People come to Twitch for many different reasons — to check out new games, to laugh, and to see skilled gameplay among them. Yet a new subculture has exploded in popularity over the past couple years: cozy streams. The term is used widely on the platform, with a new cozy tag introduced earlier this year and entire stream teams dedicated to the concept. But what exactly does it mean to be a cozy streamer, and why are viewers so drawn to this style?
On the surface, cozy streams are easy to spot. They tend to feature slow-paced games, a comfortable atmosphere, and a feeling of escapism. Streamers may also incorporate this in their audio, through soothing alerts or gentle music genres like lo-fi, acoustic, or nature sounds. Visuals are also important — overlays and backdrops are often curated to match that comfy feel, with the streamer’s personal brand giving that unique touch. Blankets, big snuggly sweaters, warm twinkly lighting, and special appearances by pets are all commonplace.
While all of these elements define the look and feel of the subculture, they ultimately contribute towards a greater goal: creating a space that is open and considerate to viewers. This can be aided by the choice of game played — the main discoverability factor on Twitch.
During the pandemic, slow-paced wholesome titles did well for streamers; Animal Crossing: New Horizons, in particular, paved the way for many simulation games to make waves. These games don’t require instantaneous reactions or for players to binge them for hours; they allow space for stillness. This doesn’t mean that the game has to be cute — as an example, the Life is Strange franchise hits all the cozy beats while also dealing with emotionally-heavy plots.
A Twitch representative tells Polygon that hours spent watching cozy game streams have gone up 10% from Sept. 2020 to Sept. 2021, led by games such as New Horizons, Stardew Valley, and Pokémon Sword and Shield.
There’s also been an influx of new cozy indie titles this year. There’s Lemon Cake from Éloïse Laroche, a cafe and baking simulation title, for instance. And Lake, a narrative driven game from Gamious about delivering post in a picturesque town.
Wholesome Games is a community that started on Discord, dedicated to the love and appreciation of cozy gaming. Now with hundreds of thousands of members across multiple platforms, the group has turned into a movement that’s forged its way into mainstream gaming culture with the creation of Wholesome Games Direct, which featured 75 different indie titles and was part of E3’s media showcase earlier this year.
Image: Wholesome Direct
Co-founder of the community and game developer Matthew Taylor believes that the traction and popularity of the event was helped by the cozy streaming community, which in turn assisted in more indie games gaining recognition.
It’s not just larger cozy streamers that have built this following, Taylor says. “Everyone streaming wholesome games, no matter how small their audience, is helping to lay the groundwork for a new kind of game to succeed, and most importantly, for all players to feel welcome.”
It’s also worth noting that not all cozy streams center around video games. A Twitch representative says there’s been a 21% increase in non-gaming cozy content categories such as Art, Makers and Crafters, and Food and Drink over the past year. Some creators stream a combination of both. Whatever the subject, cozy streams tend to have an ongoing theme, which is to put the comfort and safety of viewers at the forefront.
CafeEla has been streaming on Twitch for several years, with a focus on slow-paced games as well as art. Within her streams, Ela makes time for conversation with her viewers, encouraging them to chill out with a hot beverage (either literally or metaphorically), while leaving existential nihilism behind. She creates a warm atmosphere with soothing visuals (such as a crackling fireplace or flowing rivers) playing in the background and Pokémon plushies sitting on cushions — a nod to her love for the series. Chibi-inspired art and soft musical cues tie everything together.
But for Ela, being a cozy streamer is not just about aesthetics — it’s about having a safe space that her community can come home to, embrace genuine conversation, and form emotional bonds. Speaking to Polygon, she says that comfy streamers must “be vocally welcoming for all people and show an interest in their viewers’ lives.
“[Things like] using inclusive language and stating community values often, having a good mix between playing/activity and chat interaction, and also making sure that uncomfortable/rude viewers have no place in your stream” are key elements she outlines as methods of achieving this.
This mindset is extended upon by the Wholesome Games community, which claims on the FAQ page for the Wholesome Games Direct that “We actively avoid hateful content, bigotry, and developers who have been exploitative or otherwise abusive, and we encourage developers to use their voices to support worthy causes.”
In order to foster a welcoming space within streaming, some say, it’s necessary to take a firm stance on hateful language and behavior on the platform, especially in the age of hate raids, trolling and the prevalence of exclusionary behavior. For many streamers, this is something that isn’t done alone.
Often unsung heroes of Twitch, many moderators keep chat spaces safe and comfy by monitoring offensive comments or attitudes within a stream. They also assist with chat commands, spread the use of channel emotes, provide feedback to streamers, and mod for other channels outside of Twitch, such as on Discord.
Jordan Chow, AKA ModernChow, is a mod on Twitch for streamers Vana and mischacrossing. For him, mods in comfy streams play a part in welcoming new viewers into the supportive environment that the streamer has set, or as he puts it, “create a similar sense of walking into your favorite coffee shop where the staff knows you and welcomes you back.”
While Chow also loves interacting with high-energy channels, he thinks cozy content provides a unique space for both chatters and lurkers in Twitch to watch. He likes the option “to be fully captivated [or] multitask around other tasks as I have the comfy stream up.”
Whatever viewing style people choose, comfy streaming environments nurture engagement and support across all levels. This is supported by a study from Tilburg University, which concluded that tight-knit Twitch communities can provide support to other viewers, as well as a distraction for anyone going through a difficult period of their life.
So then, once again: At their core, what’s a cozy stream?
It’s about settling down with a blanket and a warm drink, and curling up to the soothing sounds and visuals of a chilled-out stream. It’s hanging out with a community of like-minded people who enjoy the same activities as you. It’s that feeling of coming back to where you belong, and leaving toxic culture at the door.
With more cozy communities popping up on Twitch each day, it’s the perfect way to discover welcoming voices who put kindness at the heart of their content.
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