Despite all the awesome women that I see and watch every day, there is no mention of women on Twitch’s audience page. Twitch points out the fact that the stereotype of the basement dwelling, loser gamer is provably false while it perpetrates the myth that streamers are just men. Even though they’ve made great strides in giving streamers greater control over what is acceptable in their individual communities, they address their users as if the default is male. Twitch has given women the ability to block people who send them death and rape threats, yet they model their infrastructure off of Chaturbate, one of the most popular pornography websites out there.
Misogyny in the gaming community is ever present on Twitch in chat and even in the streams themselves. You can see it every time someone complains about “tit streamers” while supporting an industry that implicitly objectifies women. It’s there when someone judges the content of a channel based on less exposed skin than some of the most popular female characters without even clicking the link. There’s a double standard at work here that makes women’s bodies inappropriate while playing oversexualized characters designed to be enjoyed by men.
Women on Twitch face harassment and threats of violence from users every day. People tell us they’re going to find us and kill us and that’s terrifying when we live in an age of doxxing and hacking. Women have to be even more careful because we face even more risks. Anytime a woman posts a promotional selfie advertising her stream she faces harassment and makes herself vulnerable to attacks and threats.
The content of her stream doesn’t matter and neither do her stats. I’ve watched men call women with stats higher than theirs whores, talentless THOTs, and prostitutes; as if they somehow managed to personally steal follows and subs from their channel. This isn’t an occasional occurrence. This is every day. Some women have even had to quit streaming completely because of the harassment is so severe. How did we let this happen?
Let’s start with how this all started in the first place: targeted marketing. Video games were originally created for adults and arcade machines began their lives in bars festooned with ads from beer and cigarette companies. This success lead to the creation of home systems that were advertised as activities for boys AND girls that mom and dad could enjoy too. The adult themes were removed from the bar games and they were ported to the home systems. They became incredibly popular. Everyone had one, as they say. The new message was clear: happy families played video games together.
Back in 1983 the video game industry crashed and burned in the fires of it’s own poorly regulated excess (You remember that, right Gabe?!) and was forced to remake itself or break itself. A market flooded with games no one wanted to play, as well as games that were just plain broken crashed gaming just as quickly as Atari and Famicom built it. *cough cough Steam cough*
Marketing is a fascinating, terrifying beast and I recommend everyone ask Google how marketing works at least once. You’ll be amazed to find how marketing and advertising drive our financial decisions more than we realize. This beast is what gave rise to what I call the Gentleman’s Club of Twitch as well as the male saturation of gaming. Marketing has to target a specific demographic to be effective. You can’t market a thing to everyone and be successful because no one wants something made for everyone; they want something that’s made for them.
That’s why the brand new marketing team for the toy company Nintendo decided their products were made for boys. Women and girls have always played video games but men and boys were to be the chosen demographic. Nintendo’s advertising was effective and their targeted marketing meant their content had to target their chosen demographic.
The cycle was thus created and the numbers were in: Video games were for boys. Other developers caught on and emulated Nintendo’s marketing strategy. They would make their games for boys too. And since video games were marketed as toys, their home would be in the boy’s aisle. Girls would still play video games but they would do so almost in secrecy, not realizing for a very long time that they weren’t alone, and they would be games that sexualized and objectified them as characters.
Video game advertising and the games it reflected would create a new culture that no longer focused on family, but on masculinity, aggression, and sex.
Women’s place in video games were as prizes, and hypersexualized marketing props.
The addition of internet forums and chats took all of these ingredients and magnified them through their echo chambers. Behavior that would never be tolerable in face to face exchanges became not only common or accepted, but greetings and litmus tests for admission to these Gentlemen’s Clubs where men were everything those ads said they could be. Objectifying and sexualizing women was how to be according to the games, the ads for the games, and the new culture.
While we are beginning to see more awareness and backlash against all of this toxicity, the work is only just beginning. A particularly dedicated attacker can drive women off of the platform completely. An even more dedicated attacker can steal their identity and find out where they live. Twitch as well as game developers are taking this harassment seriously and are beginning to take steps to dissuade it. They can’t do it alone however. The problem runs far beneath the surface.
Female streamers, especially those who promote themselves as a brand have the deck stacked against them. How do you fight against sexism on a platform built to emulate a pornography service? How do you fight your own objectification in an industry that was rebuilt with it and continues to accept it?
We have to pull together as women, as gamers, as a community to make it known that this harassment will not be tolerated. We have to call out this misogyny when we see it and defend each other when we are attacked. The gaming community has to realize that it’s filled with women who have always been there and we won’t tolerate being attacked, stalked, and threatened anymore. We’re gamers and streamers too and we’re not going anywhere!
If you don’t believe me look at the incredibly successful women not only on Twitch, but in Esports and the gaming world at large and they’re doing it their way, without permission from the Gentlemen’s Club of Twitch. Women like Zombie_Girlie, CannibalQueen, Eyevoree, and Irisvane are making their own success, proving that the women of Twitch are a force to be reckoned with.