Twitch’s Hot Tub Saga Is Over, And We Need To Move On

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the hot tub streamers on Twitch, and had a suggestion to offer: everyone needed to shut up. It seems that my advice went unheeded, as since then there have been multiple flareups and controversies, culminating in Twitch creating a specific Hot Tub channel. With that, the whole affair should be over, and maybe we can finally shut up about it – once we do that, we can start to talk about it too. Trust me, it makes sense.

If you haven’t been following, here’s the CliffsNotes on the whole thing. A little while ago, hot tub streams started appearing on the front page of Twitch. These streams were a riff on the Just Chatting stream, and typically involved female streamers in bikinis in hot tubs. They did everything from sipping wine to reading tarot cards to writing names on their bodies – both because of some streamers getting in on the trend and others jumping on the bandwagon of complaining about it, the hot tub streams grew in popularity and controversy. The more people talked about it, the more streamers did it, so the more people watched, so the more streamers did it, so the more people talked about it, so the more… you get the picture.

These streams were promoted on the front page, and didn’t break any rules – Twitch allows for streamers to wear bathing suits without getting a strike for nudity so long as there is an appropriate context, and being in a hot tub provides that context. However, around ten days ago, Twitch banned the mention of the phrase ‘hot tubs’ on its official channel, and then demonetised Amouranth’s hot tub streams, which both seemed like concerted efforts to end the hot tub trend by dissauding other streamers and making an example of Amouranth, rather than the effort and moderation that would be required to go after all of them. A few days after that, Twitch seemed to reverse course, legitimising hot tub streams by creating a specific channel for them – Pools, Hot Tubs, and Beaches. With that, the saga has drawn to a close, and people really need to let it go.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t still issues around them, however. But it does mean the noise can subside, and the issues can start to be discussed. Almost every topic of discussion around the hot tub streamers has stopped at “should they exist?” – regardless of the issues around them, the answer is yes. As Twitch put it in its own ruling ‘being found to be sexy by others is not against our rules, and Twitch will not take enforcement action against women, or anyone on our service, for their perceived attractiveness’. Basically, don’t take it out on the hot tub streamers just because you’re down bad.

The discussions around the hot tub streamers have rarely moved past the immovable object that Twitch is for games, and by extension, for gamers. It’s for boys and for men who play games and want a safe space away from the safe spaces where they can say what they want about anybody they want to say it about – especially women. It’s why xQc calling hot tub streamers “trash” feels like a dog whistle for harassment, and part of the mentality that only certain types of games are real games, only certain types of gamers are real gamers, and that Twitch belongs to them exclusively. It’s not the fault of the hot tub streamers that other female streamers are now fending off trolls taunting them about becoming a hot tub streamer – it’s the fault of the trolls, who are buoyed by mainstream figures in the streaming world gatekeeping Twitch.

That’s not to say that there aren’t a huge range of diverse streamers using the platform to welcome all sorts of audiences that typical gamer streams refuse to accommodate. But these streamers are swimming against the current. Then the immovable object meets the unstoppable force – Just Chatting was the most popular category to stream in last month, and is most months. However, that is irrelevant to some – in their eyes, Twitch exists for them, and that means they get to dictate what belongs there and what doesn’t. The hot tub streams dunk these perceptions underwater, and that’s why they have proven so controversial. At least now that they have their own category, Twitch has provided a built-in defence to the idea that these streams do not belong on the platform.

That said, they aren’t without fault. While the bathing suits do not violate the contextual rules, setting up a kiddie pool in your living room is clearly exploiting the loophole somewhat. While I would suggest granting these streams legitimacy is a positive step for Twitch defending women more proactively, it’s also telling that femme coded female streams like makeup tips, dance, music, art, or a myriad of other categories far more popular than the hot tubs were a few months ago, have not and likely will never enjoy similar breakout virality. Hot tub streams exist primarily for the male gaze, and that was a key factor in earning them a spotlight initially.

There’s also the parasocial aspect, which feels like the most troubling part of Twitch in general as an observer. Streamers build audiences largely by connecting on a personal level, which means viewers grow to view you as a friend. These seem troublesome enough at the best of times, but when they compel young audiences to donate money so attractive – but rule abiding – women can write their names on their bare thigh, it feels like blurring the lines between entertainment and sex work.

I don’t have a problem with sex work, and with proper regulation, I don’t have a problem with it on Twitch. But those are the conversations we should be having about the hot tubs streamers, about their audience, and about Twitch as an entity. Now that we’ve stopped whining about “trash” maybe those conversations can start.

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