If you grew up as a gamer in Australia, chances are you watched Good Game on ABC every week. Stephanie ‘Hex’ Bendixsen co-hosted the video game review show from 2009 until 2016, as well as the kids’ version of the show, Good Game: Spawn Point. In that time, she became one of the most well-known people in the Australian gaming industry and worked to make games a welcoming space for everyone. In one episode of Spawn Point, Bendixsen and her co-host Steven ‘Bajo’ O’Donnell received a letter from a fan asking about the best games for girls. Bendixsen replied: “there’s no clear-cut boundary between games for boys and girls. Lots of girls like blokey action or sports games, and you’d be surprised the number of boys that play games that are supposedly ‘for girls’.”
Since leaving Good Game, Bendixsen has continued working in games, with most of her content now streaming on Twitch. She regularly streams on her own channel, and she hosts a video game variety talk show called Back Pocket with ex-Good Game colleagues. She also hosts Red Bull’s gaming trivia show called The Wrap-Up, which she describes as “kind of like Spicks and Specks but for video games.”
We spoke to Bendixsen about how she got her start reviewing video games for a living, why she loves streaming and her Twitch community, and what advice she has for young girls who want to get into the industry.
POPSUGAR Australia: Hello Stephanie! You’ve had a long and very successful career as a games critic, presenter and streamer. Can you please tell us how you got into this line of work?
Stephanie ‘Hex’ Bendixsen: I got my start in the gaming industry in 2009 — and things move fast, so it was a very different world, then. It was before live streaming platforms were around, internet speeds were terrible, and gaming was still largely thought of as ‘niche’. When I heard they were looking for a new presenter to join Good Game, I wrote some reviews in the show’s style and sent them into the show’s EP, Janet Gaeta, and got a screen test from there. It was absolutely surreal — like stepping through the screen and onto the set I’d watching on TV so many times.
PS: Good Game was one of the first times I saw games being treated with as much respect as movies — was that one of your goals on the show? How did you and the rest of the teamwork towards that?
SB: The show’s creator, Janet, came from a news and current affairs background. So even though she of course wanted to capture the culture and community around video games, she also made sure we approached reviews and industry stories with a level of seriousness and respect that allowed for real insight into what makes games so nuanced, important, exciting, educational, what makes some games art, others problematic. Most importantly, what makes games culturally transformative.
One of the things that excited me most about games, for example, is the element of narrative choice. The interactivity is what sets games apart from other mediums — it’s what’s exciting. So when you add elements of moral choice into the story that can affect the outcome of the narrative — of course, we are suddenly way more emotionally invested. And how we justify the difficult choices we make is even more interesting. You don’t get that in a movie. So the show provided a great opportunity to really deep-dive on things like that.
PS: People have probably seen you most recently streaming on Twitch. What do you like about streaming? What role does your Twitch community play when you’re live?
SB: There are a number of great things Twitch has done to change the industry. First and foremost, it has provided an accessible platform for women.
When I started, I was one of only a handful of women working visibly in the industry. I’d get referred to as ‘girl gamer’ by mainstream media outlets, because my gender in the industry was a novelty. At most press events it would be 90 percent dudes, and at conventions, it was a similar dude-fest. At E3 — one of the biggest video game events of the year — there were lines for the men’s bathrooms, but the women’s? EMPTY. I had my pick of the cubicles! It was like a weird opposite dimension. Jokes aside, it sucked. People assumed I was someone’s assistant, or didn’t know how to play games, and wouldn’t take me seriously.
I think for a long time, it just seemed an unpleasant space for women to break into. Gamers then were very territorial, some perhaps grew up a little more socially awkward and so now the idea of women invading that space was confronting? I don’t know. But for women who were even casually interested in games, it was a hostile space for a long time.
Twitch allowed women to start sharing their passion for games on their own terms. Women on Twitch don’t have to wait for someone to hire them. They don’t need permission to play and share what they love — and they can position people they trust as the guardians of that space (mods) so that it stays safe. And that visibility has in turn given more and more women the confidence to do the same. So suddenly when someone says ‘gamer’, they don’t automatically think of a man.
The other great thing about Twitch is the interactivity. It was a weird shift, coming from a TV presenting background, where the audience is very separate from what we do. I had to learn how to be a lot more candid, less ‘presenter’ and more ‘human being’ on camera. But you get to know people a lot more when you stream — you learn about people’s lives, their interests, you share things in a more socially-engaging way, and that’s really wonderful.
