRackTV (also known by fans as ‘the internet’s dad’) first began streaming during the 2020 COVID lockdowns after working as a TV editor for fifteen years. When the television industry all but ground to a halt at the height of the pandemic, he turned to streaming Escape From Tarkov as a hobby and “just fell in love with it.” Of his streaming style, ToastRackTV says he focuses more on the storyline and quests, and “playing with a more slower, relaxed style that people find surprising and refreshing. And that’s what draws them to the channel.”

Escape from Tarkov ToastRackTV
Image: Battlestate Games

ToastRackTV’s playstyle isn’t the only refreshing element of his Twitch channel, though. He’s built up a strong community of supportive viewers, many of whom, he says, watch other Tarkov streamers he considers part of a close-knit community. He describes his viewer demographics( based on YouTube stats) as mostly male viewers (although says plenty of women engage during his streams, too), in what has become a sort of “men’s group” and a “good space for men to find community” and talk about their lives, struggles, and wins.

Community versus isolation

The ability for men to discuss their feelings and struggles in a supportive environment is a particularly vital one – in Australia, the number of men who die by suicide every year is almost double the national road toll. With TikTok trends like ‘monk mode’ – that is, people isolating themselves from the outside world to focus on what ‘matters’ – going viral – and avenues for connection shrinking in the digital age, spaces and opportunities for men to open up and feel able to do so are even more important than ever before.

ToastRackTV says trends like monk mode seem counterproductive and are “the opposite of what men need right now for a lot of things,” with the ability to connect, find community, and not feel so alone just as important as focusing on what matters (or whatever the current trend says matters). 

While ToastRackTV says Twitch as a live-streaming service lends itself more towards social interactions between viewers in chat and streamers as opposed platforms like YouTube or other social media, which are often more algorithmic and “where you’re bombarded with images of perfection and beautiful lifestyles,” he also adds that longer streams like his (which he describes as short in comparison to other Escape from Tarkov streamers) also help people feel able to open up about their lives.

ToastRackTV Escape from Tarkov
Image: Nick Watson @weddingswithnick

“I had someone come by chat…[who] said, ‘I’m feeling really crap today, my girlfriend of two years just dumped me out of the blue. What do I do?’  And it’s spaces like this that make people comfortable sharing what’s going on in their real lives like that,” he says. “[They’re] maybe sharing for the first time with people, it’s almost a safe space where you’re kind of with relative strangers, and you’re relatively anonymous. So you can bring up topics that are a bit difficult that you haven’t even brought up with your family yet…But that’s the sort of thing that it’s the space that Twitch creates, makes that sort of thing possible.” As part of ensuring his channel remains a place for viewers to share what they’re going through and get advice or even just support, he’s introduced a ‘life advice’ free points redeem option so he doesn’t miss any viewers in need of a little help along the way. 

The above example isn’t a one-off interaction in ToastRackTV’s channel, though. He’s used to viewers jumping in, watching him play for a while, before sharing their feelings and asking for advice, possibly one of the reasons for his ‘internet’s dad’ nickname. He says the kind of space he’s created on his channel where this kind of supportive safe space is a reality while playing a relatively sweaty game “doesn’t come for free, you have to cultivate it. Part of it is the framing and the energy that you bring to the stream, so I sort of bring this old man, gentle old guy vibe to the stream apparently.”

A way to open up

While ToastRackTV attributes both his age and the overall vibe of his stream (and the work of mods to create a community where viewers don’t flame or talk down on opponents in-game) to allowing especially men to open up and share their feelings safely and freely, he also has a theory on why exactly his channel and gaming in general creates these spaces. He says, in his experience, men often “don’t have that culture” of sharing their emotions as openly when prompted, but are more likely to open up in a slightly less direct way. 

“We [might] go watch some Tarkov or sport, and just sit together, and slowly over time, we’re looking at that thing over there but we’ll slowly move closer to each other,” he says of his theory, “and after a while, once that trust and familiarity develops, I say ‘by the way, I’m having some feelings about my relationship, what do you think?’ It takes time for men to open up.”

ToastRackTV thinks communities like Twitch allow for the kind of side-by-side indirect sharing of struggles to happen. “You’re all looking at the thing. You’re not looking at each other,” he says. “We’re here for Tarkov, it’s not a main support group, you know, but people then after a while feel safe bringing up the more personal issues, and they do.”

ToastRackTV continues to give advice and create a growing positive community, where even his viewers jump in on providing support to one another through both positive and negative life events – and he couldn’t be more stoked to be cultivating this space for men to share their feelings rather than bottling them up. “You could spend a lot of energy trying to hold back being hit by the negative feeling of grief, or being dumped, or whatever it is,” he says. “But you can end up spending more energy on that than just the energy of processing the feeling.”

Help is available.

If you need mental health support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat online

Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.

If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.

Lead Image Credit: Supplied by ToastRackTV / Intel AU

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