Since Twitch has grown exponentially in the past few years, so has its female audience. Some of the most popular streamers on the platform are women, and overall, there is an overwhelmingly positive benefit to having a diverse set of male and female streamers.
Given that Twitch is predominantly based around games however, it would be ignorant to say that the culture has been smooth sailing when it comes to the influx of women. Gaming in general has a notoriously toxic side to it, which a lot of people would say is just inherent to the competitive nature it often brings out in people. For women however, the hate that they receive has a very different sort of intent behind it, one that is often malicious, and this puts a lot of girls off wanting to stream or play games in general.
This was originally the case for streamer Abi (Missgail95), who initially tried her hand at streaming back in 2016 but stopped partially due to the level of hate and toxicity it invoked. These days she is back on Twitch as a part time variety streamer, playing League of Legends and other games, so I had a discussion with her to gain some insight on what her experience has been like as a growing female creator on the platform.
Her first experience with Twitch was not a pleasant one. She streamed for about a week and in her own words, “it was horrid”, saying that it starts off terrible for most female streamers in this regard. The reception she got from people on the platform at first made her lose that spark, which was probably one of the most frustrating things to hear because it’s a direct example of how the culture, especially back then, was putting girls off from joining the community.
It’s clear that she is not the only female streamer that has been met with this kind of hate and it is a side of gaming that still requires a lot of attention. A 2019 investigation conducted by the US Anti-Defamation League, found that 38% of the female players polled in their study encountered harassment due to their gender. Similar levels of hate and harassment are also experienced by members of the LGBTQ community, which is unfortunately not surprising.
Anyone that has played any form of online competitive game knows what voice chat can be like. A lot of people have the attitude of ‘that’s just the internet’, with the sentiment being that there will always be a small but very vocal minority online that you simply cannot do anything about. But to avoid future instances like this, where someone potentially stops streaming games altogether, there needs to be a more active way of dealing with things. Some welcome this kind of culture, and on face value the idea of a space where people can say whatever they want seems very inviting to a lot of people in the community. The ‘all bets are off’ dynamic when it comes to communicating online is what drew a lot of people towards games in the first place, but we’re at a point in society now where we need to be a bit more aware of who might be on the other side of that computer.
Luckily in Abi’s case, she was able to eventually build up a community where she now feels safe. Originally, she didn’t have that support system, but Twitch has now given her a place that she can be completely herself.
A massive part of what has helped her build such a safe, positive community, is in part moderation. It seems that there will always be those that are just there looking to spread hate and ruin things for other people, but the great thing about Twitch chat, is that you can directly control the type of community you have through moderation. Mods can be a brilliant buffer between the streamer and the inevitable onslaught of toxic viewers that are an innate part of the chat. By working with mods in her community, she can directly communicate to the stream what is okay and not okay. A lot of the time they’ll react so quickly to something that’s been said in chat, that she won’t even see it, which steers the attention away from negativity and keeps it focused on the stream instead.
With that said, a big part of her stream is taking things on the chin and making a joke out of it. She wants to represent someone who won’t let this kind of stuff get to them, and I think that it is good to have streamers like herself showing that sometimes these sorts of comments aren’t even worth the time of day.
In this regard, we talked a little bit about what sort of mindset the people making these comments have. She had a very mature way of looking at things, saying that you cannot assume who is on the other end of that message. It could be someone that’s had a bad day and is lashing out or even more likely these days with the younger demographic, it could just be a child that simply doesn’t know any better. The main thing that gets to her, is when people that assume that she is bad at games simply because she’s a girl. In the same way that she wouldn’t assume what the person on the other end of that username is like, she wants others to stop assuming that she is bad at games simply because she is a girl. She wants people to see that she is bad at League of Legends simply because she is just bad, not because of some outdated idea of her gender being inherently less capable.
Even with a level head, it often doesn’t make these comments any easier to take, especially if you’re a full time streamer. When asked if she would ever do full time streaming, she said “absolutely not”. It seems that a big part of what has made Twitch such a positive thing for Abi is that there is no reliance on it. Rather than it being a sole source of income, the part time nature has made it easier for her to retain the enjoyment that comes from it. If she was a full time streamer, I would imagine that any hate and harassment would be a lot harder to deal with, because there would be no escaping it. In her case it’s at a level where she is able to deal with it and not have it affect her daily life, which just goes to show that a healthy separation from the online world is a massively important thing when streaming and perhaps even more so for female creators.
Overall, it seems that Twitch has helped Abi massively, with her noting that she can take the positivity and confidence that it gives her and transpose it over to other parts of her life (you can catch her performing at a production of Little Shop of Horrors later this year). It is also clear however, that if things had gone a bit differently, she might not have ever returned to streaming at all. The culture towards women is definitely improving within gaming, but there is still a deep seeded sub-culture of hate that needs addressing. My advice to the average person, is to simply call it out when you see it. Women in gaming and on Twitch just want to be treated like everyone else (shocker I know), so when you see someone being a bit of a tool, don’t just stand by and let it happen. People might call you a white knight, but trust me, it’s better that, than letting it go unchecked.
Pearce is a recent masters graduate with a passion for games. He thinks they can be seen as a form of art, conveying stories and narratives that can have an immense impact on players. Outside of game design, he has an interest in Twitch, music and animals.