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Recent allegations of sexual misconduct have rocked the gaming world.
Several women who use the popular livestreaming platform Twitch told Insider that the allegations represented a larger problem of sexism in the gaming world that makes harassment exceedingly common.
Though women are continually challenging the male gamer stereotype, research has found that sexism persists in gaming.
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In June, dozens of women in gaming made waves with allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against popular streamers as part of a new wave of the #MeToo movement that’s stretched across industries, indicting actors, media professionals, influencers, and more.
Most of those accused of misconduct in gaming were personalities on Amazon’s Twitch, the largest game-streaming platform.
As more details came out on various platforms, Jessica Richey, who streams as JessyQuil, compiled and updated a massive spreadsheet with all the public allegations of sexual assault, harassment, grooming, and other forms of gender-based misconduct and discrimination in the video-game world.
The spreadsheet, titled “Survivor Stories of Harassment/Abuse/Assault within the gaming live-streaming industry,” was widely shared on social media and cited in The New York Times. More than 200 people were named in the document, and while it has allegations against a handful of women, most are against are men.
“I’m not casting judgment or asking anyone to witch hunt those who are named,” Richey told The Times. “I’m trying to give survivors of these issues a voice so they don’t feel alone or gaslit based on their experiences in this industry.” Richey did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Some streamers have faced consequences. SayNoToRage, whom multiple women have accused of harassment, was barred from the platform after he walked back an initial apology and claimed that women had “conspired against” him.
Despite the stampede of allegations and Twitch’s actions, many women streaming on Twitch said this “reckoning” was a long time coming. They described a community steeped in sexism where harassment is frequent.
Twitch can feel like a hostile environment for women who game
Twitch streamers who spoke with Insider described an embattled existence on a platform where women are openly derided and harassed. But that’s nothing new in the gaming world, they said.
Erin Marie Hall, a streamer who accused a Twitch partner on Twitter of abusive behavior, said she’d “never witnessed such disrespect” and “widespread vitriol for women” than she had in the streaming community.
“Misogyny is not just something that’s incidental to the gaming and streaming world,” said Hall, who goes by the handle YourStarling. “It’s inextricably linked.”
Hall said she felt trapped in a “Madonna-whore dichotomy” where men either make lewd comments on her streams or voice pleasant surprise that they actually like her content and not just her appearance.
Steph Loehr — a partnered Twitch streamer known as FerociouslySteph with 23,000 followers, as well as a member of Twitch’s eight-person Safety Advisory Council, a new group created to help the platform craft policies — said she was “not surprised at all” to hear stories of women alleging sexual misconduct at the hands of popular male streamers.
Loehr, who is trans, said she remembered being in all-male spaces before transitioning and witnessing the way men changed when a woman entered the game. “There’s this new power dynamic of trying to impress her or not knowing how to react to her,” she said.
Sarah Daniels Barrett, an actor and partnered Twitch streamer with more than 50,000 followers, said the sexist environment was so overwhelming that it drove her to drink.
“I drink at the top of every stream just to keep myself calm,” said Daniels Barrett, one of the women who accused SayNoToRage of harassment. The alcohol isn’t for performance anxiety, she said, but to help weather the “trolls who come in and say stuff like ‘go back to the kitchen.'”
Sarah Daniels Barrett
Natalie Casanova, a Twitch partner known as ZombiUnicorn who has more than 220,000 followers, told Insider that it was hard for women to come forward out of fear of retribution in the industry.
Casanova was one of two women who recently accused Tom Cassell, aka ProSyndicate, a streamer with 3 million Twitch followers, of sexual assault. Other women quickly responded to show support for them. (Cassell denied the allegations on Twitter. He did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.)
“It’s scary because you don’t want to have conflict,” Casanova said. “You don’t want to ruin potential other relationships with other brands or companies.”
Studies have found that harassment and sexism in gaming is real, even though the male gamer stereotype is outdated
Sexism in the gaming world is a well-studied phenomenon that can help explain the rampant harassment alleged in June.
