“Just Chatting isn’t one game. It’s thousands of different niches grouped together,” says Kitboga.
Twitch’s predecessor and parent company Justin.tv launched in 2007 to facilitate livestreaming in all of its forms, but by 2011 it became clear that gaming was what was taking off. Twitch, named for “twitch” gameplay—the sort of reflex-based movements associated with first-person shooters—spun out and fostered its own culture of hardcore gamers looking to watch hardcore gameplay. Cameras trained on streamers’ faces might take up just a small portion of the screen, with the focus on the game and viewers’ typed-out input on it. Over time, though, streamers arrived who increased the ratio of camera-to-game or boldly devoted the whole screen to a livestreamed video of them sitting at their bedroom desks. Their person was the performance, not their gameplay.
In part because of Twitch’s guidelines against nongaming content, and in part because of the insular nature of gaming culture itself, Twitch streamers who didn’t promote themselves as hardcore gamers were widely considered unwelcome by Twitch’s gaming purists, a group protective of their digital habitat. In Twitch chat boxes or on Twitter or Discord, harassment against these so-called cultural parachuters revved up around 2012. Most of this judgment fell on women streamers, regardless of whether they were gaming.
Bonnie “Bo” Ruberg, an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, has researched why nongaming streams, and particularly women’s, were widely considered less legitimate Twitch content. Analyzing /r/Twitch threads referencing so-called “titty streamers” (viewers’ term for attractive female streamers who allegedly took views from male gamers), Ruberg noted how they were often compared to “cam girls,” who also performed their jobs on livestreaming platforms.
“A lot of backlash against women streamers and nongaming content is people trying to distance Twitch streaming from camming,” says Ruberg. Gaming diehards opposed to early forms of Twitch’s IRL and Just Chatting categories believed it was “for egirls, for titty streamers, and women trying to show off their body to get sex appeal. Gaming is the serious legitimate thing,” Ruberg adds.
One /r/Twitch comment cited in Ruberg’s 2019 paper on “titty streamers” said it all: “Twitch is a GAMING site and should be focused on GAMING. … The more success these girls have, the more similar girls it is going to attract that are all in it for the money.” Said another, “Does anyone else feel like twitches [sic] content is going downhill and is just full of ‘Cam Girls’ now? Just feels like good content creators are slowly dwindling on Twitch and being replaced with these ‘Cam Girls’ that just wanna show cleavage and stuff.”
In an effort to protect the sanctity of Twitch, even after IRL launched, vigilante Twitch viewers would trawl through its directory and report women whom they believed were violating Twitch’s terms of service. In a viral 2017 rant, top streamer Tyler “Trainwreckstv” Niknam angrily told viewers, “This used to be a goddamn community of gamers, nerds, kids that got bullied, kids that got fucked with, kids that resorted to the gaming world because the real world was too fucking hard, too shitty, too lonely, too sad and depressing.” Twitch IRL, he believed, was dominated by “the same sluts that rejected us, the same sluts that chose the goddamn fucking cool kids over us. The same sluts that are coming into our community, taking the money, taking the subs, the same way they did back in the day.”
Conversely, it was not uncommon for streamers to get a rise out of Twitch’s gaming purists for both the lols and the viewership. Kacey “Kaceytron” Caviness, who has streamed League of Legends and World of Warcraft since 2013 and now streams under Just Chatting, would sometimes stall for over an hour before launching a game, which incited riotous heckling and hate spam in her channel’s Twitch chat. In her trademark low-cut top, Caviness’ tongue-in-cheek brand was “fake gamer girl.” And like a great matador, she riled up the masses who, in exchange for a dollar, could send her a message, broadcasted on stream, telling her to drink bleach.