Hey everyone, my name is Solon S. Scott and I'm 23 years old and I live in Seattle, Washington, which makes me No. 8. The eighth person from Seattle on Don't Die.
I think it may be higher than that, because I haven't posted everything I have yet. I'm always transcribing stuff.
[Gasps.] Oh, you ruse!
There's at least two more that I know of. So you may be, like, double-digits Seattle No. 1.
Nice! I'm very proud of my city and I'm very proud of the people who live here and we all say that you're lovely, David.
Oh my goodness. Well, I've always been a big fan of Frasier. Just like him, I love Seattle.
So, what's going on? How did you come to lose interest in videogames?
I think the best starting point is that -- so, I've been playing games all my life and I started -- no, I don't want to start there, either.
Well, what I have written down here and I think a good place to start is just, "Why stream videogames?" A lot of people don't "get" it.
Why don't you explain that and get into how you burnt out, and I think that'll take us to at a good point.
Okay. So, I'm a Let's Player, and I had been Let's Playing games for the last five years. Four to five years. Since 2009, I was a sophomore in college and during that time, it was a very strange world where people would watch other people play videogames. No longer were we content with just playing the games. Now we wanted to watch other people play the games that we liked playing -- which sounds a little backwards. It sounds a little counter-intuitive: Why would you watch someone play a game when you can play a game yourself? And the people who really didn't get it were the game companies themselves. There was this time when we were starting where Nintendo tried to block all of these people from making videos out of their videogames and making YouTube videos that had their own playthroughs on it. And so, this was kind of the big deal at the time, in 2011 I wanna say.
And so I got started doing that with some friends. Some friends really loved doing this and I saw it as a good place to actually start analyzing and doing critical analysis of videogames. I was like, "Hey, there's all these people making videos about their own playthroughs. Why don't we talk about what's actually happening in the game? Why don't we do close readings of the games?" I was in college at the time. I actually had one class that inspired this. It was called "BioShock as Practicum."
What were you getting your degree in?
[Laughs.] I shouldn't laugh. I shouldn't laugh. It's not fair. [Laughs.]
It was BioShock studies. It, like, literally was.
My degree is in the comparative history of ideas at the University of Washington, which is an interdisciplinary program that lets you explore your own studies while also focusing on art, social justice, and philosophy. So I had a lot of classes in those, which are very interdisciplinary studies, and I would use those to analyze games.
And so, 2012 comes around and I have my first big community meltdown. There's gonna be a theme with this story where when your community melts down around you, you don't have a place to go, you don't have a home anymore. If you don't have a home, it becomes infinitely harder to do the things that you want to do, the things that you love. There's a lot of pain and stuff that goes into that.
What community melted down here? What are you talking about?
So, this was the group that I was making Let's Plays with. They were my housemates.
Okay. So these are all people that you interacted with on a daily basis.
In the physical meat world.
The gamers that I lived with in the meat world.
Which is a very important distinction because the second meltdown was not. And there's different factors that go into that.
So, just for context for everyone reading: You were doing critical analysis videos of you and your friends that you lived with playing videogames online.
And then something happened.
Yup. I got kicked out of my lease while I was on study abroad. When I came home, I literally did not have a home to come back to because someone else signed the lease where my name was supposed to go. Very illegal, but as a student there's nothing I can do about that. There's just no recourse except to find a new home, which was difficult but not insurmountable. And so, it became a problem where all of the people that I was working with melted down and said they did not want to live with me, they did not want to work with me, and I didn't really understand where that came from or how that happened. It was just a lot of miscommunication and people having -- I really don't know, actually. Sorry. I wish I had a better explanation but just a lot of miscommunication and people wondering if I was coming back from my study abroad or not, which is in retrospect very silly. [Laughs.] I'm gone for two months and all of a sudden the whole world has changed, which is kind of what living with gamers has always been like for me.
How do you mean?
There's this very close inspection on day-to-day events, dramas that happen. Interpersonal connections that are maligned. The gamers that I would live with would take that into their room and sink it in into games. They'd play games very angrily and just burn it into their skulls in very real ways. This was a range of people. I don't want to just malign all gamers as a subculture but this is the people that I lived with.
This is how many people?
About six. It was a big townhouse.
What happened with the videos you were making together?
Well, the videos that we made together are still online and are really great. [Laughs.]
Did they make videos without you, then?
They did make videos without me.
So you were kicked out of the band.
Yeah. Basically, kicked out of the band. And so I made my solo career, I guess is a way of putting it. [Laughs.] I've never thought of it like that but that's pretty awesome.
Were you doing basically the same thing on your own?
Yes. And since it was on my own it allowed a lot more focus and a lot more control, which was nice.
You said you have a "doozy of a story about life, love, games, making YouTube videos that goes all around the continent and all around the emotional spectrum between 2012 and 2014."
