What does backseating mean on Twitch and why is it an issue?

No, it doesn’t mean literally sitting behind a Twitch streamer.

What does backseating mean on Twitch?

Backseating on Twitch is when a viewer uses the chat to give the streamer unwanted advice on the game they are playing. Some viewers are genuinely doing it to try and help while others might do it to ruin the experience intentionally.

Read on below to find out where backseating comes from, why it’s more annoying than the ridiculous number of ads Twitch runs these days (but also why it’s sometimes good), and how you can stop it if you’re streaming on Twitch. 

Where does the term backseating come from?

The term ‘backseating’ originates from the idiom ‘back-seat driver’, meaning someone who tries to tell a driver what to do while sitting in the car’s rear passenger seat. 

The earliest recorded figurative use of this idiom (i.e. used to describe someone who is not actually sitting in the back of a car giving advice to the driver) dates back to the late nineteenth century.

Any of you that have been driving a car with a back-seat driver as your passenger will know how annoying it can be:

“Turn off there. It’s quicker. Trust me, bro”.

“Overtake that 18-wheeler, it’s totally safe”.

And so on. 

Even if you’ve never driven a car, you may still have been a victim of backseating while playing your favorite video game.

For example, I can remember playing Age of Empires II for the first time as a kid, and my friend foreshadowed or questioned my every move while watching me play. 

At first, it was kind of helpful (I learned what a hotkey was) but it quickly became tiresome. Getting backseated didn’t really help me get better at RTS games and it sort of ruined my first experience of one of my favorite games of all time. 

Why is backseating on Twitch controversial?

Receiving unwanted advice is patronizing in most situations, and streaming games on Twitch is no different. 

It implies that the backseater doesn’t think you are capable of completing the section you are on, or finding the way forward, without their help.

Sometimes the advice is well-intentioned (maybe the backseater really struggled on that part of the game in their own playthrough) but it’s almost always misplaced. 

At its worst, backseating on Twitch can be another way for misogynists to harass women online: In this feature on backseating published on inverse.com, four female streamers reported being targeted by aggressive male backseaters.

Aside from being patronizing or misogynistic, backseating can also ruin the experience for both the streamer and other viewers by revealing spoilers.

Being told exactly how to solve a dungeon in Breath of the Wild or a tricky puzzle in The Gardens Between (which is for sure one of the best indie games on Switch) without requesting that help completely takes away from the magic of exploration and the satisfaction of solving or completing sections. 

It’s not all bad, though. The same article I mentioned above also points out that backseating can act as a gateway to gaming (some people are much better at learning by watching than learning by doing). Backseating can lead to great content, too:

The YouTube channel Girlfriend Reviews has amassed almost 1.4 million subscribers principally through posting game reviews from the perspective of a girl watching and commenting on her boyfriend playing the game in question. 

Twitch also endorsed what was essentially a Guinness World Record-winning backseating session when it sang the praises of the Twitch Plays Pokémon ‘crowdsourced’ emulation stream on its official blog.

How can you stop backseating on your Twitch stream?

The easiest way to stop backseating on Twitch is to tag your stream with the ‘No Backseating’ or ‘No Spoilers’ tags (you could also make it clear in your channel’s rules). 

Screenshot of selection of Twitch live channels with No Backseating tag applied
A selection of Twitch channels tagged with ‘NoBackseating’

That should stop any backseaters who aren’t out there to cause trouble and who simply post what they think are helpful tips in the chat. 

However, given the low barrier to entry (it’s free to stream and watch on Twitch), there’ll always be a small minority that likes to break the rules for the sake of it. For these unhappy few, you’ve got two options: Ignore them, or hand them a timeout.

I prefer the second option. Here’s why:

One of the key ways to boost your streams (and by extension get enough Twitch viewers to earn some money so you can finally quit the 9-5) is to engage with your audience.

It looks and feels weird if you’re choosing to ignore people in the chat, even if what they’re contributing isn’t appropriate.

I think the best way to handle backseating is to politely call backseaters out and, if they continue, to timeout those users by typing “/timeout [username] [seconds]” in the chat. They’ll soon get bored and your audience will appreciate it as much as you.

Getting backseated by the game itself

Unfortunately, the perils of backseating are not limited to overzealous or malicious Twitch viewers. Sometimes, the game itself will backseat you into a blinding rage. 

Take two of the biggest video game releases of 2022: In God of War: Ragnarok, the side characters practically solve puzzles on behalf of Kratos with their continuous tips, and, in Horizon: Forbidden West, Aloy does a hell of a lot of telling before you get a chance to be shown anything. 

In God of War: Ragnarok, the puzzles are there to create some downtime between the combat sections which are the game’s main focus. 

The in-game backseating makes these puzzles more accessible and allows players to progress through them more quickly but I think they are over-the-top and take away from the fun.

It’s worth taking this game design feature into account when finding games to stream on Twitch if it irritates you as much as it does me.

Backseating on Twitch – Summary

Backseating on Twitch – when a viewer gives unwanted tips and advice to a streamer in the chat – can be extremely annoying. 

Sometimes people do it without realizing they’re irritating a Twitch streamer and other viewers. You can set ‘No Backseating’ and ‘No Spoilers’ tags on your stream to help avoid this, and timeout anyone in the chat who still hasn’t gotten the message.

With some games, like God of War: Ragnarok, you simply can’t avoid it as the in-game characters themselves insist on backseating your stream!

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