Last week, streamer Trainwreck got handed a five-day suspension by Twitch after a video went viral featuring an incendiary rant against women streamers, in which he called them things like "god damn sluts" and accused them of stealing views from those who he viewed as more deserving streamers.
This poured gasoline on a fire that's been slowly growing ever since Twitch's non-gaming "IRL" section launched last year.
"This used to be a god damn community of gamers, nerds, kids that got bullied, kids that got fucked with, kids that resorted to the gaming world because the real world was too fucking hard, too shitty, too lonely, too sad and depressing," Trainwreck said in a voice that landed somewhere between a seethe and a roar.
As he saw it, IRL streaming made Twitch the domain of "the same sluts that rejected us, the same sluts that chose the god damn cool kids over us. The same sluts that are coming into our community, taking the money, taking the subs, the same way they did back in the day."
Twitch's enforcement of its rules is opaque. The company unilaterally refuses to comment on suspensions and bans, frequently leaving people in the dark as to why streamers get tossed in the digital slammer and, especially, the factors that contributed to the exact duration of their sentence.
This lack of information leaves room for all sorts of wild speculation, as exemplified by an incident that happened in the immediate aftermath of Trainwreck's suspension. As Polygon reports, a streamer named Nyakkj was recently caught masturbating on stream and received a brief 24-hour suspension. People were quick to compare this to Trainwreck's lengthier suspension.
"It doesn't make sense to me that you can ban somebody for a week for pointing out that Twitch allows girls to live out their cam girl fantasies," said a YouTuber named Mannix in a video on the subject, "but the women actually acting out their cam girl fantasies don't get banned, and if they do, it's only for one day."
Twitch tends to suspend streamers longer if they have previously received suspensions. Trainwreck got suspended more than a year ago for, he claims, "rating" women on his stream, which might explain his five days this time.
Or maybe not. Given Twitch's policy on talking about these things, it's impossible to be sure.
Trainwreck, though, is hardly the first streamer to express this sentiment. If you spend time in communities of popular streamers like Ice Poseidon or in larger Twitch-oriented communities like /r/LivestreamFail, you're bound to hear people echo similar ideas: women are using sex appeal to get views and subs in ways that they (if not Twitch) deem to be in violation of the service's rules, which prohibit "nudity and conduct involving overtly sexual behaviour" as well as "any content or activity involving pornography, sexual intercourse, or adult services."
The recent Trainwreck trainwreck has turned the spotlight back on tensions within the Twitch ecosystem that have been simmering on the edge of a boil for years. In 2015, for example, streamer Sky Williams kicked a hornet's nest when he argued that women who stream while wearing revealing clothing and hinge part of their drawing power on sex appeal are trading credibility for clicks and, in the process, hurting themselves and all women streamers.
Women are free to dress as they like, they pointed out, and are free to do whatever they want to get views as long as it's within Twitch's terms of service, just as men are free to yell a lot, marathon stream, dress up in costumes, or rely on any number of gimmicks for their streams.
This time around, in Chaos Year 2017, there's one key difference: Twitch now has a section called "IRL," which is dedicated to non-gaming-related pursuits. Some people use it to hang with their chat in between games, others use it for fitness content, and others use it to stream their whole day from their phone. What this means is that people are now free to stream on Twitch even if they're not playing video games at all.
This brings things back around to Trainwreck's rant, in which he put a new, hyper-aggressive spin on an ages-old idea: that spaces created for gamers are being co-opted by women who don't care about games.
The vulgarity, intensity, and rage underlying Trainwreck's video helped it go viral, but his stark declaration that women who rejected gamers and gamer culture are now taking their viewership and colonising their space is what made it resonate with the Angry Gamers of the world.
Image credit: Twitch.
Some say their anger is aimed at Twitch for expanding beyond games. "The fact that Twitch turns a cold shoulder to these girls making money off of showing their tits and arse is just a big pissoff," reads a response to a thread about Trainwreck's video on Ice Poseidon's subreddit. "I remember when their credo used to be 'Let's keep it about the games.'"
Competitive game streamer and Twitch Partner program member AbusivePillow argued that it's "not girl gamers" he has a problem with. "Twitch cam whores," he tweeted. "I am very good friends with many girl streamers and girl gamers. Please get it right."
"I am with him," said an Affiliate (one step down from Partner) streamer, NickTheCanadian, in response to Trainwreck's video. "Sorry women who support this kind of behaviour, but you need to put some damn clothes on when you put yourself in front of a camera and dance and act slutty while children watch."
A number of major streamers have been pushing back against these ideas. Longtimers like Jesse Cox and Ninja took aim at the idea that conventionally attractive women are somehow "stealing" viewers from dudes who stream games.
A little message about how I feel in regards to all the “booby streamer” stuff escalating and info to the men streamers who think it hurts them. pic.twitter.com/dOkk7gFCNK
— Ninja (@Ninja_TB) November 9, 2017
"If they're in a streamer's stream because she's gorgeous," said Ninja in the above video, "they're there for that reason. So if she's not there, they're not gonna come to fuckin' Joe Schmo, who sucks at a game or something. They're not gonna come to your stream."
