Solving the Hot Tub Stream Conundrum

Twitch now finally has an answer, and it may be enough to stave off further controversy.

Blanket criticism of female streamers on Twitch has long been a staple of the platform, even more so because much of it remains mired in the emotional trappings of toxic gaming culture, one whose foundation is deeply-rooted in misogyny, sexism and all manners of exclusionary mechanisms to keep those on the opposite side of the binary gender spectrum confined to a role of mere sexual objects. Hot tub streams on Twitch were particularly tricky to assess because they didn’t expressly break the platform’s terms-of-service, yet they were seen by many as intentionally skirting the rules in order to court favor from those seeking an experience adjacent to that of OnlyFans on the lowest end, and Chaturbate at its most-ideal.

As with most changes in the online content delivery landscape, much of it is spurred by advertiser discontent–following a recent controversy in which top streamer Amouranth could no longer pocket revenue from ads displayed on her channel with no prior warning, the platform decided to set the record straight. As of yesterday, there’s now a new category under which these streams should ideally be categorized—“Pools, Hot Tubs and Beaches” Twitch calls it—and this will simultaneously allow advertisers to better target against their peculiar content preferences while allowing users who show open disdain towards the category to curate their experience more, eliminating the need to flood Twitch’s socials with borderline self-incriminating screenshots of hot tub streams being floated on their discovery tabs.

One might be compelled to chalk the issue’s controversial character strictly to a misogynistic pathos, but there are multiple factors at play. Chief among them currently is a seeming deference to neopuritanism in what seems like the first murmurings of a cultural backlash against the post-sexual revolution status quo–in that scenario, the objection is as simple as a fundamental disagreement with streamers who show too much skin. There’s also been an increasing worry among viewers of the “corrupting” nature of streams with sexual character, parroting a similar line of criticism from conservative concern-trolling around the need to preserve children’s innocence and sanctity–to even entertain the idea in earnest—and trust that those who would enforce it have children’s best interest at heart—would be lending it too much credence, but needless to say that if moderators were entrusted the role of makeshift parents, they’re more than likely going to fail

Numerous objections to hot tub streamers spring out of these two main branches, but the thread uniting them all is a reluctance to engage with the core of the argument–namely that critics of female streamers couch so much of their animosity in a thin valence of intellectual grounding, layered on top of which is a slight tinge of moralization that rarely amounts to anything beyond a subjective philosophical argument for why the commercial sight of less-than-adequately clothed women is somehow a net negative to society. I’ve never been one to take much pleasure in watching hot tub streams—though the coom machine’s temptation is occasionally far too great to ignore—but it’d be foolish to deny that this is just another form of entertainment, not unlike the one gamers were originally ridiculed for by indulging the spectacle of players in a competition on who can left-click on another’s head first.

It’s important to also not divorce this from the context of COVID–as much of the globe’s ability to socialize was brought to a complete halt for the bulk of last year, many have taken a liking to supplementing their lack of social rapport with the parasocial gratification that hot tub streams—or other conversational forms of live-broadcast media—amply provide. Whether that is a healthy habit is subject to debate, but the onus isn’t on hot tub streamers to deflate their pools and retreat back to older conventions if audiences are displaying great interest in the content being made–the genie simply cannot be put back in the bottle, and the entire streaming ecosystem as a whole needs only to adapt.

As a policy shift for Twitch, this is a slam dunk–it nullifies the effectiveness of moral panic as a valid attack on hot tub streamers, all-the-while giving those who’d like to see more of them a single category they can sift through to their heart’s content. Though remaining unanswered is the other slew of problems that Twitch still has, and if the controversy surrounding hot tub streamers is any indication, it shows that the platform is categorically disinterested in user feedback unless it corroborates a healthier relationship with their business partners, which in this case would’ve meant a less prosperous advertisement market unless swift action was taken.

One would be remiss to dub this the end of Twitch’s woes on the rule-skirting front—especially as it pertains to women doing it—but it is at least a momentary relief until they can figure out proper solutions to make all their cohorts feel equally as welcome. While the platform remains primarily a haven for gaming content, the introduction of additional categories like ‘Just Chatting’ made of it practically an altogether-different beast–with that being said, the safety of women on the platform should be of paramount importance, and it’s at least a good step in the right direction that Twitch is acknowledging that as part of their effort to keep the slant of hot tub streams a vibrant ecosystem, while giving those with no desire to skip on a conventional wardrobe the chance to thrive.