Once the year 2077 rolls around, people apparently won’t bat an eyelash at unclothed dicks, breasts, and butts. In 2020, however, this is still very much an issue, especially on Twitch, where on-screen nudity frequently results in temporary or indefinite suspensions. But the platform does make exceptions for big games, with Cyberpunk 2077 being the latest to get a free pass to pair semi-gratuitous sex with its extremely gratuitous violence. This has resulted in a vast array of Twitch clips with hundreds of thousands of views that focus on sex and nudity.
As Vice reported last week, streamers are not getting in trouble for broadcasting sexual content in Cyberpunk 2077, even though Twitch’s rules state that “games featuring nudity, pornography, sex, or sexual violence as a core focus or feature are entirely prohibited,” and in the past, the platform has gone so far as to ban specific games that include sex and/or nudity. This is a clear double standard: Big-budget games like Cyberpunk, The Witcher 3, and Grand Theft Auto V can depict sexually explicit subjects and themes, but if smaller indie games do it—whether for pornographic purposes or as more deliberate explorations of sex, romance, queerness, etc—streamers have to go out of their way to steer clear of nudity or risk losing their channels. Many eschew taking the risk altogether. Smaller games, in turn, lose out on the potentially tremendous amount of visibility Twitch offers.
And yet, despite this effort to keep nudity off the platform, Twitch is currently overflowing with it, specifically because of Cyberpunk 2077. If you look at Cyberpunk 2077's clip directory, nudity is central to countless clips. I scrolled down for 30 consecutive seconds, and it was naked future flesh as far as the eye could see.
Of these risqué clips, five are among the most viewed on all of Twitch in the past seven days. Twitch’s current top clip sees unlikely superstar Félix “xQc” Lengyel express shock when he accidentally triggers a sex scene with a male character. It has nearly 450,000 views. The second-most-popular clip is of Twitch partner Kyle acting faux-offended at the game’s depiction of a “small” penis. It has almost 350,000 views. A little bit below that is Twitch star turned Mixer star turned Twitch star (again) Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek adjusting his character’s penis slider in the character creator. That clip has almost 220,000 views. A few slots below that, there’s Lengyel judging in-game images of penises. Almost 200,000 views. Beneath that, there’s a clip of Twitch star Imane “Pokimane” Anys screaming and asking “Am I gonna get banned” after showing breasts in the character creator. That clip is nearing 130,000 views. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, with many others hovering just below the threshold of Twitch’s top 20.
Twitch told Vice that streamers are allowed to play Cyberpunk provided they “progress naturally through things like character customization and do not spend significant periods of time focused on sexual content or nudity,” but that does not appear to have stopped streamers and viewers alike from making sexual content and nudity an outsized portion of the show. That, on its own, is not necessarily a problem; streamers can mark their broadcasts as intended for mature audiences, and many do. The problem is that Twitch doesn’t want nudity on its platform—a retrograde policy that’s caused unneeded headaches a plenty, especially for female streamers—but this is just about the clearest example possible of how money and eyeballs make those rules magically disappear.
So now we find ourselves in a grimy cyberpunk alley just spitting distance from an uncomfortable question: What was the point of all these rules in the first place? Twitch has not been irreparably ruined by the presence of a large quantity of nudity this past handful of days, and even if the company would still prefer to generally keep sexual content limited for legal and advertising reasons (or whatever else), its current not-actually-a-no-tolerance policy just cold shoulders interesting smaller games in favor of big ones that, for example, put dildos everywhere because they can.
It’s time for Twitch to reevaluate its policy, to allow more games that feature nudity on a selective basis, at the very least. Though it’s not an entirely analogous example, Valve has done this with Steam—albeit to extremely mixed results. The alternative is that every time a game like Cyberpunk comes out and streamers are allowed to frolic with their virtual genitals clipping free of clothing’s cruel restraints, everybody will hyper-fixate on that and overload the platform with clips that feature nudity. After all, it’s not just that nudity is scandalous on Twitch; it’s also novel. Allow more nudity, and you cut down on the novelty.
For now, though, the double standard remains. The ball is in Twitch’s court, but then, when hasn’t it been?