PS: You’ve built a really kind and friendly audience on your stream – was that intentional or something that happened naturally as people followed you from Good Game to Twitch?
SB: A big chunk of my community has come across from Good Game and hang out in my stream, as well as our variety show, Back Pocket. Our audience is modern, quite progressive and super-inclusive. I’ve never been a super-skilled gamer but I love games, I play all of them, and I enjoy sharing that passion with like-minded people — I believe games are for everyone.
The cool thing is the gaming community is made up of all kinds of people — and they’re not necessarily interested in any one thing. They want to know about the industry, in what’s new, what’s unique — and we kind of draw attention to those things in the way we did on Good Game, just more relaxed, discussional and longer-form. There are plenty of places you can go for content that is about competitiveness, or a singular focus on one specific game, or ‘video game fail’ compilations — but I think our audience is interested in personality and genuine discussion.
PS: What’s your favourite game of all time, and why?
SB: The Witcher 3. As a lover of fantasy fiction, it just felt like a concept that was plucked from my brain and presented to me as: “here’s everything you love, in game form.” It has such a wonderful focus on storytelling, but with all the action and adventure you crave to keep you exploring and challenging yourself. And it’s just a breath-taking world to spend time in. And I spent a LOT of time in it!
PS: What’s your favourite game of the year so far? Or the game you’re most looking forward to this year?
SB: The game I’m most looking forward to this year is Redfall. It’s developed by Arkane (Dishonoured, Deathloop, Prey) and published by Bethesda — so it’s got some serious weight behind it. It looks super stylish —it’s a co-op multiplayer action game with a kind of cool, urbane vampire setting. Since COVID and all this insane weather, I’ve been relying on games a lot more for my social interaction, so I play a lot more multiplayer stuff these days. Redfall looks like an incredible way to party-up with friends and have fun.
PS: Who’s your favourite female character in a game? Why do you think it’s so important that games feature good female characters?
SB: This is tough, there are a few! But I’m gonna highlight Lara Croft here — because she went through a major transformation which I really saw as a turning point for the industry. For a long time, Lara Croft was one of the most recognisable video game characters out there, next to Mario. Most non-gamers had heard of Lara Croft. But she was absolutely developed with a male-gaze.
When they rebooted the franchise and created the Lara Croft origin story with 2013’s Tomb Raider, they completely redesigned her. They made her body more realistically proportioned, they gave her pants (!), and they hired a female writer (Rhianna Pratchett, daughter of famous fantasy novelist Terry Prachett) to tell her story. It was such a huge shift — and the game was super successful, with multiple sequels and subsequent films. It proved that female protagonists in games could be powerful and vulnerable and nuanced and interesting — and, yes, financially viable for video game publishers.
PS: What advice do you have for other women who want to start gaming or work in the industry? Is Twitch a foot in the door for future industry professionals?
SB: I have a few pieces of advice:
- Start small. Twitch is such a wonderful way to share what you love with the world — but there’s a lot of gear involved in getting started, and you don’t want to go crazy and invest a bunch of money in a stream set-up if it turns out not to be your thing! It’s absolutely okay to have your set-up grow as your passion (and your audience!) does.
- Next, join some communities and Discords around other creators you enjoy watching. A number of people from the Back Pocket community have started streaming as a hobby — they all support each other and have started to grow their audiences as a result. It’s a great way to connect with people and work together.
- Plan streams with other small creators! You can give each other’s audiences a boost and you’ll create fun moments and memories, too. I was really nervous to do this at the start, assuming no one would be interested in hanging with this, like, out-of-touch person who came from TV — but it turns out, everyone is just as nervous to approach everyone else. Be the one to take the first leap! I’ve been denying myself wonderful friendships for years as a result — out for fear!
- Set your expectations. Every now and then, someone skyrockets due to some viral video or something. But the reality is, for most people, growth is slow. It takes time, dedication and consistency to grow. But Twitch has a great pathway to growing your platform and as a partnered creator, there are always opportunities to participate in charity events, women’s events that can see you on the Twitch ANZ front page, and co-streams with other creators. Put yourself out there as much as possible, and just keep doing your thing.