Modern Life

Building a more inclusive gaming community

Game players and watchers are seeking out and creating welcoming spaces where support, diversity and positivity rule.

By Garage Staff — December 11, 2018

Brittany never imagined how fast her community would grow on Twitch, the streaming platform where viewers tune in to watch people playing video games in real time. But a few days after Brittany — who goes by the handle ThatOneBritt — first streamed herself playing the multiplayer shooter game Rainbow Six Siege, she realized that she and her new online friends were building something special.

A lifelong gamer and a member of HP’s OMEN Squad, an invite-only affiliate program for up-and-coming streamers, Brittany began watching Twitch streams in 2011 after getting into the game League of Legends. She felt an immediate connection to her favorite streamers, and watching them inspired her to get a gaming PC so she could stream, too. Brittany wanted to help others feel that same sense of belonging, of being part of a close-knit community.

“I noticed that there was a core group of 10 people who would show up every single time I streamed, even in my first week [on Twitch],” Brittany says. “We became super close.” Brittany bonded with her viewers so quickly, she started to think of them like a second family, or her “FamBam,” as she likes to call them

Cultivating a positive community online

OMEN Squad members like Brittany have different backgrounds and interests and are selected for not only being excellent players and supporting the OMEN by HP line of gaming PCs and accessories, but also having an authentic connection with their online communities.

Part of building trust in her gamer circles meant acknowledging that being a female streamer comes with specific challenges, not the least of it the aggressive tribalism and violent language often found online. Half a million people broadcast live every day on Twitch, and women — who make up about 35 percent of streamers — are often the targets of toxic comments on the platform. “Many diverse players stream on Twitch, however it can still be a challenging environment for women, players of color, LGBT players and others,” says Bonnie Ruberg, professor of digital games and interactive media at the University of California, Irvine. “Harrassment of those who are seen as ‘different’ is very common.”

Brittany, aka ThatOneBritt, grew her "FamBam" community through her Twitch channel.

Courtesy of HP

Brittany, aka ThatOneBritt, grew her "FamBam" community through her Twitch channel.

“I have fairly tough skin,” Brittany says. “But I could have a really bad day in my normal life, and then if I get on stream where I'm supposed to be providing positive entertainment and get hounded just because I'm a woman playing a game that I love — it hurts sometimes.”

Selena Gonzalez, one of Brittany’s longtime volunteer mods says she was first drawn to Brittany’s Twitch channel and FamBam because she “makes anyone feel comfortable and makes it easy to forget about the outside world.” Over time, she developed close friendships with others in the FamBam community, and Brittany eventually asked her to be a mod. She has since gone on to manage other online communities as well.

While each of those groups has its own rules, Gonzalez says they’re all positive places where members love to hang out. She says the FamBam’s culture sets it apart — it not only provides emotional support to its members and to Brittany, but it’s also a crucial layer of protection from trolls and sexual harassment. If someone pops into Brittany’s chat room and starts spewing sexist, racist or other hateful comments, members of the FamBam are quick to alert her, and either she or one of her mods will immediately ban the commenter.

Brittany and other streamers would like to see additions to Twitch’s moderation tools, such as “instant bans,” where anyone who types in a nasty comment would be automatically banned (Rainbow Six Siege added instant bans in July 2018 to reduce hate speech in the game). Another would be to make it harder to create duplicate accounts, which trolls tend to do on a regular basis.

“[Twitch] is an escape and we want to protect that,” Brittany says. She wants her Twitch chat room to always be a fun place to hang out in, even as it continues to grow: Her ThatOneBritt account currently has over 14,000 followers and 600 paid subscribers.

“Being a part of Britt’s community is by far my favorite because everyone who comes around always comes back,” Gonzalez says. “Almost all of our regulars are super welcoming and are from different parts of the world.”

Competition with compassion

While Brittany and her FamBam work hard to maintain a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere online, there is also growing movement of people within the industry using their influence to make gaming better for marginalized groups offline.

Organizations such as GaymerX and The AbleGamers Charity are actively working to make gaming more inclusive and accessible. GaymerX, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that represents LGBTQ+ gamers, hosts conventions and events designed to be fun and safe for all. The organization also creates guidelines and tools to promote more inclusive online gaming spaces. GaymerX’s code of conduct for events, for example, prohibits harassment and language considered racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or ableist

Organizations like GaymerX and The AbleGames Charity work to make gaming better for marginalized groups.

Wavebreak Media

Organizations like GaymerX and The AbleGames Charity work to make gaming better for marginalized groups.

AbleGamers represents gamers with disabilities and was one of the first organizations to push for accessibility options in games and controllers designed for people with disabilities, says Steve Spohn, chief operations officer.

“We began as an organization that gave information on how to continue gaming no matter your disability,” Spohn says. “Now we have gone into granting, 3D printing and inventing new controllers.”

AbleGamers contributed to a recent study that found that, while the types of games that disabled gamers like to play are similar to the preferences of non-disabled gamers, their reasons for playing can be different. Respondents said they’re less motivated by competition and that they play to help manage stress, combat depression and for physical therapy for their hands.

“While diverse characters are important, there’s more to the idea of inclusion.”

Tanya DePass, founder, I Need Diverse Games

“In the last five years, a lot of these communities have started up to help people feel like they belong,” says Ruberg, who also is one of the Queerness and Games Conference organizers. “The gaming industry as a whole is cautious, while we are moving way ahead and giving people the energy to make changes.”

Diverse, inclusive gaming communities create support systems for all types of gamers.

Studio Firma

Diverse, inclusive gaming communities create support systems for all types of gamers.

Diversity pushes the industry forward

Both AbleGamers and GaymerX are part of AnyKey, an advocacy organization that highlights and supports inclusive gaming competitors, content creators and online communities.

“People need to create those spaces where others can commune, discuss, enjoy or debate about what is and isn't being done to represent them in games, who it is that we see on stage at events, or who is presented as representative of the gaming community,” says game critic and industry consultant Tanya DePass. “[AnyKey directors] are also doing a lot to push for more inclusiveness in streaming spaces, which is sorely needed.”

DePass founded the nonprofit I Need Diverse Games, an AnyKey affiliate, in 2014 after getting frustrated with not seeing characters like herself represented in her favorite games. She travels to conventions and studios to talk about how the industry can make gaming more welcoming.

These conventions, conferences and other events are where diverse communities gather to meet other gamers like themselves and push for change in the gaming industry, which as a whole is evolving, albeit slowly. “The trickle-down effect is really apparent to me,” says Ruberg. “As more diverse people make more games, more mainstream industry people play them and are inspired to make their own. Plus indie game makers of color or LGBT are role models for people working in the industry who feel safer being different.”

True inclusion means more than diverse characters, according to DePass, it means including diverse artists, writers, directors, studio heads and creative directors in the game-making process, which will open new possibilities for what games can be and whose perspectives they represent.

“We need to support diverse gaming communities because none of us are a monolith,” DePass says.


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