Sexism has long been a hot topic in the gaming community, from critiques of female representation in mainstream games to stories of prominent designers and streamers harassed off their twitter accounts.
Now, researchers at Indiana University have released one of the first large scale studies into sexism and gendered language on #Twitch, the social platform that brought us Twitch Plays #Pokemon and Overwatch played with a nerf bow.
Twitch, Gaming & Sexism
The study looked at 400 streams, 200 female, 200 male, closely matching them across gender lines by popularity. They then studied the 71 million or so comments posted by over 40,000 users to determine the most frequently used words in user's channels.
Unsurprisingly, the results showed that women on Twitch were far more likely to be the targets of objectifying language and words that focused on their appearance and bodies ('boobs', 'hot' and 'pussy' were some of the most common). Male run streams on the other hand contained almost entirely gaming related words—and an oddly high use of the word 'epoch'?
This info is unsurprising to many, but a few interesting pieces of data did crop up. Some of the notable highlights were:
- More popular female streamers not only received far greater levels of objectifying language than less popular streams, but the format of the conversation was also different.
- Less high profile streamers tended to use language directly addressing individual viewers, and their viewers often addressed each other.
- Conversely, viewers on high profile streams by women almost exclusively directed comments toward the streamer, ignoring each other.
- Despite this, viewers of high profile streams were almost never individually addressed in return.
There's a few possible explanations, one is that lower profile female streamers are using the Twitch moderation tools more frequently and stringently, and are using the Twitch service more as a means of creating and sharing with a community. Another is that running a popular channel as a woman means you pretty much have to put up with objectification, the same way that 'sex appeal' is a requirement for young female celebrities.
The last explanation is, of course, that when you're posting in a popular chat with thousands of other anonymous internet voices, being a creep becomes a lot easier to get away with.
"I'm always looking to do things faster and make the change happen as soon as possible. So I would never say, 'We're doing as much as we can and it's happening quick enough,' because we always want to do more, we always want to do better." Anna Prosser Robinson, Twitch Program Director.
It's always nice to have cold, hard numbers on your side when talking about gender in gaming. We can only hope that studies such as this one spur more conversation and focus on sexism and harassment in the gaming world, as well as hopefully pushing platforms such as Twitch to continue to improve their harassment policies and moderation tools.