A 2017 study by researchers from the Pervasive Technology Institute at Indiana University found that “gendered conversation and objectification is prevalent” in online gaming communities. The researchers also found that while men received more comments related to their gaming, women received “significantly more objectifying” comments.
Amanda Cote, an assistant professor of media and game studies at the University of Oregon, said she believes that some of this is a result of outdated gender norms.
“Gaming in particular has been marked as a masculinized space by a lot of different forces, ranging from their development in military computing spaces to the early connections of arcade games and arcade culture with pool-hall or bar culture,” she said. “These associations have been reaffirmed by things like advertising campaigns, story and genre choices, and character design that position the idealized player as male.”
That stereotype has become less accurate in recent years. A 2019 report by the Entertainment Software Association, a video-game-company lobbying group, found that nearly half (46%) of American gamers were women and that gamers’ average age was 33. As of 2019, 35% of Twitch users were women, the data company Statista found.
As more people have entered gaming, a toxic cycle of harassment has taken hold. The conflict between the demographic reality of gaming and the popular perception of it has created a perverse cycle of harassment, Cote said, adding that there’s often a “really strong backlash” against people who don’t fit the male gamer stereotype.
Sexual harassment is often “motivated by the desire to devalue women or punish those who violate gender norms,” said a 2018 publication from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine titled “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.”
Gamergate, the widespread harassment campaign in 2014 in which female streamers and critics of the industry received death and rape threats, and the recent allegations of harassment and assault are prominent examples of that.
Loehr said the dynamic this behavior creates puts an immense amount of pressure on gamers. “When you’re a minority or a woman trying to compete and get on a team in esports, you have this pressure on you — you have to be above and beyond; you have to be better, provably better, than your male competition,” she said.
While the issue can’t be fixed overnight, streaming platforms can take steps to mitigate sexism
Twitch CEO Emmett Shear acknowledged that sexism in gaming has been a persistent issue. “This reckoning and industry-wide actions are overdue,” he wrote in June, “and this is another issue that we, and the industry, need to address to create lasting and positive change.”
A Twitch representative told Insider in an email that “the safety of our community is our top priority,” adding that the company heavily invests in its trust and safety initiatives.
“Twitch is not a free speech platform,” the representative said. “We have community guidelines that set boundaries about what’s acceptable on Twitch, and that includes rules banning hateful content, language, and behaviors that put our community at risk.”
The company also said in a statement on June 24 that it was “reviewing each case that has come to light as quickly as possible, while ensuring appropriate due diligence as we assess these serious allegations.” It said it would permanently suspend any users found to have perpetrated misconduct.
Casanova said that as Twitch investigates these allegations of misconduct, it should not give more “leeway” to streamers who are partnered with the platform.
Beyond barring problematic figures from the platform, Twitch will need to help foster an entirely new culture, Cote said. Streaming platforms should provide tools for players to protect themselves, she said, including mechanisms for streaming with certain groups and stricter chat-room controls. She also highlighted the importance of platforms taking reports of sexual harassment and assault seriously.
Brona Nic Giolla Easpaig, a research fellow at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation who wrote a 2018 paper on sexism in gaming published in the journal Community Psychology in Global Perspective, suggested that to mitigate sexism in online gaming communities, there needs to be further examination of how it intersects with other forms of targeted harassment concerning race, age, sexuality, and other variables.
This wave of allegations might contribute to that cultural examination, Casanova said. “I truly believe that some of these people do not realize that what they have done in the past is wrong,” she said of men accused of misconduct. “Maybe they can take a step in the future to stop themselves from perhaps crossing a line.”
As the platform grapples with this issue, women who stream on Twitch say that despite the sexism they face, it’s worthwhile because of the community they’ve made there. Daniels Barrett said that’s why she still loved the platform, even though it requires a “thick skin.”
“The good outweighs the bad,” she said. “It’s just that when the bad happens, it’s hard to focus on the positives — the amazing things, the amazing community that we’ve gotten to build over the many years I’ve been doing this.”
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