Let’s eat in front of strangers!

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If you’re not a gamer you might not be familiar with Twitch. Unless you read about Twitch Plays Pokemon, which caught the attention of mainstream media back in 2014.

So, Twitch is like watching You Tube videos of game playthroughs, but it’s live. Some players give a commentary of the game as they’re playing and show themselves on a face cam so you can see their reactions. Viewers can text chat: some players respond, lots don’t. Viewers can tip players in a couple of different ways, or pay them US$4.99 to subscribe to their channel. They’re not all video games; there’s a board game channel too.

There are a lot of players making a full time living on Twitch. It puts asking $4.99 for a book into perspective, that’s for sure.

So, Twitch just introduced a new “game” category.

Social Eating.

Now, instead of watching people play games, you can watch people eat via their webcam. And chat to them, and to everyone else watching.

Tonight whatca_channel had a few friends over. 1,267 people watched them share a meal. Nine people watched Werdthewerd slowly eat a gherkin to a soundtrack of M.I.A’s Paper Planes. And no, astoundingly, it was not sexually suggestive at all.

Apparently Twitch is highly concerned with World Health Organization dietary guidelines. According to the official Twitch Social Eating FAQ, players “cannot broadcast [themselves] primarily eating junk food, such as candy, condiments, or energy food.” It is also forbidden to “[eat] items or food not meant for human consumption, such as pet food, toxic substances, bodily fluids, refuse, or inedible objects.” Vomiting is banned, as is “Eating food or in a manner intended to disgust, shock, or offend others.”

It cannot be overstated that these are excellent rules.

Social Eating is Twitch’s attempt to cash in on the established Korean practice of meokbang: “eating broadcast.” One new way to tip players on Twitch is to bulk buy “Cheers” which viewers can then dispense to their favorite players in their chat stream. Twitch takes a cut of Cheer purchases. By opening up the definition of gaming to include Social Eating, Twitch is hoping to monetize a rapidly increasing market segment. People like me.

I have no friends in my meat-space life. I go to work, I come home, I eat alone. My friends are online, and I love and treasure them.

I already use Twitch a lot. For over 6 hours last week, according to my Rescue Time. I like carrying on conversations with players and other viewers from week to week, and games are a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

But yeah, now with Social Eating, I’ll probably use Twitch even more. Why the hell would I not want to combine food and online chatting? I have no desire to stream myself eating. Nup. But I would definitely shovel pork katsu don into my face while talking shit with people doing the same thing. Twitch is marketing a human connection for introverts; one you can turn off when you need a break, and where you minimize social risk. It’s a little piece of genius.

Reporter Leif Johnson called Social Eating “boring [and] worse yet, it’s sad . . . [because it] reminds me a touch too much of my own life, taking my meals at my computer because I have little time to enjoy them away from them.” [Trigger warning: that link contains discussion, and video, of vomiting.]

Johnson’s approach is the essence of suffering. There’s such judgement and dissatisfaction in his statement. Rather than accepting that some people live a solitary life and find happiness in that life, he wishes his own own life was entirely different and judges people for not wishing the same. And yet, in the same breath he expects to be entertained by people eating.  Where is his distraction, he asks.

The extrovert’s idyll of a dazzling social life and huge shared family meals is neither the reality nor preference for many people. Making meaning from the experiences you have, and not the experiences other people tell you you should be wanting to have, brings contentment.

All of which is to say, tomorrow is pork katsu don night at my place. I’ll see you on Twitch.

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Pork katsu don recipe at Taste Australia magazine

Reader advisory: if you click a link into any of the Twitch channels you’re going to have to sit through a long-ass ad. Probably for League of Legends. The only way to avoid this is to sub to the channel. It’s annoying as fuck. I’m so sorry.

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