Striving to be seen: Black Girl Gamers on Twitch

The Entertainment Software Association doesn’t track race, though it found in 2017 that 55 percent of video game players in the US were men. The International Game Developers Association attempts to distill the global, professional gaming industry each year in a detailed survey, and in 2017 it found 74 percent of respondents identified as men and 21 percent as women. Meanwhile, 68 percent identified as white and just 1 percent as black. As the IGDA noted, “This is inconsistent with the 2016 US census data which reported that 61 percent of the US population was white, 13 percent was black.”

Twitch seems to mirror these skewed statistics.

“‘Welcome everyone’ is a core value at Twitch,” a spokesperson told Engadget. “It helps to guide the policy, staff, community, tools and technology dedicated to fostering a safe, positive experience on Twitch every day. It also inspires the programs we have to celebrate and support our diverse community members including our own annual site-wide holiday, TwitchUnity, as well as at TwitchCon.”

Twitch said it doesn’t share details about specific streamers when it comes to becoming a Partner, out of respect for their privacy. The spokesperson added, “Our Partnerships team often field follow-up questions from streamers who are pursuing Partnership in order to provide additional guidance. We also have the Twitch Creator Camp, Achievements and Stream Summary, and the Affiliates program, which are designed to help pave the way to Partnership and provide more clarity on the process.”

More than 2.2 million streamers go live on Twitch every month, and there are more than 272,000 Partners and Affiliates on the site. Lopez figured that with a growing audience, a focus on an underserved community and a featured spot during TwitchUnity, BGG met all the requirements to become Partner. That wasn’t the case.

“I don’t like the fact that it’s kind of a contradiction when you have certain Twitch streamers saying the n-word on stream and you’re just counting it as a bad day, as opposed to actually tackling that behavior,” Lopez said. “I do feel like token diversity is a buzzword. Tokenizing people of color, using them to just seem progressive is definitely a thing. But I feel like, from my perspective, I will use that to my benefit.”

Lopez plans to apply for Partnership again, which is something other streamers have had to do before succeeding. Until then, she’s continuing to stream and drive conversations about diversity in the gaming industry as a whole — and on Twitch specifically.

Earlier this month, Twitch announced it would remove its Communities feature in September and replace these groups with a tagging system. Communities allow streamers to build and find audiences around specific topics or games and then moderate those spaces, keeping out trolls and making sure things stay on topic. Tags don’t serve the same purpose: Anyone will be able to label their streams however they want, without fear of moderation. For example, a streamer will be able to join the Positivity collection, only to spew hate.

Members of BGG, The Cookout (a Twitch community for people of color) and other streaming fans immediately hit Twitter to express disappointment, disbelief and anger at Twitch’s decision to ditch Communities.

“We’ve had trolls trying to stream to the Black Girl Gamers community,” Lopez said. “We’ve had to physically remove them, because obviously they don’t adhere to the requirements and that’s not the space for them. The space is a safe space. They have the whole of Twitch, really, to stream in, literally.” The decision to remove Communities, Lopez continued, “Kind of does target the disenfranchised streamers of Twitch.”

Twitch told Engadget that it’s collecting feedback on its plans to shut down Communities, quoting a blog post that reads, in part, “When we learned that less than 3 percent of Twitch viewership came from users who found streams using Communities, it was clear that Communities were not helping viewers find new streamers to watch.”

A spokesperson added, “As with all changes we make to Twitch, our goal is to help make creators successful, so we will continue to listen to the community and to analyze and adapt new initiatives.”

“We just want to make sure that we’re heard.”

Lopez works on BGG in her free time, when she’s not at her full-time job. She spends her time building relationships with like-minded partners, seeking funding, starting conversations and playing games, of course. BGG is a passion project and a chance to shift the video game industry toward inclusion, away from homogenization.

“In terms of black women specifically, we do feel like we’re always left out or we’re always a trope or a stereotype when it comes to characters,” Lopez said. “We just want to make sure that we’re heard, our voices. We also play the games, and we do have input into what happens. People hit up developers for any which reason they have an issue with a game. Why can’t we talk about why you haven’t included us from the get-go?”

BGG recently launched a store, and Lopez was featured in a video campaign from UK retailer GAME in April. The group is growing, as is its reach.

“I would like Black Girl Gamers to be a hub for gaming from the nuanced cultural perspective,” Lopez said. “Obviously BGG is for black girl gamers, but also talking about different cultures. … I really see that being a hub for multiple different perspectives: perspectives on tech, perspectives on gaming, perspectives on events, on new games, old games, nostalgia, cosplaying, all these things. Being an alternative person, I think, will be the coverage.”

That final goal should hold true, at least until nonwhite, non-male people aren’t seen as the “alternative” in the video game industry any longer.

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