Damned if you do, damned if you don't
But it was variety streamer LolRenaynay who got to the sobering heart of the matter.
"If all the titty streamers were gone tomorrow, does anyone really think shitty people would stop degrading and insulting women?" she wrote on Twitter.
"Truth is, they'd just find another hoop for us to jump through."
The trouble with attempting to draw a line between "good" and "bad" women streamers is that, again and again, you see this pattern: Any woman streaming on Twitch will eventually be accused of selling sex even if she's dressed like an Amish farmhand.
"No matter what I fucking wear, there's always a comment," said streamer and voice actress ZombiUnicorn on Twitter. "There's always someone calling me a titty streamer, fake gamer, or a whore."
Speaking with Kotaku, ZombiUnicorn elaborated on that point, saying that she got barraged with bullshit on Twitch long before "titty streamer" entered the broader Twitch lexicon. "I've been on Twitch for five years," she said over the phone, "and I've gotten this kind of stuff said to me directly in my chat since the very beginning."
She explained that she used to wear big T-shirts and hoodies because she felt ashamed, but it never made a difference. People just kept commenting on her body. ""What am I supposed to do?" she asked. "Take my boobs off my body before I stream? Sorry, but I didn't get that upgrade."
Eventually, she "grew thicker skin" and, as a proactive step, decided to start calling people out on stream for sexist comments before muting or banning them, to set an example and make sure people knew she wasn't tacitly accepting what they said.
triggered by women having boobs on twitch?
get over it pic.twitter.com/Qi0Ma3WhLF
— ???? Nati Casanova aka ZombiUnicorn aka literaltrash (@TheZombiUnicorn) September 12, 2017
ZombiUnicorn added that while IRL has allowed new types of streamers to thrive on Twitch, it hasn't had a negative impact on her stream. "As a woman who doesn't do that, it doesn't affect me," she said. "I used to be on the wrong side of this, but I've come to realise it doesn't affect me at all."
"I don't have to support that content. I don't have to watch it. If they cross the line, they will get reported... If 'titty streamers' disappeared tomorrow, it's not like it would affect anybody else's channel. It's just gatekeeping, is all it is."
Less prominent streamers have to deal with sexist comments, too. "I streamed this weekend for the first time in months," wrote Skylatron, who works with influencers but does not directly support herself through streaming. "Was doing computer repair and raising $ for Extra Life. Some rando told me to go back to Chatterbate. I was fully covered."
For some streamers, then, the matter at hand is the culture being cultivated in and around Twitch. Trainwreck is a partnered streamer, a streamer who is theoretically supposed to represent Twitch's priorities and values as an organisation.
Allowing views like his to propagate through Twitch, some have argued, is a much bigger issue than whether or not somebody's top is covering exactly the right amount of skin.
"I've seen some pretty toxic behaviour from some partners," wrote streamer MartianKat. "If they're ok with their company being represented in such a manner, maybe I need to rethink my association."
"This type of overtly aggressive and markedly hostile behaviour toward all women on Twitch is not acceptable," streamer Coco_The_Louder said on Twitter. "We need that #TwitchUnity talk to be backed up with action."
It's an environment that's got some women feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of streaming. Popular streamer AnneMunition understands where they're coming from, and she's got advice:
hi if you are a female streamer and you are feeling apprehensive about the climate of Twitch (which is a legitimate feeling, I get you) may I offer the three-step plan I'm using to counter that feeling -
1: fuck 'em
2: fuck 'em all
3: get paid https://t.co/ETSczUlFyL
— Anne Munition (@AnneMunition) November 14, 2017
After his suspension, Trainwreck issued an "apology" that began with more of a clarification: "In no way was this content meant to demean, bash, or hate on the entirety of the female community," he wrote, leaving open the possibility that he only meant to demean and bash some women.
"With all of this being said, I want to reiterate that none of this justifies, or excuses my behaviour and actions," he went on. "I take full responsibility, and I want to apologise to Twitch, Twitch Staff, and most of all to those that I have offended including the entire community."
Responding via Twitter DM to Kotaku, Trainwreck said that the video was "addressing the .1% that sexually exploit themselves for views & money on this gaming platform" and who he thinks "hide behind the defence or veil of sexism or being treated unfairly." He also said that the presentation of it all was meant to be "a sort of satire," but he acknowledged that his choice of words and tone was "disgusting" nonetheless.
Monday evening, Trainwreck's suspension expired, and he returned to streaming. During his first stream back, he said he'd conduct himself differently and refrain from using "that word" -- presumably "slut."
Throughout the stream, though, he cut his mic during moments where he pretended to address controversial topics, as a joke about how he's been censored.
At one point, he walked around in an exaggerated fashion to make fun of women streamers bending over. And while he never used "that word," his chat sure did, and he didn't seem interested in stopping them.