Amid Twitch Blackout, Calls Grow for Game Industry Culture Change

Twitch Generic - Getty - H 2017
Getty Images

In the wake of sexual harassment and discrimination accusations that surfaced last weekend, the platform is "working with urgency to make Twitch a safer place for everyone in the community."

Some Twitch users are choosing not to stream on the platform Wednesday in solidarity with people in the gaming community who came forward with allegations of sexual harassment, racism and discrimination over the weekend. 

The coordinated effort, which has become known online as the "Twitch blackout," is intended to send a message to the Amazon-owned platform and other gaming companies that they must immediately address the allegations. 

Earlier this week, dozens of people, many of them women, came forward on Twitter and other platforms with stories about how they've been treated in the male-dominated industry. The outpouring began after a streamer who goes by the name Hollowtide tweeted about an unnamed Destiny streamer. Hollowtide's comments prompted several other streamers to share stories identifying a gamer named Lono, or Say No to Rage. Lono, who is active on both Twitch and YouTube, posted an apology video to YouTube in response. 

Twitch tweeted Sunday that it is "actively looking into the accounts concerning streamers affiliated with Twitch and will work with law enforcement where applicable." In a follow-up statement sent to THR, a representative said, "We support our streamers' rights to express themselves and bring attention to important issues across our service. We know there is work to be done, and we're listening to this feedback and working with urgency to make Twitch a safer place for everyone in the community."

Late on Wednesday, Twitch offered an update for the community via a blog post on its website. "We've prioritized the most severe cases and will begin issuing permanent suspensions in line with our findings immediately," wrote a spokesperson. "In many of the cases, the alleged incident took place off Twitch, and we need more information to make a determination. In some cases we will need to report the case to the proper authorities who are better placed to conduct a more thorough investigation. For those who've come forward and would like to share additional information, and to anyone who hasn't shared their experience and wants to do so, you can report confidentially through the reporting tools on each streamer's channel page."

The company further shared that it is reviewing its Hateful Conduct and Harassment policies along with other projects designed to reduce and combat these issues. "Those who have come forward have shown incredible strength, vulnerability, and bravery. We acknowledge that we can't singlehandedly tackle pervasive issues across the gaming and broader internet communities, but we take our responsibility as a service for our community seriously." YouTube is also investigating accusations, according to a source at the Google-owned company. 

The allegations included one from Milan K. Lee, a former employee of the soon-to-be-shuttered Microsoft Mixer platform who accused the company of racism. In a statement, a Microsoft rep said, "We have been in contact with Mr. Lee seeking to better understand his experience. We do not tolerate any form of discrimination and thoroughly investigate all employee concerns and will take appropriate actions as warranted."

Streamer Jessica Richey has compiled many of the accusations for archival purposes into a Medium post titled "Survivor Stories of Harassment/Abuse/Assault within the gaming live-streaming industry. June 2020."

The streamers participating in the Twitch blackout have millions of followers among them. They include Mike Shinoda, Hasanabi, Limmy and iamBrandon. Some streamers have voiced concerns with the blackout and instead said they would continue the conversation by speaking about the need for education during their live streams. 

The allegations extend beyond the streaming community. Ashraf Ismail, a creative director at French-owned Ubisoft, announced Wednesday on Twitter that he is taking leave from his position — where he was working on Assassin's Creed: Valhalla — after he was accused of infidelity by a woman online. "I am stepping down from my beloved project to properly deal with the personal issues in my life," he wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted. "The lives of my family and my own are shattered. I am deeply sorry to everyone hurt in this."

Insomniac Games has also come under fire, with a former employee accusing the company of mistreating female workers. In response, the company tweeted late Tuesday that it is taking "numerous steps" to address the allegations. "We are a workplace family that has actively promoted diversity, inclusion, representation and equality for our entire existence. We will continue to do so every single day."

Organizations supporting the Twitch blackout, which was a trending topic on the social media platform by Tuesday evening, include charity speedrunning marathon Games Done Quick, which canceled an event in support of the initiative. "As announced on stream, GDC Hotfix is canceling tomorrow night's planned show to support #TWITCHBLACKOUT," the official Twitter account for GDC tweeted Tuesday. "We call upon Twitch to make the changes needed to make the platform safe and welcoming. Believe and protect victims of harassment and abuse." Video game magazine Game Informer also tweeted that it will not be streaming on Twitch today "out of respect for the #twitchblackout."

Meanwhile, some are calling for active changes to be enforced within the industry and its culture and practices. Black Girl Gamers wrote on Twitter, "Gaming has been an unsafe place. This toxic culture needs to be ripped out and thrown away. Women's bodies and consent are not collateral damage. The status quo needs to change."

The conversation about unionizing is also being invigorated. Esports personality Michele Morrow tweeted on Tuesday, "More I read in absolute horror, the more I'm convinced the gaming industry needs a union for contractors. Unions aren't perfect, but at least they're a baseline resource & home. We need help re sexual harassment, abuse, collective bargaining, classes, medical, etc. Real change."

#TwitchBlackout continued to be a trending topic on Twitter well into Wednesday evening, with tens of thousands of tweets indicating both support and criticism from the gaming community and its onlookers. 

June 24, 7:15 p.m.: Updated with blog post from Twitch.