New York- Every week without fail, some viewers of Misscliks, a channel on the video game streaming platform Twitch, pipe up with sexist or misogynistic comments.
As the channel live-streams shows where hosts engage in activities like playing the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop game, viewers have made comments objectifying the female hosts. Several have called the male hosts on Misscliks “pimps,” or have said how lucky they are to have a “harem” of colleagues.
What sets Misscliks apart is its response to such behavior. Whenever a sexist remark pops up, the Misscliks community quickly jumps in to explain that the channel’s mission is to be a diverse space where underrepresented gamers can feel safe from harassment and bullying. Commenters who persist are given timeouts, or sometimes banned outright.
“Misscliks is an example of a space grown from the ground up to model a different and less toxic environment,” said Naomi Clark, an assistant arts professor at New York University’s department of game design. “Their team deliberately set expectation and policy from the beginning to counter harassment.”
Of the 2.2 million channels on Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, Misscliks was one of the first to explicitly lay out a goal of being a place where people of all genders and backgrounds could participate in gamer culture without fear, prejudice or harassment.
The motto of the channel, led by four women, is “build up, never tear down.”
That makes Misscliks something of a haven at a time when gamer culture has been criticized for being misogynistic and unforgiving. In recent years, the games industry has grappled with episodes like the Gamergate movement in 2014, when female game developers, creators and players were the subjects of a targeted harassment campaign. In 2016, Microsoft apologized after it hired women to dance on platforms at a gaming conference in San Francisco.
To change that culture, Misscliks and other efforts have sprung up. One advocacy group, AnyKey, which pushes for inclusive spaces in gaming and e-sports, was founded in February 2016. Industry groups like Girls Make Games and Pixelles, which provide training and internship programs for women to get into video game development, have also emerged.
Twitch has also ramped up against harassment. The company has introduced tools like AutoMod, which uses machine learning and natural language processing to identify and block inappropriate content during chats. Twitch has also given broadcasters the power to ban specific words and links from a chat; allowed broadcasters to assign moderators to police chats during live streams; and added a button on every channel that lets people more easily flag or report unwanted content.
“We take harassment very seriously and understand how important this is for the entire Twitch community,” Twitch’s public relations director, who uses just the name Chase, said. Of Misscliks, he said it “has successfully cultivated an inclusive and positive community, so if other creators are striving for a similar vibe, we encourage them to check out that channel.”
Misscliks was founded in 2013 by four women in the video game and e-sports industries, including one of Twitch’s employees, Anna Prosser Robinson, a host and programming manager at the live-streaming platform. Ms. Prosser Robinson tapped Geneviève Forget of the video game publisher Ubisoft; Stephanie Harvey, a professional e-sports player; and Stephanie Powell, a community manager at Roll20, an online tabletop gaming service for games like Dungeons & Dragons.
The quartet, who volunteer time to Misscliks while still engaged in their day jobs, said they created the channel after realizing how often women in the video game industry are made to feel undervalued.
“We were tired of being anomalies,” Ms. Prosser Robinson said. “It was like, ‘Oh, there’s a girl who does gaming, isn’t she a sparkly unicorn?’ We thought if we could make it more normal to see women’s faces in e-sports and make a support network, maybe they’d stick around.”
On any given day, Misscliks features rotating shows and content. Unlike many other Twitch channels that are built around a single personality, Misscliks is collaborative. It has a range of hosts, and users are invited to write in and pitch ideas for shows.
One regular show on Misscliks is “Let’s Play,” in which hosts play video games and people tune in to watch. Another show is dedicated to discussing and playing Heroes of the Storm, a multiplayer online battle arena video game published by Blizzard.
Misscliks also has a behind-the-scenes Slack channel for its creators and hosts, where people can talk openly about any issue, or ask for help if they are experiencing online abuse or bullying.
“Platforms, organizations and leagues are seeing that women and people of color are an important part of their user base and audience,” said T. L. Taylor, a professor of comparative media studies at M.I.T. and director of research at AnyKey. “Making sure they are able to participate is key to the bottom line.”
The popularity of the Misscliks mission has yet to be determined. The channel has just over 23,000 followers, a fraction of the millions of followers drawn to some of the more popular Twitch channels.
Ms. Prosser Robinson, who oversees the daily operation of Misscliks with the help of one or two others, said the channel was not aiming to be huge or a giant profit-making entity. While Misscliks makes some revenue from advertisers and subscriptions, the money goes back into the streamers and the channel, she said.
More rewarding are the messages that Ms. Prosser Robinson said she now often receives from gamers on how the channel makes gaming feel more inclusive.
On a recent day, one Misscliks viewer left a comment during one of the channel’s Dungeons & Dragons shows that read: “Back in the day when I played a lot in the late 80s and early 90s, there were not many girls playing. It’s awesome to see all the women playing these days.”
Ms. Prosser Robinson said these messages were part of the “little steps” being made toward dealing with harassment in gaming.
“At least people now have a general awareness that it’s important, which is very different compared to a few years ago,” she said.
The New York Times