#twitchblackout is attempting to push Twitch toward taking more stringent action.
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Over the past few days, the games industry has been wrestling with a new flood of sexual abuse allegations, spreading like wildfire across social media. Centered on streamers on Twitch, but reaching outward to include game developers and game journalists, these allegations are so widespread that many believe they’re the result of a broken systemic culture that requires fixing from the ground up.
“For every story told, many more go unspoken,” says Giselle Rosman, the founder and director of Melbourne Global Game Jam, and a veteran game developer. “We all have to hold each other accountable and actively work to call out abusive behavior, and create work environments in which everyone is safe and can thrive.”
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This outcry hasn’t occurred in a vacuum. This deluge of allegations comes on the heels of Black Lives Matters protests, with obvious roots in the #metoo movement that hit Hollywood in late 2017. In gaming, this is far from an isolated incident. In the words of one developer CNET spoke to, “the games industry is on its third ‘me too’ movement.” Marginalized groups have lived through years of targeted harassment campaigns, as part of broad online movements like Gamergate. In many ways these new allegations are part of that difficult, traumatic history.
Video games have long struggled to deal with deep-seated issues of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, but some feel the games industry is poised on the cusp of real, meaningful change. Now people are in the process of asking themselves, how and where do we start?
Jessica Richey, a 28-year-old Twitch streamer and content creator, has been creating a formidable document: a Medium post, which is also now a spreadsheet, collating the numerous accounts of abuse shared on social media over the past few days. There are currently over 200 reports.
Richey began collating these after seeing multiple allegations of abuse focused on SayNoToRage, a content creator known for livestreaming the video game Destiny. SayNoToRage has since addressed the allegations on his YouTube page.
Richey started with this Twitter thread. Almost immediately, others began messaging her on Twitter with an overwhelming volume of accounts and allegations.
🚨 Believe Survivors of Harassment & Assault.
Don’t allow predatory people to slip into your friend circles, just because they are “popular” or “in industry” when there are multiple accounts of abuse, harassment, and assault.
Plenty of unproblematic people to support instead.
— JessyQuil (@JessyQuil) June 20, 2020
“People started coming forward either in tags/replies or in DMs about their stories,” she says.
“I’m not casting judgment or asking anyone to witch hunt those who are named. I’m trying to give survivors of these issues a voice so they don’t feel alone or gaslit based on their experiences in this industry.”
Many have pointed to embedded practices within the games industry as part of the problem. Men are often given opportunities to abuse their power at industry events, which are almost exclusively held in bars. While being careful not to blame alcohol consumption for the behavior of toxic predators, some are hoping for change.
Jason Imms is the founder of TasGameMakers and a veteran games journalist. Years ago he started organizing “Co-op Drinks,” an event that brought game developers, content creators and journalists together for networking during Australia’s biggest gaming event, PAX Australia.
In the wake of these allegations, Imms has decided to cancel the event indefinitely.
“As of yesterday Co-op Drinks is dead,” he tells CNET. “I haven’t put much thought into what might come next, it was a reflexive decision. I stand by it, it was the right decision, but it’ll take me some time to process it and come up with new plans.
“This stuff is systemic in our society.”
“Personally, I love having a beer with friends … but I also believe that alcohol lowers our inhibitions. Alcohol makes it more likely we’ll behave in ways we’re not proud of, do things we’d never dream of doing while sober.”
But Imms is quick to state that the problems the games industry is facing with sexual abuse aren’t about alcohol. “This stuff is systemic in our society,” says Imms.
He hopes to help replace it with something that makes marginalized people feel more included and safe.
“I think I’d be more interested in helping someone else bring their vision of an inclusive space into reality,” he says. “What games culture adds to that history is a quick path to fame and relevance for younger people, people still going through formative years.”
Imms doesn’t necessarily think stopping drinks events like the ones he organized will necessarily change things. It’ll take a long time and require the work of multiple people in positions of power to truly effect long-term change.
“I just feel it’s time to let go of an event that did more to hold on to what our community has historically been,” he says. “To create space for events that take us toward what we need and want our community to become.”
Actions speak louder than words
Some companies, like Elgato, which produces devices used by content creators to capture video game footage, are being proactive on the issue. In a statement, Elgato said it is immediately halting any relationship with streamers with allegations against them.
“Elgato does not, and will never, condone sexual misconduct of any kind — this extends to our industry and streamer partnerships, attendance of our events at conventions, and our communities behavior online.”
