November 6, 2019

When you think about online gamer communities, Twitch probably comes to mind first, but the platform is not necessarily representative of the gaming audience. A whopping 81.5 percent of Twitch users are male, even though about 46 percent of gamers are women, according to the 2019 Entertainment Software Association Report. So if the women gamers aren’t on Twitch, where are they?

Many are on r/girlgamers, a subreddit with nearly 80,000 members and a Discord server with more than 2,600 active users. Made initially in 2010 for players to chat with each other while playing video games, Discord specializes in text, image, video and audio communication between users in chat channels. Now you can find servers large and small, from a handful of people to thousands, and for discussing a variety of topics, including non-video game related content. 

Nine years ago, Jamie Klouse began as a moderator at the inception of the r/girlgamers subreddit, which later expanded into the Discord server. As The Outline reported, new members of the Discord are met with a list of 10 rules covering everything from banned language to how to handle harassment with the help of moderators. The list closes with this message: “All women are welcome here, regardless of their background, and no discrimination or disrespect based on race, religion, gender identity, or anything else is tolerated. We are not the kind of community that accepts ‘it was just a joke’ as an excuse.”

We spoke to Klouse to give us some insight into what women-identifying and non-binary gamers get out of having their own online space. 

Twofivesix: What do you do as a moderator? 

Jamie Klouse: For the most part, we don’t really have to do a whole lot aside from skimming threads and responding to user reports. The users in both the Reddit and the Discord are very active in telling us when something’s going on. So we can usually just pop in and make a judgment call. If it’s more serious, then we’ll discuss it as a team. Most of what we do is more about guiding the community and helping to set the tone of conversation. If something is happening rapidly in the Discord, our default is to stop it and to move the offending users into a “timeout room” where they can’t see any other channels. 

When we’re in the “timeout room”, we want to make sure users understand that we’re not there to argue about whether what they did was wrong or not. We’re just there to say that we’re seeing unhealthy behavior. So let’s talk about that.

Twofivesix: The r/girlgamers community started on Reddit, but it’s also expanded to Discord. What differences have you seen between those online platforms?

Klouse: They’re hugely different. It’s fair to say that nearly everyone on the Discord server is a subscriber to our subreddit. But very few people in the Discord comment or submit links in the subreddit because the traffic is much lower there than in the Discord. So, the subreddit grew in the same way that all subreddits do: People have to submit and comments are made, and it begets debate. It’s a certain kind of user that actually interacts on Reddit, but more people will upvote and downvote but never submit anything. 

The purpose of the Discord was to create a place where people could talk about actually playing games. They could say, “Hey, who’s online right now? Do you want to play?” Early on we had a public link. And while there were a lot of men who were looking for a healthy community and coming from a good place that wanted to join, they also suppressed the voices of the women in our server, so a lot of people just didn’t really engage with the Discord.

Twofivesix: How did you change that dynamic?

Klouse: We pretty quickly decided that we were going to run it more exclusively. Essentially, a user needs to ask first. Then we review their history and try to discern whether this person is joining out of the goodness of their heart. Or are they looking to troll? We primarily invite women, women-identifying, non-binary people and trans-men. Any cisgender male-identified users in the server have been vouched for by an existing user, so there are an exceedingly small number of them.

So that completely changed the scenario where now people were able to trust that who they were talking to was probably a woman or non-binary, and the tone of the discussion changed. It became more inclusive, more cooperative. People started finding groups that they were looking for, and groups started to form within the Discord. In some cases, they were kind of cliquey, but we try to discourage that.

Twofivesix: Why do you try to avoid cliques in your community?

Klouse: When a group gets cliquey, they may start to drive users out of a channel. And it’s not like they are telling people to get out. It’s just that they make it harder for others to participate. And we start to see activity in that channel drop, and that gives us a really good in to say, “We’re going to merge you back into the general chat,” where it’s much harder to be cliquey, or “We’re going to merge you with a larger category.” Like, we could merge League of Legends and Overwatch channels if the groups regularly talking about them were small enough. And merging them makes it easier for other people to get into the conversation.

Twofivesix: On either platform, what are the recurring themes or topics of conversation you’re seeing? 

Klouse: On Reddit, you really cannot share any kind of personal information. Some people will say where they’re from or events that they’ve been to but if you give enough of that information, it’s not too hard to figure out who you are and potentially get doxxed. On Discord, it’s a lot harder to track that kind of information. Only moderators can see everything someone has ever said.

So I think people get more personal on Discord. A lot of people know each other’s names, and we see lots of posts of images containing users, which you just don’t really see much of that on Reddit.

Twofivesix: On your subreddit, there were a few threads talking about harassment on Twitch and other places. Do those conversations come up on Discord as well?

Klouse: Yeah, it’s more or less the same. On Reddit, you’ll have some (usually male) folks come in from another subreddit, and when they see women talking about harassment, they feel like they need to defend themselves and say, “Well, I’m not like that.” They feel personally attacked, even though they’re not the ones being talked about. We see much less of that on the Discord because most folks in there are woman-identified or non-binary. Even if they haven’t personally experienced harassment, they know someone who has. And I think it’s also fair to say that even the men that are on the Discord are very familiar with those experiences.

And when someone shares an experience or frustration like that, the feedback that other members share back starts to build this kind of cumulative feeling in the community, meaning when someone shares a frustration like that, everyone adds, “Oh my gosh, I had this happen to me, too.” And the shared experience builds together.

Twofivesix: This might be difficult to quantify, but how much of the discussions are about issues like harassment versus anything else?

Klouse: I’d say it’s probably 10 percent or less. A discussion on Discord relating to harassment might be a 10-minute conversation. But we have a dedicated channel for more difficult topics, which is called “serious stuff.” When things start to get passionate or a debate starts, we encourage everybody to take that to the “serious stuff” channel. And that’s where you can basically trust that everybody in there has opted into hearing whatever difficult thing that you need to share, and those who haven’t opted in can continue to participate in the rest of the Discord server.

Twofivesix: From your perspective, how has the visibility of women-identifying and non-binary people in gaming changed since you started moderating for close to a decade?

Klouse: It’s changed a lot. The person I look to for making the biggest difference is Scarlett. She’s a StarCraft player who just started tearing it up when she began competing. When she came into the scene, she had a very similar play style to another player named Idra, but who was also famous for being toxic. When he fell out of the limelight, she filled the void with that highly-technical play style a lot of folks like to watch, but with none of the toxicity. 

The next big thing was Gamergate, and we still get questions that seem related to that but less frequently. [Male gamers] might say, “I’m an equalist and a humanist. Why do women need their own subreddit?” 

And of course, we would respond, “Because of questions like that!” And Gamergate really blew the lid off that question. It showed exactly why women need their own spaces. 

And since then, there’s been the #MeToo movement, and I think women, in general, are rising in visibility in society. And I’m seeing our subscriptions growing, not just in our girl gamer subreddit, but another larger subreddit that I mod that is also women-centric. 

Twofivesix: Do you have any advice for companies trying to reach a diverse array of gamers?

Klouse: I think we get a lot of marketing to only a certain kind of gamer. Think about car commercials. Every kind of car tells a different story, right? The sedan is always a gift for Christmas. The truck is for someone who wants to do some heavy-duty lifting. These car commercials are talking to different kinds of people, but they’re both people who want to buy a car.  With a majority-gamer society, companies need to start reaching out to different kinds of gamers.