So you mentioned 2012 and you mentioned some dates and games, a little bit of life, a little bit about videos, but nothing about love. I know you mentioned that somehow there were a lot of relationships that "became husks." Are these the only relationships you're talking about?
No, this is the beginning. [Laughs.]
Okay. That's kind of what I was thinking.
Okay. So this is the beginning and I start with this because it has echoes into the -- like, if that's the prologue, here comes the meat of the story. It helps set up the stage so that everyone kind of understands what Let's Plays are and where they're going. So that's 2012-ish.
In 2013, I'm on my own now. I'm making Let's Plays on my own as a solo artist. Their channel is kind of in the rear view at this point. And because I don't have anybody next to me to work with or to bounce ideas off of, I go online and I start to build my community online. Which, with Let's Playing there's a whole bunch of scattered communities that are all kind of looking for this same idea of YouTube success, which is important but it makes it kind of this weird kind of competitive space where everybody is fighting for likes and shares and retweets. Which is respectable, but that's just how the space is.
It doesn't make it a personal community.
Yeah. For people who don't know that world or this part of the internet: Why do likes and retweets and all these things that aren't money matter?
Because they're putting the work out, right? But that's kind of the most power that a YouTuber in any sense has, whether they're a Let's Player or has food blogs, the only power that we have over the dissemination of our content is through shares and through likes and through subscribes, is the other metric.
Yeah. My understanding and what I've always heard is the more you have those things, the more it factors into the algorithm of the way that these things work and are presented to audiences.
So when you search for something that's relevant and you have more, you're more likely to pop up and show up.
Yup. Inversely, if you don't have those things, you won't show up.
Yeah. You don't exist.
You don't exist, which is even more frightening for a fledgling Let's Player who just wants to share their fun online. Yeah. And so, the interesting thing about Let's Playing is that it's been theorized as -- I don't remember who said this, maybe it was [streamer] Northernlion -- "islands of personalities." So, every Let's Player channel becomes its own island of a community and there's very little connection between these islands. People who are fans of a Let's Player might be fans of other Let's Players, but those people may not interact with each other, may not know each other exists, and so to have a community it is almost entirely based on you as an individual. And so people will try to fight with each other for this kind of love and recognition and that's kind of what makes the YouTube game go around. That kind of keeps the record spinning.
And in 2013 specifically, it came to a head when YouTube had to crack down on the mafia. The YouTube mafia, which were these multi-channel networks.
For people who banded together as many of these individuals as possible, to basically take their ad revenue. They said, "We will give you all of the things that you want from YouTube. We will lavish you with all of these things, and all we want is half your revenue."
Very mafia. [Laughs.]
It should be pointed out, too, that some of these MCNs you're mentioning, they're big business.
I'm trying to remember if it was Maker Studios -- basically some of them have this really lucrative parts of their business where they manage teenage girls who do makeup videos.
Which are some of the most popular videos around.
I have learned a lot from them. As a performer, I have to use those videos a lot.
To use makeup or the way that they perform?
Uh-huh. Both, really. Their styles and the makeup itself. [Laughs.]
For people who don't know, these are things where teenage girls are getting, you know, big, big offers from brands to feature their products in their videos.
And I've had conversations with people at Maker before, where it causes a lot of frictions where the girls won't feature the products if they don't actually like them. That puts the MCN in the awkward position of having to turn away potential revenue source. Is there stuff like that in games going on? Of, like, "Please feature our games and we'll pay you."
There is. The MCNs at the time definitely attempted to broker deals with game developers.
Are you talking about independent developers or companies as well?
They would straight-up ask independent developers because that would be the cheapest, free way of getting content.
But independent developers, they don't have a lot of money. So how would that work?
Basically, MCNs would try to reel that whole thing together. The multi-channel networks had a stranglehold on who was making what and when they were making it. They made a lot of money. Especially trying to push Let's Players into making videos about indie videogames or things that were considered independent. Whatever had that independent aesthetic. Yeah. Basically the main story with that is this caused all of these islands to really stay separate. These islands of personality that were these YouTubers.
'Cause there's money involved now.
'Cause there's money involved. Exactly. And there's big money involved.
And so now, instead of where we were before, which was building a community out of the people that we lived with -- who we could trust or could not. If we didn't, we could talk to them in person. Now, we are building a community of gamers that are spread out around the world and have very real monetary interest in your success or failure.
And so, there's very real ideas of competition involved, which actually helped strengthen the group of people that I ended up connecting to because we all had to protect each other, right? And so we became very close playing online games together, pushing each other into making more Let's Plays. We broke out into streaming in 2013, because that was just blossoming where Let's Players would become live streamers on Twitch. And the whole time, we're also looking for alternate monetization options. Things that weren't just advertisement on YouTube.
