Move over, “Friends.” Turn off “The Office.” The new comforting media is streamers.
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Among the legions of young people who spend their days watching content creators on Twitch and YouTube, a new honorific is on the rise: the comfort creator.
The term is used by fans to describe the video makers and channels they seek out when they’re in need of familiar content, the kind that is soothing enough to leave on in the background while cooking, or to play while falling asleep.
“People have told me that I’m their comfort creator before, which is like the biggest compliment in the world. And they always kind of say, ‘Oh, I’ll come to your videos when I feel down,’” said Caitlin Galamaga, 24, who posts videos on YouTube and TikTok in which she listens to pop music and talks about her life for more than 160,000 subscribers.
Fans are looking for creators “who just really give off that cozy vibe,” she said. “There’s like cozy energy around them, and they make you feel comfortable.”
Ms. Galamaga recently posted a clip listing her own favorite “comfort content,” which included traditional standbys — TV shows like “The Office” and “The New Girl” — alongside popular streamers like JackSepticEye and Valkyrae, who often record themselves playing video games.
Not all YouTubers scratch the comfort creator itch, according to Ms. Galamaga. “Your favorite creators might be people whose content you really enjoyed, but your comfort creator would be more like your go-to when you’re feeling down,” she said. They’re “the people who pull you out of like that sad place and give you some inspiration, some hope and some joy.”
It’s a new twist on an age-old phenomenon: Relaxing has always been one of the primary reasons people read, watch TV or consume media of any kind.
The deprivations of the last 18 months have left people of all ages seeking mental salvation from their media diet. In a July 2020 New York magazine article titled “Welcome to Peak Comfort TV,” Kathryn VanArendonk described how pandemic-era audiences were turning away from brutal prestige dramas like “Breaking Bad,” and toward lighthearted fare like “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Floor Is Lava,” a goofy game show.
“With the terror of a global pandemic sending anxiety sky high and rendering TV one of the few safe entertainment outlets, the desire for comfort has become particularly noticeable,” she wrote.
This television dynamic also exists among young viewers; Gen Z’s obsession with “The Office” is well documented. But for many young people, TV doesn’t offer the same level of intimacy as digital content creators, many of whom pump out hours of content every day while interacting directly with their viewers on social media and in the comments section of their streams.
“To me, a ‘comfort creator’ is someone whose content brings people comfort, peace, relaxation or other feelings of happiness,” Alayna Saunders, 21, a student at James Madison University, wrote in an email. “By watching a video, you are able to take your mind off of whatever may be occupying it and change the emotional environment you are in.”
Ms. Saunders said that her favorite comfort creators are a YouTuber duo called the Game Grumps and another named Vinny Vinesauce, and that she’ll put on their old videos as “calming background noise” while doing other things. For her, the familiarity is the appeal. “I love Vinny and the Grumps partly because I know what to expect from them. I understand their humor and how they work,” she wrote.
Young fans describe their comfort creators as akin to emotional security blankets. Fin, a 16-year-old high school student from Georgia, wrote in a Twitter message that the videos made by popular Minecraft YouTubers including Quackity and Dream have offered a lifeline “when I’m not in the best place mentally.”
Hosannah, 16, a high school student in Florida, said that watching her comfort creator — a YouTuber called Jschlatt — helped her navigate through some dark times.
“He’s an amazing distraction and I became very thankful for that distraction after coming out of a very abusive relationship,” she wrote in an email. “I became almost attached to him when I had no one else to go to. He makes me feel safe and not have to think about some of the traumatic things I’ve gone through.”
There have been extensive discussions of the topic of mental health among many content creators. It follows, then, for young people to conceive of their relationships with these creators in mental health terms. “I see a lot of YouTubers being incredibly open about where they are mentally, the things that they’re going through,” Ms. Galamaga said. “And I think it makes everybody feel a little more comfortable talking about it.”
“Comfort shows, you know, you feel connected to characters, but they’re not real,” Ms. Galamaga said. “Whereas when you have content creators, they’re real people, and they tend to be a little more open about how they’re feeling and you feel connected to them on a personal level.”
Shelby Renae, 24, a content creator with 1.3 million subscribers on TikTok, wrote in an email that fans often call her their comfort creator. She believes livestreams offer an especially effective way for young viewers to form the kind of so-called parasocial relationships that so many viewers crave, leading to feelings of ease.
“Many livestreams are cozy and comforting, especially since it typically is for many hours and you get to see someone just chilling a lot of the time,” she wrote. She cited the rise of low-key streaming formats like “mukbangs or relaxing podcasts, which can again give that feeling of relaxing with a friend.”
Over the years she’s spent as a creator, Ms. Renae has leaned in to her fans’ desire for low-impact streaming. “I’ve learned that not every moment needs to be high action and hilarious to a true supporter, and that they will watch when you’re really just being you,” she wrote. “It can feel like the presence of a familiar friend without you having to put in the effort from your end.”