When people think of gamers, they usually picture a man sitting in his bedroom –– sheets everywhere, food all over his desk, clothes scattered across his room as he yells through his headset for his teammates to come save him. Men are allowed to be messy, obscene and obnoxious when they play video games. They can stream the video game missions they pursue through various online platforms like YouTube and Twitch and rack up millions of views within a day. However, I have noticed when women stream the video games they play, they are more likely to face sexist comments from viewers about their appearance. Women who game overall are four times more likely than their male counterparts to be harassed while playing online. For example, when Pokimane, a female gamer with over 7.1 million followers, had a makeup free streaming event, she received comments that called her “disgusting,” “ugly” and implied that she “catfished” her viewers. A female gamer is also required to take into consideration her relationship status and appear available in order to cater to her male audience. Another instance of sexism in the gaming industry can be seen with women not revealing their gender in order to be seen as a “bro” to avoid harassment from men online.

In my experience, I have been told that I am not a part of the gaming community for playing games like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley because they are “too feminine” to be considered a valid game to be streamed because of their low level of difficulty. They are considered unworthy to be streamed because they do not involve harming an opponent and blood and fighting scenes, all of which are characteristics of video games whose main target audience are men. Though Animal Crossing is not marketed as a game for women, the people around me perceive it as one because of its charming aspects such as fishing or tending a garden due to traditional gender roles. In my experience, men do not believe that growing different colors of flowers on an island takes as much precision and execution as finding and attacking a target in a field.

Women, both as game characters and real humans, are oversexualized by male streamers and held to fantastical standards. In most video games, the female characters are always seen as innocent, thin women with slim waists and big breasts, sharing similar physical attributes with anime figures. This unattainable expectation of women’s appearance becomes a part of everyday reality when male participants interact with women on Twitch streams. Data provided by an Indiana University study shows that the average female streamer is more likely to receive comments involving words such as “hot,” “boobs” and “cute” while the average male streamer’s comments contain vocabulary much more centered around the game he is playing. These comments are a result of men in the gaming industry becoming accustomed to seeing unrealistic, sexualized female bodies while playing video games and then expecting women to mimic those characteristics outside of the streaming world and within the professional gaming industry. 

Female streamers are oversexualized in the gaming industry primarily because the industry itself is dominated and controlled by men who perpetuate these harmful narratives. For example, Bella Poarch, a new streamer, has been subjected to hate and backlash from social media for her facial expressions in TikTok lip sync videos, which critics claim is promoting a child-like image solely to garner attention from men. The problem here is not Poarch or her facial expressions, but rather society and the hyper-sexualization of women starting from a young age. When a woman acts cute and happy, she is not encouraging men to prey on young women — she is simply being herself. Having a childlike or innocent demeanor isn't an invitation to be sexualized. Male gamers need to allow women to be themselves.

This oversexualization has made it difficult for female gamers to enjoy their hobbies and stream the content they wish to share. Now when women go to stream video games, viewers assume that they are “boobie streamers” — women who supposedly wear low cut tops and receive targeted sexual comments in exchange for money and subscribers for their channel. There is nothing wrong with a woman getting her bag or wearing what she likes, but it becomes an issue when the male gaze pressures her to do so for validation as a gamer. This makes many women feel pressured to fulfill such sexist expectations because they learn that being oversexualized is one of the only ways to climb to the top of the gaming industry. 

Male streamers do not have to worry about being oversexualized or changing their personality online because their community does not view them purely as a sexual object. They are free to play any video games they want without being told that they are not a “real gamer.” During their streams, viewers are focused on the hacks the streamer is teaching them and how engaging they are with the crowd. On the other hand, women are subjected to harassment, unsolicited messages and threats from men when playing online.

As a community, we need to look at the way we treat women who stream and game and begin to show them the respect they deserve for their craft. Women continuously have to go above and beyond in all work settings in order to prove themselves, and the gaming community is no exception. This double standard of female streamers having to live up to this idea of perfection, while men are able to simply show up, has to end. Women can be gamers without streaming games that are gory or bloody. Women should have the freedom to stream whatever they want without having to feel like they will be left out. 

Support women like iHasCupquake, AlexiaRaye and LaurenZSide for sharing the content they love. Be conscious of the language you use. Compliment her gaming skills. Pay attention to her hacks. Appreciate the effort women put into perfecting their broadcast and gaming skills. Focus on her avatar, not her body.

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