Kirsty Mawhinney first discovered video games aged five. Now, she is earning $37,500 a year by streaming herself playing them for six hours a day.
Mawhinney joined the online video platform Twitch in June 2016, and now takes 50 per cent of the $6 it charges up to 900 subscribers wanting a month of uninterrupted access to her channel.
On top, Mawhinney earns money from advertising revenue brought in from non-subscribers who also view her video feed.
Kirsty as a child (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I never went into this as a way to make money," Mawhinney said.
“But I soon realized that I could at least be self-sufficient from Twitch, earning enough to pay the mortgage and put food on the table."
In 2007, she moved to Dublin for a job as a game development support assistant, after falling into professional gaming by chance.
Kirsty's streaming setup (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I was looking up a game that I was considering buying, called Warhammer Age of Reckoning, and I saw that there was a job going," she explained.
“I thought, 'That could be cool' and applied. I never thought it'd actually lead anywhere and the next thing I knew I was being offered a job two-and-a-half hours away."
She worked for three different software developers over the next eight years.
She then returned to Bangor, and her streaming career started as another “happy accident." All because the local gaming cafe where she used to hang out had closed.
“When I was growing up there was a brilliant gaming cafe where everybody would play video games," she said.
“People would talk about what they were playing, as well as other things, and it was a great place to strike up friendships."
Mum Pamela, sister Rachel and Kirsty at a gaming cafe (PA Real Life/Collect)
“When I moved back, the cafe had closed and I decided the next best thing was going to be doing a similar thing online," she continued.
Then, she discovered Twitch. She soon realized that the hobby she loved could also turn a profit. Earning enough in the first few months to contribute to the mortgage.
With an average of 75 viewers for each of her streaming sessions by June 2016, Mawhinney was made a verified user on Twitch, increasing her status on the platform.
“It's basically the same as being a blue-tick user on Twitter," she said. “Twitch are endorsing you as a user and other viewers can see that by the purple tick that appears next to your name."
Now, she is streaming for six hours a day, from 12pm to 6pm, five days a week. Mawhinney is known by her alias "Psyche" with a follower count of over 10,000 and monthly subscriptions ranging from 300 to 900.
“People like watching other users play video games, as new gamers can ask questions and get guidance on the game being played," she said.
“People are normally struggling with a certain level or challenge and I can show them how to overcome it. Then they'll go off, give it a try and come back with other questions."
Kirsty's online alias is Psyche (PA Real Life/Collect)
Mawhinney believes it is the sense of community that is the driving force behind her success on the platform.
“Some people see their followers as fans," she said. “But that's not how I see it – they're my friends."
“There are people who will watch me six hours a day, every day, non-stop. We talk about games, but we also talk about current issues, friends and family."
Kirsty with a friend at Gamescon 2018 (PA Real Life/Collect)
“You really grow close to the people and care about them. I had one girl who disappeared from my room for a month and I was so worried, especially with everything that's been going on these past few months," she continued.
“She popped back up the other day and I was so relieved."
However, despite the strong sense of community, Twitch is not free from trolls.
“I'm fairly lucky compared to some people, as I don't get too many negative comments, but people will join the group and call me fat and ugly, or comment on my weight," she said.
“Unfortunately, I think it comes with the turf – being a female gamer. I've been unlucky enough to have two unsolicited photos of men's parts sent to my direct messages, but compared to some people that's not that bad at all!"
Kirsty's cat, Crash(PA Real Life/Collect)
“Luckily, the majority of people are not like that," she continued.
Mawhinney is also keen to use her platform to shine a light on issues she cares deeply about and raised an impressive $2,000 in one day for the charity "Cats Protection".
“I love my cat, Crash, he gives me some routine, which is so important when you work from home all day. You need motivation," she said.
“When I lost my other kitty, Zero, last year, Cats Protection were a huge help, as they offer an online service for grieving owners," she continued.
“It's such a lovely service. People can feel so alone when they lose an animal and like they can't talk about it in case no one understands."
Taking part in the charity's Pawsome Players Meowathon Challenge, Mawhinney played cat-themed games for six hours straight and giving her followers a link to the charity's online fundraiser.
More than tripling her target of $625, Kirsty now hopes to fundraise for causes close to her heart on a monthly basis.
“A lot of people who stream have their sights set on becoming a gaming developer," she said.
“But I've done it backwards – I've been there and done that. All I want is for my gaming to carry on being viable and to use my platform to raise awareness."
“I'm in a lucky position where I can say, 'Hey, here's an issue I care about,' to 10,000 people," she said.
“I want to use that to make the world a little bit better."
To find out more about Cat Protection's gaming fundraisers, click here.