Over the weekend gaming’s biggest star, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins went on record saying that he does not play with female gamers. Blevins explained to Polygon, “If I have one conversation with one female streamer where we’re playing with one another, and even if there’s a hint of flirting, that is going to be taken and going to be put on every single video and be clickbait forever.” Since the article, people have responded to Blevins’ comments strongly. While some claim that he is right to protect himself from the evils of rumor mills and clickbait, others vehemently argue that Blevins is not doing enough for females in the gaming industry. For Blevins, not only does this mean not engaging in the fight, but not even stepping in the ring.
After giving yourself a moment to clear your head of your initial thoughts and feelings, it is important to note that Blevins went on to have a very sincere and open explanation as to why he makes this choice. He discussed the internet rumor mill, respect for his wife and family, and that whatever he considers banter might be construed as flirting for hundreds of thousands of people to see. If we have seen anything from Ninja, it has been that he is a well-intentioned man who deserves to enjoy his success in any way that he chooses. He’s likable, approachable, and seems to genuinely care about people.
That said, this wasn’t that good of an answer. Men can be friends with women. Adults are expected to be in control of their actions at all times and can form meaningful relationships aside from physical and emotional romance. Women who stream or play games are not out to get anybody or steal viewers because of how they choose to dress or act. So what is the problem?
We are the problem.
Having read the article several times trying to make sense of what Blevins is trying to say, this is my one conclusion. He’s not saying that he thinks women are out to ruin what he has built. He’s not saying that simply talking to a woman will topple his empire. What he is saying is that opening that type of stream up to the millions of people who watch him on Twitch will create an unsafe environment for him and for anybody he chooses to play with. Put the most well-regarded and professional woman gamer besides him, and those people (you know who they are) will grab their pitchforks and torches and take to the forums, and Twitter feeds to tear the whole thing to pieces. Why would Tyler Blevins willingly put himself, his family, and the woman he is streaming with through all of that? It simply doesn’t make sense. I sincerely believe that Blevins is trying to tell the community that this is for our own good, and I get it.
There has been some outcry since this interview was published claiming that Ninja does not support females in the streaming world, that he is intentionally keeping them down by not gaming with them. While something about that does seem true, it is also an impossible task for Ninja. As it stands today the culture of online gaming (and the internet as a whole for that matter) is fueled by speculation and strong opinions. Asking Tyler Blevins to do something he is not comfortable with for the sake of the entire Twitch community is not only irresponsible but a fool’s errand. Sure he could come out tomorrow, stand up for female streamers (which he has historically), and make videos with whomever he chooses but it wouldn’t be the same. Blevins’ job is to create content that makes people happy. He has been doing this for a very long time, and it is something in which he excels. He has, in a sense, found his place in the world as the King of Twitch. The price of this fame is that now we expect him to fix our problems. Yet, how is he going to do that if he is uncomfortable or simply not completely sold on the idea? How is Tyler Blevins going to be “Ninja” when he is constantly questioning how he is being perceived?
In the end, this isn’t about women streamers or Tyler Blevins’ decision on who he wants to play with. What this boils down to is that if we want this to happen, we need to be better as spectators. Like it or not (note: I hate it), the gaming community is not always supportive or friendly to anybody who isn’t a man. Don’t believe me, ask anybody who does not identify as male to tell you the worst thing that happened to them while streaming, and I promise that you will wish you hadn’t asked. This issue is a systemic one, and it is one that we as spectators have created. Not only is this a problem too big for Ninja to fix, but it is also one that we should not expect him to.