What’s It Like for Women Gamers?

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A study of video games streamed online more or less confirms what we all already knew: It’s not easy.

By Nathan Collins


(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s not without reason that it might seem like the video game industry is dominated by awkward, angry young men: In 2014, awkward, angry young men launched GamerGate, a misogynist attack on indie game developer Zoë Quinn, critic Anita Sarkeesian, and other women. But GamerGate is just one example, and one might wonder: Is it really so bad for the average woman gamer?

Yes, it really is, according to a new study of the live-streaming platform Twitch. To put it bluntly, you’re more likely to see talk of breasts and marriage requests when a woman is broadcasting, write Supun Nakandala and his colleagues at Indiana University.

For the uninitiated, Twitch allows users to broadcast live video feed as they play a game. On one of its nearly one million channels, viewers can watch live-feeding gamers—whom the researchers call streamers—as they play anything from online chess to League of Legends. Typically, viewers can see both the gameplay and the player, and can post comments. The question is, what do those comments look like?

To find out, Nakandala and his team first gathered more than 71 million messages posted in chats with 200 male and 200 female streamers. They then looked to see which words stood out as more typical on men’s versus women’s channels. On popular channels, the difference was stark: For women, objectifying words like “bitch,” “boobs,” “fat,” and “beautiful” were more common, while, for men, it was game-oriented words such as “points,” “battle,” and “winner.”

Among less-popular channels, those differences all but vanished, perhaps because they had stronger moderation, or were less focused on eSports competition and more on online interactions. Interestingly, the word “warning” showed up more often in less-popular female-hosted channels, suggesting the presence of more assertive moderators.

Viewers who posted on channels hosted by women were (unsurprisingly) more likely to use “boobs” than “points,” the latter of which was more common on men-hosted channels. A similar split showed up among viewers who watched both men and women streamers: On men’s channels, they talked about gameplay, but on women’s channels, they talked about breasts.

“[O]ur analysis on both streamers and viewers shows that the conversation on Twitch is strongly gendered,” the researchers write. “Yet, we cannot unequivocally say that Twitch is a conversational hotbed for gender stereotyping. In particular, the popularity of channels seems to change the nature of chat,” in part because those channels seemed more focused on socializing than on fierce eSports competition.