And so, that was when the VlogBrothers came out with Subbable, which was the prototype to what Patreon became. Patreon was the subscription service where you can put yourself up as a service and the art that you created -- in my case, my Let's Plays -- and people could subscribe to you as an individual and pay you directly a monthly or per-piece.
These all sound like positive things.
You mentioned that you spoke at conventions and ran a virtual convention, you taught a few university lectures on streaming.
Yup. I was learning how to Let's Play, I was learning how to live stream, what it meant to be a performative person online, and I built a methodology for Let's Plays that at its core was four things every Let's Play has is a microphone, a game, a controller, and a YouTube. Or more methodically, you have a technology that's being applied to recorded media that is being performed on a stage. These are the four things that every Let's Play has whether it's a video, whether it's text, whether it's screenshots, whether it's a tweet that people are playing their game. That would be a Let's Play. But we built that, turned that into -- I ended up getting a per diem and got to help teach a course at the University of Washington called "Intro to Game Studies," which at the very end, the final was for the students to all create a Let's Play.
So, I assume you were sharing some of the stuff you've learned with being comfortable in that performative space as you said. What's the learning curve with playing games as performance?
It's very uncomfortable the first time you do it.
I'm sure it is, and you’re very aware of it while it’s happening.
It's very well-documented and it's very bad, but usually in very charming ways. My first Let's Play was Condemned: Criminal Origins, which is a hilarious game. Our Let's Play of it is awful.
What's bad about it? How did you learn to get better?
The learning curve is that it is very hard to talk while you are playing a game. I don't know if people have tried it often or know, but playing a videogame takes a lot of -- it's very intensive. It takes a lot of energy. And so to add trying to make coherent conversation on top of that is a huge challenge.
Do you feel like you are playing a character?
[Pause.] I felt like I was playing a role where my partner would be the funnyman and I would be the critical man or the straight man or that kind of comedy dichotomy.
The Greek chorus.
Yes. And when I went solo, I felt like I got to be more myself. Both roles were really great, but I think when I went solo it taught me that -- I don't think I have a quick, nice, easy way to sum this up.
When I went solo, it taught me a lot about me that I didn't know. It taught me that there are a lot of different aspects to me that aren't just trying to critically understand games in the best sense. That there's also playful parts to me. That there are very angry or sad parts to me. That there's this range of emotions that I have within me that I can explore while playing games, and that when I explore those, people respond to that.
And so that's where I fell in love with games. And where I fell in love with Let's Playing, was during that year and a half or so, two years, where I made Let's Plays and had ran my Patreon and found a small little chunk of success in that and people would respond to that. I was fighting YouTube, fighting for copyrights, fighting against ads. I was fighting their awful comment community, which is still abysmal, because YouTube does not take care of their community, but that's not my fight anymore is I guess what I'm saying.
I've talked to other people who say they watch Twitch at night on their phone in landscape mode, or whatever mode it is where they don't have to see the comments.
Yup. Don't look at the comments.
I've long heard that and I've written for the internet for about 10 years. I've of course heard "don't read the comments" before, but what's so bad about the comments on YouTube and Twitch?
The atmosphere is completely unregulated. Not literally what they say needs to be regulated, but the political atmosphere within those spaces -- Twitch, coming from YouTube, like Eve came from Adam.
Twitch, coming from YouTube, in a very real way meant that because YouTube did not try to keep its comments section clean, it meant that Twitch became very connected to that, very affected by that. It's a much bigger structural problem than what any individual can deal with, and that's what I learned over the year as someone who tried very hard to keep my chat clean, keep my comments clean, and keep them on task and focused. But, yeah. It was too much for me to do and it didn't really make any kind of real structural change.
Yeah. I mean, it's not just videogames that are like this online. I think sometimes the toxic stuff around videogames -- some people just choose to think it's not there or they choose to think it's only games.
How do they know it's there? That's why I said it's atmosphere. Because the atmosphere is toxic. That's what we breathe in. That's the very core of everything.
You mean, the internet?
Yeah. I mean -- pretty much. I just mean that the atmosphere of the internet, which is a reflection of our society, has this toxicness to it and so how do we start to clean that up? How do we admit that it is a problem? It's huge.
Do you or did you ever talk to other streamers about their dealings with it or what they tried to do to assuage it?
Oh, constantly. As someone with a background in social justice, the main component, the main thing that you can do as an individual to try to change the political atmosphere or the climate, is to create platforms for people. Try to become the backbone of a societal change. And so that's kind of where we ended up going after Let's Playing, was that this community came together to try to build more -- it's like when something is stable and it's not gonna go anywhere for a long time. Sustainable. That's the word. So, our goal after Let's Playing was to build sustainable communities and sustainable platforms for people to have a safe space to get their ideas across. That's really where our biggest project came to fruition, and that was IndiE3. IndiE3 was this project that came out of nowhere and really fast but it didn't. It didn't come out of nowhere. The narrative that we were running for a long time was that it came out of nowhere. But it didn't.
