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A woman on stream: the world of female gamers on Twitch

Maya Shwayder
September 22, 2015

The world of Twitch and streaming video games is predominently populated by men. Women, while not unwelcome, are still a rarity, with rarified experiences in the boys' club that is video gaming.

Deutschland Gamescom 2015 in Köln Besuchertag Privatbesucher
Image: Reuters/K. Pfaffenbach

As with most storms of outrage on the Internet, this storm started with an opinion. A guy expressed the idea that he didn't like the way people were acting on a particular website, posted a YouTube video explaining his thinking, and suddenly was facing down a storm of criticism.

But in this instance, the people in question were women, and the website at hand was the world's most popular video game streaming website, Twitch.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the people who think they're gamers or nerds felt like they never really belonged somewhere, so once they find a place where they belong, they feel protective of it," said Renee Reynosa, a popular American video game streamer on Twitch. "They don't want these outsiders coming into their space."

"Girls are not seen as equal in the gaming scene," said Julia Kreuzer, a popular Austrian streamer, who broadcasts under the name Miss_Rage.

The video gaming world has always been a boys' club. While women have found their way into the space over the years, games, consoles, merchandise, and the entire experience of a video game is still overwhelmingly marketed at men today.

So when women started showing up on Twitch, and using Twitch to sometimes broadcast themselves doing activities that weren't streaming video games, many Twitch users became upset.

The Video

Attention: This video may contain language offensive to some viewers.

In March 2015, a Youtuber and Twitch streamer named Sky Williams uploaded a video titled "Dear Female Streamers."

In it, Williams addressed what he thought was a growing problem on Twitch - women who stream games while wearing revealing clothing or acting provocatively. These women, Williams asserted, "ruin it" for the female streamers who just want to play the game by creating unrealistic expectations for all women on Twitch.

Women are already somewhat of a rarity in the video game world, including on Twitch. Only eight out of the top 100 most-followed broadcasters on Twitch are female, and they are rather far down the list of the top 100. The top Twitch female streamer, OMGitsfirefoxx, has a little over 640,000 followers. The top male streamer, Syndicate, has 2.3 million.

Williams' video didn't so much strike a nerve with the Twitch community, as electrocute the nerve, with some users agreeing that these women were acting inappropriately, and others, like Reynosa, defending those women and saying it was their choice to stream the way they wanted.

"Before the Sky Williams video, I think a lot of people shared the same opinion as Sky. If you're a girl, you shouldn't be using your body for viewers, and all that nonsense," Reynosa told DW. Several other prominent streamers, male and female, agreed, posting reaction videos and engaging in taped debates on YouTube over the issue.

Several other prominent streamers confronted Williams about his video shortly after he posted it.

Kreuzer, for her part, agreed with much of what Williams said. "There are a lot of people who really play their girl card really, really hard," she said. "They're doing squats for subscribers, or they're dancing when they get a subscriber. I would distance myself from these people. Because I think it's not the right way to do it."

Kreuzer added that she doesn't want to judge anyone who does indulge in what Reynosa called "shortcuts" to get subscribers. "Everyone is their own person, and everyone decides themselves how they want to be seen in the media," Kreuyer said.

But she views herself as an example of streamer who can grow slowly and become successful without resorting to gimmicks. "You can get big on Twitch without showing cleavage, or dancing," Kreuzer said.

Since Williams released the original video, he has changed his opinion and posted a follow up, and many others have changed their minds with him, Reynosa said. But that doesn't mean it the controversy over female streamers and how they dress and act is over.

The Debate

The Williams video spawned several more long YouTube-based and Twitch discussions about what exactly, constitutes "appropriate" behavior for women on Twtich.

An example of a stream channel that streamers on Twitch saw as a problem.

"People will still say, 'Oh well she's only famous because she shows her skin" and, 'She's showing her boobs! She's going to become the top streaming because she's showing her boobs!'" Reynosa said. "And that's not how it works. That's never how it's worked."

Kristen Pickle, an American streamer who broadcasts under the name KittyPlaysGames and is one of the most followed female streamers on Twitch, said that she didn't follow the drama of the Williams video, but understood that for some streamers, acting and dressing provocatively was an fast way to draw attention and money.

"For a lot of streamers, it is an easy way to get a large audience and a lot of attention. That is a huge market for a lot of streamers on Twitch," Pickle told DW. As long as streamers are following Twitch's conduct rules, "it does not bother me how they run their stream or hope to gain their audience," she said. "I want to run my stream by gaining people's respect and not just being a one hit wonder on the website."

Several popular female streamers, including Reynosa, gathered to discuss Williams' assertions soon after the controversy started.

Yes, dressing provocatively and looking like a Barbie can draw in some viewers, for a little while, Reynosa said. "If I wanted to, I know exactly how I could get ten times more viewers in my channel than what I get now. But I know that that is not sustainable at all," she said. "If a girl is showing cleavage and she's not saying anything, maybe a couple thousand people will tune in there to see her boobs, and then they'll leave. If she happens to also be funny and entertaining, then they'll stick around."

Since the Williams video, Reynosa said she's seen the community change a lot, and the latent chauvinsm that seems to be a constant rumble in the background of the gaming community at large is now actively being fought.

Kreuzer, however, said she hasn't seen much change:

"I don't think you can really do anything against it. There will always be people who want to make you feel really bad, or sad. It's just in human nature."