Twitch, the video game streaming service, has enjoyed a swift and seemingly unshakeable rise since its start in 2011. It has already become an established presence in online streaming and gaming communities, yet that success hasn't made it immune to the familiar toxicity problems that plague other aspects of gaming culture.
Women, LGBTQ folk, and people of color are often subjected to a deluge of discriminatory abuse via Twitch chat that is at best disgusting and at worst potentially life-threatening. While Twitch is working to find a solution, current practices aren't proving terribly effective.
Misscliks, a Twitch channel founded by four women with prominent backgrounds in eSports and gaming, is hoping to end the abuse with a different approach to community management.
The women behind Misscliks are Anna Prosser Robinson, current programming manager at Twitch; Ubisoft's Geneviève Forget, the international product manager on Rainbow Six Siege; Counter-Strike world champion Stephanie Harvey; and Stephanie "Miss Avacyn" Powell, community manager for Roll20, an online service that lets players around the world play D&D and other tabletop RPGs together. The four founders each struggled with discrimination within video games, but rather than abandoning an industry they loved, they decided to create a channel that could provide a safe space to show women they were welcome, while also proving to the industry at-large that women were active participants in it for the long haul.
VICE interviewed Misscliks co-founder Anna Prosser Robinson about the organization's efforts and challenges.
VICE: Misscliks was intended to build up a safe community that women would want to participate in, rather than trying to punish the toxicity that's already extant in other Twitch communities. What are you doing to build up positivity within Misscliks?
Anna Prosser Robinson: Well, we say very often "build up, never teardown." So as a philosophy, we try really hard to speak positively as opposed to negatively, even about things that are big, negative issues. If you look really hard at a bad situation, you can find one person who's doing something really good. Focusing on [that one person] and the good they're doing is our strategy.
In terms of our Twitch channel specifically, we have worked really hard to make the community self-regulate. We started out with a very zero-tolerance policy to harassment. The people who have been there since the beginning kind of grew up in the chat with that mentality, so now our community will kind of circle up around [abusive participants] and say,"Hey, that's not what we do here. You can't do that on this channel. We want you to stay, but you can't act like that." And so that's one of the,I think, crowning achievements of Misscliks—creating a community that likes to educate new people about how to act and likes to protect the positive atmosphere that they have in the chat. We want to be advocates but really try hard not to reach out with condemnation and instead to reach out with constructive, helpful, supportive feedback.
You're trying to reach people. You don't want to turn people away, because that's how you change things, right?
Right. And I think a lot of that has also taught us a certain level of openness. For example, we had someone come to us really angry because she felt like all we do is support a certain subset of women, and that we're not actually doing anything to help women in general.We're just selfishly promoting ourselves. That felt really awful, of course,and we wanted to say, "No! That's not what we're doing!" We've had to learn how to be like, "That's not the message we want to be sending. Why do you feel that way? Can you help us change what's going on?" We're trying to bring people on to help, instead of defending against [criticism],and that has been a big strategy for us as well.
"I truly believe that most people don't genuinely want to hurt others when they really examine themselves."—Anna Prosser Robinson
Do you think there's any way we could get this attitude to radiate out into other Twitch channels?
Like you said, it's a thought shift; it's a mind-share issue.We've got to get people to understand the harm that comes from this, and the good that could come from a positive change. I'd say we should focus on education attempts because right now all the responses we have to bad behavior online are punitive. If you say something horrible, you will get banned, or if you act this way, you will be punished, or your account will be suspended and that leaves no room for teaching a person how to conduct themselves better. It doesn't prevent the person from doing it in the first place.
There's really cool software that this young woman,[Trisha Prabhu], developed. She was 15 years old, and she developed this software, [ReThink], where if you typed something into a field to post on social media, a pop up would appear if any of your verbiage was flagged as potential cyber bullying, and it would say,"Hey, you probably didn't mean to, but your message sounds like it might be cyber bullying. Are you sure you want to post this? Maybe you want to reword it," or something like that. She found that, and I'm going to botch this statistic, but it was something crazy like 90 percent of people would rewrite or not post what they would have originally posted [According to ReThink, the actual statistic is 93 percent].
So I truly believe that most people don't genuinely want to hurt others when they really examine themselves. If someone really puts out a hand and says, "Hey, stop for a second and think about what you're doing. Do you actually want to hurt another human being?" Most people wouldn't identify themselves as a cyber bully, you know? If we can start teaching people to identify those behaviors for what they are, and then correspondingly teach their community to identify and condemn that behavior,then that's going to be a lot more valuable long-term than simply finding more ways to robotically recognize words and automatically ban people from chats,you know what I mean?
"These are big problems, and they're really easy to put on the shelf because it's hard to coordinate a whole bunch of people to do a huge thing together, but it's not hard to encourage yourself to do whatever you can bring to mind first."—Anna Prosser Robinson
How do you think allies can help us in this process? Do you think they have a place in this?
Absolutely, because the reaction that I get when I say, "Hey, that was really sexist of you," is, "Why are you being so sensitive?" Especially because I'm well-known as an advocate for women's issues in gaming. If an ally can be in that same situation and say,"Yo, do you realize how that sounded? That sounds really sexist," and then have the real background to explain why, I think that's a really important piece there.
Yeah, especially when those people have their own very influential channels from which they can reach a large audience.
Absolutely. And it can be speaking out to a large audience, or it can even be in those moments where it's just a few people, and they see some behavior that maybe doesn't even happen publicly, and it displays a thought-pattern in a person that is really dangerous, you know? And they can be in those situations of privilege to kind of help change minds.
Do you have any last thoughts you'd like to add?
I'm now part of a major company that's a large part of the gaming space, and hearing from a lot of people who are also in similar positions where they care a lot about inclusivity and diversity. But the companies that they are working in are maybe so young, or so big that diversity efforts within the company have been stagnated. I think that Misscliks taught me how to deal with that in a large organization as well. People who work in tech specifically, and gaming as well, come to me and say, "Well, I want my company to care more about diversity, and they don't." One of the bits of adviceI've been giving is to focus on the one thing that you can do today that will make it better.
So, I'm doing the same thing kind of within Twitch,and it's gaining a lot of traction. If I sit at my desk and think, What's the one person that I can talk to today about diversity? What's the one thing that I can suggest within my department, within my work that will make Twitch a safer place? And that starts to inspire other people in other departments to do the same. So, I'm really a big fan of grassroots activism right now and personal accountability toward activism. These are big problems,and they're really easy to put on the shelf because it's hard to coordinate a whole bunch of people to do a huge thing together, but it's not hard to encourage yourself to do whatever you can bring to mind first.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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