Twitch’s new beacons are justice, not a victory
Last week, Twitch unveiled the addition of 350 new tags, covering gender, orientation, ethnicity and several other categories that had previously been excluded from the tag system for not conforming to the previously narrow definition of Twitch of “ what defines content. ” Of those 350+ additions, the trans tag attracted the most headlines, having already been a much-requested feature in the trans community. Twitch had always supported the idea that a trans tag would lead to additional moderation, initially ignoring the trans community, pointing out that additional moderation is a symptom of being a trans person in the gaming industry, and not of a tag per se. A few months ago, Twitch softened its stance and began considering a trans tag – among other requested categories – before finally confirming last week that a trans tag was officially an option. I’m happy, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t party too hard.
Not long ago, I wrote about the need for the game to embrace intersectionality – about how collective voices are stronger, despite the need for engaged voices that only stand up for their own people. In this article, I admitted to seeing intersectional issues in gaming through a very specific, trans-oriented lens. It might seem hypocritical then to distill 350 new tags into one story on just one of them, but that’s not quite what I’m doing. As someone who’s written about trans issues in games, interviewed trans tag advocates, and is trans herself, you’d think I’d greet the news with applause. But it is justice, not a victory.
I don’t want anyone’s own celebration. A lot of people have worked incredibly hard to get Twitch moving on this issue, and the trans tag is their work – they should be allowed to take advantage of it. The world will never be perfect and to never stop smelling the roses is exhausting for communities who often have to defend themselves to get the bare minimum. But any celebration that includes Twitch itself is far from grassroots. It’s complicated, like all things – the voices inside Twitch have long pushed back against platform policies and tried to introduce changes from within. They too should be allowed to celebrate, but Twitch as an entity is positioning these new tags as an embrace of inclusiveness, when the only one to exclude anyone was Twitch himself.
This comes alongside updating the LGBTQIA + tag so that it no longer lists “ Ally ” as part of the community. Again, this is a necessary change that has taken too long. It’s hard to get too excited about this, especially when that excitement involves Twitch doing the right thing – it’s more fair to say that Twitch was doing the wrong thing and ultimately quit.
All we know right now is that these tags include “transgender, black, disabled, veteran, and Vtuber, among many others” – this is from Twitch’s own press release. Nationalities are also listed, and you have to imagine that they will take up most of the 350. Added to the fact that Vtuber is included, clearly it’s not just minorities or under-represented groups that are getting these new tags. This is not a problem though, in fact I would even say it is a positive point. These tags should have been available from the get-go, and adding a huge wave together sounds like an admission from Twitch that the tag system needed a major update, rather than just adding ‘transgender’. ‘and “ black’ ‘and draw the wrath of Twitch’s very vocal Guardians.
Later today, Twitch will explain in detail what these beacons mean, when they will be available, and how – if anything – the broader beacon system will change. When that happens we’ll have a bit more information on Twitch’s overall plans, but now the focus needs to be on Twitch and communities.
These communities, whether transgender or black or disabled or any combination thereof, now have an additional capacity for discovery. Twitch’s previous stance was that just because a streamer is black doesn’t necessarily mean they produce black content, and that’s true – that’s not necessarily true, but for some black streamers their blackness. is an essential part of their online identity, and it shapes both the games they play and the way they play them. They can discuss politics or themes or characters or… anything, speaking very deliberately as a black person. For other black people looking for this type of content and this type of online space where their identity is celebrated, they should have this access. They should always have had that access. Replace “ Black ” with any group that was previously not represented in the Twitch tag, and the statement is true. It’s hard to build a community when you’re not allowed to let your larger audience know that you’re doing the kinds of things they’re looking for.
The worst part is that these beacons once existed. Twitch once had a feature that allowed streamers to create their own tags and discover their own communities, but once the tagging system was introduced, that feature bit the dust and many communities have nowhere to turn.
It is important to celebrate victories, especially in communities where getting the bare minimum long after it should have been granted is again A victory. But it’s also important to keep in mind that we’re only celebrating now because Twitch had decided for years that if we were doing content about ourselves, it didn’t really matter.
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