Twitch for a cause: How politics, activism and an innovative use of social media can still produce remarkable things

Alex Hackett

Group Director of Digital

I have a sentence for you to digest:

“Hbomberguy’s Twitch stream of Donkey Kong 64 raised over £300,000 for Mermaids online.”

Clear? Ok, let me explain. To understand what I’m talking about, we’re going to have to define some terms:

Hbomberguy: Harris “Hbomberguy” Brewis is part of a new wave of off-the-radar British YouTube influencers. Primarily a game reviewer, Harris occasionally provides thoughtful commentary on political events and, through his 300,000+ audience, creates popular videos debunking pseudo-science,  quackery and myths of the far-right. In the battle to shape the politics of the next generation (particularly that of young, white, British and American men), Harris is a resonant voice to many.

Twitch: Twitch is a live streaming platform that allows users to broadcast themselves to the world for free. The platform mainly caters to gamers, who play through existing titles or compete against each other while often providing an acerbic and entertaining commentary. Some of these streamers have made millions, usually through brand deals and soliciting donations on the platform from their viewers. Despite being purchased by Amazon in 2014, the site is still largely unknown outside of the world of gaming and the deep internet.

Donkey Kong 64: Mario’s tie-wearing monkey compatriot was the eponymous star of a well-loved game for the Nintendo 64 in the mid-90s. A millennial favourite (well, for me at least) the game strikes pangs of nostalgia in twenty-somethings nationwide.

Mermaids: Mermaids are a small UK charity that provides advice and support for trans children and their parents. Despite being pillared in the press (and facing criticism from the creator of Father Ted of all people), they have soldiered on, even in the face of the potential loss of their National Lottery Funding.

Right, now you’re up to speed.

Hbomberguy decided, irked by the tweets of the aforementioned Father Ted writer, to play Donkey Kong 64 live on a Twitch stream and use his reasonable following to raise money for Mermaids in an act of charitable spite. His aim was to raise “a couple of hundred quid by the time he had completed the game”.

This stream has, at time of writing, raised over £314,000 pounds in less than three days. The feed has been shared around the world by everyone from Cher to Chelsea Manning, and has even featured call-ins from US Congresswoman and Democrat rising-star Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

So far, so lovely – but why is this different to any other JustGiving page that finds sudden and bizarre social media stardom? In short, everything about this event should not have worked. A very little-known online influencer used an equally niche platform to play a game that 90% of the population have never heard of, all to support a cause that most people know absolutely nothing about – and yet, it has become a fully-fledged online phenomenon.

What’s more, I believe this event will have a lasting political effect on the debate around trans rights and visibility. This stream has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times internationally, bringing new issues into focus for thousands of people who may never have considered them before. For this to have occurred on Twitch, a platform largely frequented by young white males, is particularly important – especially given how strongly this cohort have been targeted in recent years by the populist right. There’s a reason why the tech-savvy Congresswomen Cortez chose to make an appearance – this was a crucial moment to speak directly to a disaffected group of young voters on their own turf.

Above all, Harris has proved that the internet can still be an engine of disruption, that the rules of what campaigning and fundraising techniques “work” online are by no means set in stone, and surprises can, and still do, happen. You don’t always need a trite hashtag, a corporate sponsor or an army of Instagram superstars to get a message out there, the laws of digital marketing can be broken, and a fun and innovative idea can still take over the world.

(Also Donkey Kong 64 is the best game ever made. Don’t @ me.)

To donate to Mermaids, visit the website:  

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