This week, a series about landscape painting has proved more popular than a glut of video game streams, and it has shown a very different side to Twitch.
The past eight days have seen a certain portion of the Internet become transfixed by a wholly unusual Twitch stream. To celebrate its continuing expansion into creative content, the video game streaming giant has been showing all 403 episodes of public television classic The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.
This sedate programming might seem at odds with the reputation Twitch has garnered since the site launched in 2011. Given that its typical content is streams of players attempting challenging Destiny runs and tournament coverage, the service as a whole is often defined by the unruly live chat that accompanies its streams.
Predictably, there have been more than enough users eager to step into the Bob Ross stream simply to mouth off in the chat box. Whether they're making off-color jokes about Ross' untimely passing, or engaging in the thoroughly sexist dialogues observed by The Verge, this vocal minority is an unfortunate by-product of any open platform for anonymous communication.
However, this portion of the viewership is outnumbered by the masses who have found themselves immersed by a low-budget television show about landscape painting that was shot more than two decades ago. It's difficult to describe why Ross is so compelling — but it's easy to see the effect that he's having on his new Twitch audience.
At regular intervals, Ross will introduce a new element into the foreground of his painting — typically the sort of 'happy tree' that he's fond of. Almost invariably, Twitch chat will erupt into a flood of messages indicating that the picture is ruined.
This might seem like a mass heckling, but the cries of 'RUINED' invariably turn into congratulatory messages reading 'SAVED' when a few more strokes are applied. That's because a core tenet of Ross' method is that there are 'no mistakes, just happy accidents' — and any misstep can be made into a positive with the right attitude.
Twitch chat isn't making fun of Ross and his show, they're playing along. There will always be dissenting voices hiding behind Internet anonymity, but there's an overpowering sense of affection that drowns out those unhappy few. For a community that can sometimes resemble an unholy mixture of the comments on a YouTube video and the depths of Twitter, that's rather surprising.
The Bob Ross marathon has been a thoroughly entertaining week of programming for Twitch, and it deserves to become a yearly tradition. The stream is scheduled to end later today — and once it's done, expect to see the community quickly start the campaign for the series to be screened once again next year.