Eilish Gilligan: My Strange Journey From Out-of-Work Musician to Horror Game Streamer on Twitch

Eilish Gilligan

It’s one thing to watch Halloween; the 1978 spooky-season classic is just as spine-tingling as it was four decades ago. Not much can top it in the scary stakes — unless, that is, you manage to find yourself being stalked by Michael Myers; breathing heavily, hiding in a corner of Haddonfield’s suburbia, praying that he didn’t just see you adjusting, praying he turns to walk away…  

Michael Myers is a licensed killer character in the asymmetrical survival horror game Dead By Daylight, and as a relatively new player of the game, I’ve come face to face with him many times. While streaming live to my Twitch channel, I once played a match against him that scared me more than any slasher movie ever has.

My viewers egged me on in the chatbox as I crept around corners in-game, crouching, moving glacially slow, filling with dread as John Carpenter’s iconic, terrifying Myers chase soundtrack filled my headphones — until, all of a sudden, there he was, emerging from a darkened corner as tall and imposing and fear-inducing as he is on film. 

I jumped a foot out of my seat, rendered immobile by surprise, my viewers cackled hysterically in the chat, and I was carried away on Michael Myers’ shoulders to meet my maker. Game over.   

I have not always played horror games to a live online audience, scaring myself stupid for the fun of it. In actuality, I’m a musician and in early 2020, similar to most musicians, coronavirus had completely halted almost all aspects of my career within a very small window of time.

I lost all booked shows and tours, and In the hopes of keeping up at least some of my skills as a performer, I decided to start a Twitch channel. I planned to perform acoustic versions of my original music and covers once or twice a week to a live, albeit online, audience. 

Despite being a lifelong fan of horror, I have never been a gamer. Before diving into Dead By Daylight earlier this year, I had not touched an online game since Neopets in 2003 — and I really don’t think that counts towards my gamer XP. Even now, after playing steadily for a few months, I routinely forget and often just straight up cannot co-ordinate the controls; helplessly appealing to my viewers to teach me, just one more time, how to turn my character around, only to fail to master the quick mouse-movements that come so instinctually to those with hundreds of hours of gaming experience.

Recently, when I was playing Resident Evil: biohazard on the stream, I spent a good 20 minutes wrestling with the mechanics of combining items, despite my chat patiently, unsuccessfully, attempting to guide me through the process. I forget where I am, I can’t read the map, I lose perspective and objectives and spend hours playing sections of games that should really only take minutes.  

Eilish Gilligan

But the important thing is, despite being absolutely terrible at the mechanics of the games I’m playing, I love to play. I love the adrenaline, the challenge, the thrill, the achievement of progressing and improving — in fact, I love it so much that I can’t believe the impulse to start playing horror games didn’t arrive sooner.  

Watching horror movies has always been a relaxing activity for me — I know this is bizarre for some, but for me, it’s a brilliant bandaid for an anxious episode and at the very least, a reminder that things could absolutely be worse.

While I was researching Twitch ahead of starting up my own channel, I became intrigued by a truly unique and delightful subsection of the site: drag artists playing Dead By Daylight. It was the height of camp — these theatrical, beautiful artists broadcasting their gameplay live to thousands of viewers, all of which screamed and laughed along in the chatbox as the streamers were jumpscared, either being sacrificed or triumphing against the killer in a match that was just as thrilling as watching any horror film.

Such is the nature of Twitch, a website predominantly dedicated to streamers playing video/computer games live to their audience (although there are many sections of the site that feature other categories, such as music, cooking, crafting -— the list goes on); a streamer can be live to a captive audience of potentially thousands, interacting with and accepting monetary donations from their audience while streaming live gameplay. 

In fact, it kind of felt like watching a horror movie alongside a whole bunch of like-minded friends — those who saw the humour in fear, the humanity in fighting for the player’s survival. I joined in on the chat, and amongst those communities was where I began to find my own niche in the online horror game world. 

When I actually started streaming to my Twitch channel, many of the people I’d met in those streams followed my own streaming journey. As my viewers got to know me personally, which is something that happens rather quickly once you start streaming yourself live for hours at a time, my lack of gaming experience became apparent to them.

Sure, I could sing and play the piano, but a gamer I was not — and it was for this reason that my own community thought the idea of me playing Dead By Daylight myself was peak comedy. With many of them being extremely good at the game themselves, they tittered with glee at the idea of me fighting for my life live on stream. They offered to play alongside me, and to help me learn and improve, and so -— I obliged. 

I downloaded Dead By Daylight and scheduled my first stream completely dedicated to it -— sheepishly titled something along the lines of ‘Clueless musician plays Dead By Daylight for the first time’. I spent time off-stream practising on my own, knowing my skills would soon be appraised live by many on my channel.

I know, from watching many streamers trying out a new game on their own Twitch channels, there is something equal parts endearing, humorous and frustrating about watching someone perform badly at a computer game — and I was hoping that the former two would prevail to my enthusiastic viewership, rather than the alternate, very real possibility that they might get so annoyed by my lack of skill that they’d tune out.  

My first Dead By Daylight stream was so long ago now that I can barely remember the specifics — what I do remember, however, is the overwhelmingly positive response that I received from my audience. As someone who predominantly streamed acoustic performances to Twitch, it wasn’t just my gameplay I was nervous to debut — it was also the 180-degree swing to gaming in general that I wasn’t sure would be met with such warm enthusiasm. But, perhaps because so many of my viewers are people I originally met in the chatboxes of other horror game streamers, it was.  

These days, my audience happily sits through my 4+ hour-long streams, which usually include both musical performances and a horror game. At the moment, I’ve expanded my wheelhouse from just Dead By Daylight to the absolutely terrifying Resident Evil series, having just finished RE7 and RE8 on the stream and currently playing my way through the Resident Evil 2 remake. Music and horror is a weird mix, but somehow, it just works — and goes to show just how much opportunity there is to make friends on the internet who share your interests, no matter how niche those interests may be.  

When I play horror games on my channel, I am met with some of the friendliest viewers I’ve ever interacted with on Twitch. I know I am extremely lucky in this. A peaceful, productive comment section is not always a common experience for women in gaming spaces, and I’ve certainly come across my fair share of trolls during my time on Twitch. However, safe, moderated spaces for women and gender-diverse people do exist on the platform, and there are many niches to explore — horror is where I found my niche, but the variety of interests on offer is remarkable.  

My journey has been a truly surprising yet delightful one — not to mention, spine-tinglingly spooky in the very best way. I love this new hobby, a sensible extension of my love of horror and an addictive challenge for a new part of my brain.

The best part about it, though, is the fact that I feel like I’m a part of something; a large community with the same niche interests as me, a whole new world of people I can hang out with, chat with and feel comfortable around. This community is wide open to anyone who wishes to join it, and there really are no prerequisites — apart from that inexplicable desire to have the living daylights scared out of you. 

You can follow Eilish Gilligan on Instagram. 

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