In response to the allegations, Twitch put out a statement, claiming it was taking allegations of abuse “extremely seriously” and working “with law enforcement where applicable.” Twitch CEO Emmett Shear later posted an email sent to the broader Twitch team, expanding on the Amazon-owned unit’s initial response. Twitch, he said, would ban and remove streamers it had concerns with, “based on credible accusations and their historical behaviour on Twitch.”
But many Twitch streamers pointed to reports that Shear and Twitch had been dismissive of such allegations in the past. They accused Twitch of minimizing previous complaints. Some ex-employees took to Twitter in support of those accounts.
I was a VP at Twitch and I reported this to the relationship-owning VP, the head of HR, and the CEO. All assured me it would be handled. Next year he was in the same VIP space at the same Twitch event. I was told he was the VP’s uncle and an “important” initiative launch partner. https://t.co/LvkPxW43zR
— Justin Wong (@JustinWong) June 22, 2020
“It seems like no matter how many people get hurt or come forward, Twitch doesn’t want to take steps to change the way they do things,” Twitch streamer SirKatelyn tells CNET.
“Actions speak louder than words.”
SirKatelyn is at the forefront of #TWITCHBLACKOUT, an attempt to force Twitch to take allegations of abuse, racism, sexual harassment, assault and rape seriously. SirKatelyn and others are refraining from streaming on Twitch, from 12 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. this Wednesday.
“I truly believe, by doing nothing, Twitch is enabling these behaviors and should be held accountable.”
“Since Twitch repetitively fails to listen it was decided to make a statement where they will certainly notice: their income,” explains ThirdArtifact, another streamer involved in organizing the blackout.
Twitch didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The current plan is to discuss Twitch’s “negligence” off-platform in spaces where it doesn’t benefit financially. By removing themselves from that platform, they hope to force Twitch to ban streamers who “used their power to manipulate and spread toxicity.”
“I truly believe, by doing nothing, Twitch is enabling these behaviors and should be held accountable,” says ThirdArtifact. “Twitch should not be a place where women are told they have to sleep with popular streamers to grow. Streamers who use their platform to livestream harassment need to be removed swiftly.”
But not everyone is on board.
“I really fail to see how this would be an effective measure at all,” said Lowco, another Twitch streamer, saying it was “too last minute” and didn’t give enough time for people to organize effectively or communicate the message.
But both SirKatelyn and ThirdArtifact say that their Twitch blackout is just the beginning.
“We’ve gotten some constructive criticism for how to handle it in the future and I think this is just the first step for a long line of ways to make our voices heard,” says SirKatelyn.
“How are we so bad at this?”
Giselle Rosman believes that, if things are to truly change, everyone in the games industry needs to do some heavy lifting. Codes of conduct for organizations and events need to be written and enforced; managers and studio heads need to set standards and rigorously maintain them.
“All of this would be solved with empathy,” Rosman says. “We all need to make space and support gender minorities in games, and we’ll be that much better for it.”
Raelene Knowles is the CEO of the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association in Australia. She also helps run The Working Lunch, a mentorship program that connects aspiring, underrepresented game developers and games journalists with people already working in those fields. She says the games industry needs to recognize the abuse of power, call that abuse out and provide support to those affected
“People need to be held accountable for their actions and we need to do our best to protect those in our space that need it most. It starts with listening, believing, respecting and assisting those being victimised. We need to ensure that we educate and connect them to the appropriate services and support mechanisms available.”
Maize Wallin agrees. They are one of the people behind Making Space, a community designed to empower and support marginalized people trying to break into the games industry. The root of the abuse problem in the games industry, Wallin says, is a power differential.
“It takes a network to say, ‘it’s fine that I burned that bridge.'”
“The abuse happens predominantly to people who are new.”
The video games industry relies heavily on gatekeepers in positions of power. They provide access to jobs or potential funding. More often than not those gatekeepers are men.
Wallin says younger marginalized developers are almost immediately placed in a difficult position. They need to work 10 times as hard and — crucially — are far more dependent on contacts made through networking.
“When can people afford to burn bridges? Not in the first year of your career they can’t. It takes a network to say, ‘it’s fine that I burned that bridge.'”
Wallin hopes groups like Making Space can help provide that network. Wallin’s goal: Eliminate that period of time when newcomers feel powerless to speak out against games industry abuse in all its forms.
But the ultimate responsibility comes from those who wield that power. In the short term, Wallin wants men in power to help elevate those who are vulnerable, particularly women and minorities.
“Do the introductions, be that safe space for people. Don’t question their abilities. Stop putting them on diversity panels. Hike people the fuck up.”
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