If you are at all part of the streaming community, either as a viewer or a content creator, or just spend a handful of minutes on gaming news sites every couple of days, inevitably you'll have encountered the "hot tub meta" and surrounding controversy regarding Twitch. After advertisers got involved, the streaming platform made some changes that had unexpected consequences.
The whole "hot tub meta" controversy (tubgate?) ran on multiple tracks depending on who was being asked, with different people arguing in favor of different measures from being taken for different reasons, all the while narratives built by various camps would lump others together with fringe opinions in "if you are not with us, you are against us" strokes. It was a mess - and following the actions of advertisers and Twitch, it still is.
What is the hot tub meta anyway?
Twitch, the streaming site that built its castle on the hill of video game streaming, had moved away from that for a long time now. There are still a lot of gaming streams and key functionality built into the site geared specifically towards gaming streams, but unfortunately that vision had been lost a while ago.
Sure, content diversification is great to a point, but I'd definitely not that thrilled to head down to my local veggie shop to see half the shelves stocked with motor oil - but we digress. The hot tub meta revolves around a recent popular trend where content creators would stream themselves soaking in an in-door pool wearing the absolute bare minimum of clothing (in order to not violate Twitch policies) with various suggestive activities and "bonuses" for subscriptions and donations intended to be titillating.
No need to beat around the bush here - it's softcore porn. Actual nudity as defined by the content rules of Twitch does not appear, but that's why it's softcore. There's a bit of a difference in between merely looking good on camera, as some people have defended these streams as, and gyrating on an inflatable banana while writing your top donators' names on your chest.
In the ages old wisdom of someone like Socrates or whoever, "sex sells", and the hot tub meta immediately skyrocketed to being the number one way to easily get droves of viewers on the streaming platform.
"But there isn't even any sex involved" you might say, and this is correct - so why would people watch this content and donate money to the content creators when there's actual porn out there on the internet, for free? Parasocial interaction!
Parasocial interaction is a major psychological concept in media, especially 'reality media', that's been a huge factor in the meteoric rise of content creators and influencers as a new caste of celebrity in the internet age wherein the viewer feels as though by consuming the content of a given creator they can become closer to them or even get to know them on a personal level.
The development of these Parasocial Relationships is part of the reason why many people are more readily drawn to livestreams instead of pre-recorded content, because viewing a livestream as it happens, chatting with other viewers and the content creator who might respond to messages on air fosters a sense of participation and interaction. Adding a sexually charged element to this equation intensifies the psychological effect.
The hot tub meta works because when viewers donate, they're not 'buying' the content - they can get free content elsewhere, and the streams themselves require no payment from viewers - but they're buying attention. Drop enough cash and you'll appear on the screen, or get written onto the streamer's body. Subscribe and the content creator spins a lucky wheel which might result in a dance, or them wearing cat ears, or changing their bikini.
The hot tub meta works because of psychology, and how easy it is to prey on these simple reactions.
Why is there a hot tub category?
Splitting off the hot tub streams into the "Pools, Hot Tubs and Beaches" category was a recent move by Twitch in an attempt to resolve the ongoing controversy - but it says a lot that this move only came after money got involved. One of the top hot tub streamers, Amouranth, who became something of a figurehead for the whole fiasco, had their advertising income zeroed out after advertisers decided to disassociate with this sort of sexual content. Some advertisers reportedly threatened to move away from Twitch entirely, or have already done so.
The reasoning behind the creation of this new category is to build a space within Twitch where you'll know what you get - until now the hot tub streams were in the "Just Chatting" category - giving advertisers a way to filter out content creators who might not align with their standards. Twitch justified the creation of this category by stating that "Being found to be sexy by others is not against our rules" - this is the same company that in the past struck out against male streamers living in warm climates for broadcasting shirtless.
Things... didn't quite turn out the way any of the involved parties might have assumed, and the one force on the internet more powerful than erections has almost instantly manifested itself: memes. Currently, at least half of the Pools, Hot Tubs and Beaches category consists of parodical streams such as an infinite loop of Geralt from The Witcher 3 taking a bath, a gorilla spinning around in a tub, a wildlife camera broadcasting the daily life of an otter family, another wildlife camera trained on a stream (as in small river, not online broadcast) full of ducks, and another non-stop looped cut of every scene from The Lord of The Rings and Hobbit movies that involves water.
Why is this bad?
Before going further, it should be addressed that in this discourse very frequently all people who take some level of issue with the hot tub meta have been lumped together under the same umbrella assumption of being misogynistic sexually repressed unprogressive prudes who are clutching their pearls at the prospect of women taking charge of their sexuality and becoming successful as a result - this is bullshit.
The issues around the hot tub meta and the new hot tub category can be approached from different angles - and there are definitely cases of hateful troglodytes who fit the above description. Assuming that all critical voices have such motivations is extremely reductive however, and ignores a massive chunk of the discourse.
Firstly, this sort of content pushing away advertisers from the platform is harming all of the non-hot tub content creators on Twitch - and the ethical questions of why those advertisers take issue with sexual content is an entirely different can of worms. The focus here is that shoehorning content that ostensibly doesn't belong on Twitch is happening at the expense of content that does.
When advertising monetization was revoked on Amouranth's channel, the content creator revealed that this meant a financial blow of around $500,000. However, income from subscriptions and donations have not been affected, so it's not like we're talking about pushing hot tub streamers into poverty here.
An argument often brought up in favor of these sort of streams is that due to Twitch's content policy, outright nudity isn't allowed, therefore those creators who do want to build a business around their appearance without feeling pressured into producing explicit content by being based on sites that are geared toward that sort of thing can find a home on Twitch - the issue is that the majority of hot tub streamers do produce explicit content on Onlyfans and similar sites.
This isn't a problem; consenting adults producing ethical pornographic content is empowering, financially liberating and a moral step forward in an industry that inevitably will exist and has an unfortunate history of exploitation - the problem is the thematic bleedover of softcore porn onto what should primarily be a gaming site.
There is also something to be said about these hot tub streams and their negative impact on normalizing body positivity - the content creators who made it big with hot tub streams are of generally similar body types, enforcing harmful beauty standards that continue to do severe damage to the body image and self confidence of women and women-presenting people worldwide, while also skewing the expectations of gynosexual viewers.
Tubgate is ultimately a complex issue, and acknowledging the problems with the continued presence of this sort of content in Twitch doesn't necessarily equate to archaic moral-panic reactions stemming from a background of bigotry and sexism - Twitch did state that the introduction of the Pools, Hot Tubs and Beaches category is a temporary solution, and it being flooded with meme streams proves that it isn't viable; we're curious to see how the situation develops.