Donald MacInnes: When videogame prowess is worth a billion, I get twitchy

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The Independent Online

The rumours which this week began oozing down the walls of the great pyramid of tech-related business, that Amazon was of a mind to buy the videogame streaming service Twitch, will provide the internal structure of today's cavalcade of mediocre prose.

Mind you, the fact that the online retailer is apparently happy to pay ONE BILLION DOLLARS (picture my pinkie edging toward the corner of my mouth like Doctor Evil) for a company with such an infantile-sounding name, is merely symptomatic of the fact that I remain about as out of touch with modernity as one can be.

For those of you over the age of 15, I should explain that Twitch offers its users the chance to post clips of their videogame prowess, so other kids can coo over the poster's hand-eye co-ordination and ability to blow the lower portion of a zombie's face off with a pump-action shotgun.

Not that I can't understand why one gamer would be interested in the abilities of another gamer. Since videogames first appeared (and I'm talking about the kind of stand-up, 6ft-tall cabinets that you can still find in amusement arcades), anyone displaying "mad skillz" at a particular game has always attracted onlookers, who are as much a part of the videogame experience as sore thumbs and an embarrassingly late loss of one's virginity.

Every arcade had its stars. And these local heroes would attract gawpers like jam does wasps. As the player racked up points, a little semi-circle of slightly younger kids would form around him. They would be mute, aside from the occasional gasp or giggle. But the player knew they were there.

I would suggest Twitch is nothing more than the updated version of that tableau; one which I witnessed often in a pool hall in the south side of Glasgow in the very early 1980s. I was actually banned from this permanently twilit basement space; not by the authorities, but by my mother, who viewed it as a den of thieves and cut-throats.

In reality, it was a place where anyone with any abilities on one particular video game would soon find they had attracted the aforementioned adulatory crowd. Much of this, of course, was less to do with the pixel-zapping abilities of the principal player, as it was with that slightly crushy hero worship all adolescents – male or female – feel for those sophisticates who inhabit that undiscovered country a little further down the teenage path.

So, having given it some thought, I am not at all surprised that Amazon may wish to spend an ocean of cash on Twitch. And while a billion dollars might seem a lot of money, you can't really put a price on hero worship. If history has taught us anything, it's that young males love showing off. And they love to be shown off to. And if there is some money to be made in that, I'm perfectly sure Amazon can make it. @DonaldAMacInnes

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