Business of Being a Female Gamer
The rise of streaming culture has transformed being a female gamer into a career option.
The relatively mild mannered “other” Ryan of 8-Bit Gaming posted an impassioned vlog entitled “This has to stop.” In the video, Ryan explains that he finally had enough of one woman’s presence on Twitch. Given Ryan’s usual focus on more positive aspects of gaming, “this has to stop” as a title definitely jumps out among his other videos. The woman in question apparently turned her channel into your average pay for play porn streaming site. Ryan’s problem with her was focused on the fact that the woman had potentially reached the eyes and ears of Twitch’s largely underage user base.
Gaining Viewership with Body Image
Underlying this was an additional criticism of some female Twitch streamers using their bodies (and presumably not their charismatic personalities and/or gaming abilities) to gain viewership and donations. Prior to the last 15 years of video games exploding into (almost) every day pop culture, making money playing video games was limited to those lucky enough to be either a developer or tester. Now, however, a passion for video games and a dedication to the community could land you among the Twitch and YouTube gaming elite – a group of people who are able to survive largely from game tournament prize money and fan donations.
As with most of the gaming industry, there’s more scrutiny when your gender happens to be two X-chromosomes. For some female gamers, their level of popularity on Twitch is not due to any pandering beyond that of the average male Twitch streamer. For example, it seems largely benign to do special speed runs of unpopular games, do funny voices, sing songs, or even display bad dance skills, based on requests by subscribers and viewers.
Moreover, talent and hard work at the actual gaming still seems to be rewarded handsomely. According toBusiness Insider, some of the highest paid professional female gamers can win thousands of dollars over the course of several tournaments. In fact, the highest paid female gamer according to their report in 2014 was Katherine ‘Mystik’ Gunn, who grabbed $122,000 in three separate tournaments. But YouTube and especially Twitch lend themselves in the ability to make more steady revenue. Daily Dot recently reported that Twitch streamer Destiny makes close to $100,000 a year when you add up his sponsors, ad revenue, personal website subscriptions, and Twitch subscriptions.
The highlight of the Daily Dot report however, is the large potential amount of money to be made from donations. And the business of donations for female streamers willing to show a little skin is as lucrative as it’s ever been. For example, Twitch and YouTube user Raihnbowkidz, who has recently come under fire by several users for fitting the stereotype of a “boobie streamer,” has received plenty in donations. According to her Twitch channel description, her highest donation ever was $2,500, and she has also received several thousands in combination from other lesser amounts.
If this doesn’t seem like a lot, consider that making $2,500 is not something the average minimum wage worker will make in one month, let alone two to six hours of streaming content. As critics like popular “League of Legends” streamer Sky Williams, and as Raihnbowkidz herself would suggest based on her recent “retirement” video, there is a hard line between authenticity and pandering. The hard line in question unfortunately seems to be drawn specifically around female sexuality on camera. Admittedly, this appears to range from wearing a low-cut shirt to the full-blown topless jiggling of the streamer that caused 8-Bit Gaming’s Ryan to feel a level of exasperation worthy of a video outside of his usual content.
The idea is that above all forms of pandering, there is nothing more detrimental or distracting from the so-called importance of gaming than using one’s body for money. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is particularly weighted against women because of the natural tendency for society to sexualize women’s bodies (whether there is intention to or not). In fact, considering the already pre-existing issue of overly sexualized female characters in video games, outrage over “boobie gamers” exploiting the Twitch medium for personal gain reveals an interesting paradox among the gaming community.
In other words, the expectation that women should not use their sexuality in a medium that has already virtually implied that women are worthy of praise for flaunting their bodies, is somewhat hypocritical and disingenuous. Additionally, this tendency to believe that Twitch (and the video game industry in general), is somehow set apart from the “sex sells” culture of most forms post-modern entertainment contributes to the stereotype of male gamers being antagonistically insular by nature. Then again, the sacred preference for gaming above all else is at least respectable to the extent that women who don’t actually enjoy gaming, and are capitalizing on Twitch’s access to a special audience. If there is evidence that these women are directly threatening the placement of streamers who better meet Twitch’s streaming criteria, then they should perhaps be forced to find a home on actual porn sites. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than simply banning streams that get dangerously close to Rated-R nudity.
What Makes a Gamer a Gamer?
What is the specific criteria to make a decision about whether a streamer actually enjoys gaming? Moreover, who gets to make that decision, and do they have the definitive authority to do so? There are many that believe that the alleged hard line between sex pandering and authentic enjoyment on the part of some female gamers, is probably as arbitrary as whether they’re wearing a V-neck or a scoop neck. They’re both ultimately t-shirts, and it is extremely subjective to suggest that one is more provocative than the other. Those people might also ask, why can’t a girl streamer wear whatever she wants while playing her game of choice?
The controversy surrounding some female Twitch and YouTube streamers wearing skimpy clothing is noticeably similar to the concept of respectability politics surrounding the issue of shooting unarmed Black people. The idea that a suit versus a hoodie could save a young Black male from a racist attitude feels almost as futile as expecting certain sexist male gamers to be okay with a female gamer dressed in either Kanye West’s latest clothing line or a bikini.
Additionally, if the interest is indeed focused on maintaining the “purity” of Twitch, and subsequently banning any content not related to talented gaming, then a large percentage of male gamers would be included in that ban. For example, that would eliminate a large community of animators streaming live-draws, gamers who are just starting to get into the community, and theoretically, popular "Super Mario Maker" streamer Trihex, who sometimes spends hours streaming his adventures in Adobe Photoshop. So then, why all the outrage against cleavage while playing a few hours of “League of Legends”? As Patricia Hernandez states on Kotaku, the fear that women are taking over Twitch “doesn’t have much basis in reality: back in 2015, only a handful of women cracked the top 100 streams on Twitch, and none of them relied entirely or even mostly on mammary glands to get there. Style and substance do matter on Twitch, at least when it comes to the big leagues.”
As such, in some ways the outrage against the choice few who are now making large amounts of money from donations and subscriptions with their “boobie streams” seems, at best, an attempt to–once again–keep the gaming community out of the mainstream. At worst, it implies that women cannot simultaneously be beautiful, aware of that beauty, and genuinely interested in gaming. Most importantly, this line of thinking highlights a more pervasive problem: the feeling that somehow “boobie streamers” are representative of every single female gamer on Twitch and YouTube. It’s potentially safe to say that gaining popularity on Twitch is hard for anyone, even the women who have the ability to use their beauty to do so. Ignoring the amount of work, effort, scrutiny, and comments that come with either trying to downplay or exploit one’s physical appearance to be present in the gaming community, is basically like trying to dismantle the entire concept of deserving to be paid for being entertaining to an audience.
Equal Rules for Gamers
If there’s a desire to place a standard of ethics for female gamers who want to be a part of the community, that standard of ethics should apply for everyone. And even if comes to pass, it won’t change the fact that the gaming community is still diverse and no one person will (nor should) ever have the ultimate authority on identity and inclusion. In short, complaints about the content of any one’s individual stream are ultimately only as useful as much as they have the ability to change Twitch (or YouTube’s) user agreements. Otherwise, viewers and gamers alike are probably better off exercising their most powerful tool of influence and simply not watching and not paying for the content they don’t like. But it’s also probably worth acknowledging that someone else will still donate $1000 for a nip-slip during a random dancing episode of some girl’s stream.