It came from me, and it came from my community and the people that -- [Laughs.] Sorry, that was a little grandiose. "It came from me!"
[Laughs.] "I am nothing! I am nowhere!"
That's a weird credit to take. Very proud nihilism.
That's what I'm all about: prideful nihilism.
[Laughs.] No, no. It came from TJ and it came from me and it came from us having worked together on what became my international tour that I went on, which was probably the most boisterous thing that I'd ever done. Basically I went solo and made myself an international tour. Really, that answers your previous question of, "Did you play a performance or did you have a role that you played?"
Because I was a rockstar. That's what I wanted to do.
What was this tour?
The tour, it was the -- what did we call it? It was such a great name? The Punkass Cascadia International Tour. Basically, I had a bunch of streamers from Victoria all the way down to Fresno, California that I really liked and wanted to work with and so I brought them all together in the same space as me and we all just streamed together. And so, there's usually, like, these marathon streams where people will collaborate: One person will stream, then they'll go offline, and then another person will stream. The difference with this system was that I brought them all into my living room together. So, there were all these streamers that I really liked and that other people thought were popular and we all came into the same living room. Everyone would get a chance to stream and then we'd all play games at the end together.
These all sound like positive things still. I'm not trying to speed you along, but you said there was a harsh fall midway through 2014.
You "struggle to even play much at all anymore," is what you said in your emails. What happened?
IndiE3 happened. The week long show that ran during E3 to try to penetrate the oppressive zeitgeist and counter corporate noise with the human noise of hundreds of games made by human hands. After the live stream tour happened, that was when I first worked with @TRONMAXIMUM, Tasha, and we built IndiE3 off of that. It inspired them to be like, "Oh, we could live stream our own E3, but for indie games. It'll be this big, subversive campaign." And it was. It ended up being very subversive. [Laughs.] The people who were a part of my community who, at this point, we're in a relationship for over a year. We know each other very well. We play games often with each other. I practically lived with them.
And there was a problem during IndiE3. There was a problem with one of our streamers who felt like that streaming with us had maligned them. They were offended by what some of the people in our chat said to them.
and that it wasn't moderated well enough, and so they took to Twitter. Now you can see where all these thought-streams are now coming together, and why I needed such a long introduction to this. They went to Twitter with this, with their problems, to publicly say that IndiE3 was not what it seemed, that it was a very anti-gamer crusade of sorts, and that it was not a safe place to be.
What that ended up doing -- which, the complaint, I don't have any problems with the complaint. I really feel like they are justified in their own opinion. But what really ended up happening was it hit all of the people who were making IndiE3 -- all of our worst insecurities were coming to a head, and the people who were mutual friends between me and this streamer wanted to capitalize on that and they wanted to also take it upon themselves to break that news that this big event that we had finally all put together was actually like some kind of sham or something. And they ended up getting -- journalists pulled their support from IndiE3 in response to this, and it really broke down the whole crew.
I noticed IndiE3 last year, but it did not happen again this year, right?
No. No. It didn't happen. Not in the same way at least.
We took the structures from IndiE3 and turned it into a brand new show, which is something a little bit different, but a little more sustainable and a little less subversive and political divisive.
You said "streaming represents your darkest days and my oldest episodes have this desperate vibe to them with multiple videos coming out everyday. Now I don't have the pressures of the hustle." What made you stop playing and stop streaming?
So, after the meltdown happened at IndiE3, we finished that show and I feel like the end of the show actually went pretty well and really well. I still have a lot of these leftover emotions from that event and wish we could do something like it again because it was very valuable to a lot of people. But after that, everything kind of just felt awful.
I didn't want to create any work online because I knew that they would be watching for it. This community now kind of became my own poison, my own toxin. And I didn't want to just build my own new community straight from nothing, because then I'd have to go to YouTube and YouTube's not a great place to work. And I know this now at this point in time. And so I just stopped playing games altogether.
The biggest thing that that made me understand was that, "Hey, I don't have a job. Patreon can put food on the table but cannot put a roof over my head. I can't sleep on friends' couches anymore and I need to actually start getting on with life." The Let's Play channel was starting to blow up. It was starting to get big, but it wasn't fast enough to be something that could sustain me and it wasn't reliable enough to be something that could sustain me because Patreon's fickle and YouTube is fickle when it comes to being a consistent place to raise money.
This is true. I know a little bit about that.
[Laughs.] Everyone in our space has kind of dealt with this to some extent. So I had to start working. I went and I got a job and I moved in with the amazing person who helped us stream IndiE3, and so that was really cool that I got a job and moved in with him at the same time. And suddenly things went from not having a stable community and not having a home to having a job and having a home, having at least a place. And so it's like, "All right! Let's start Let's Playing again!" Except that's not what happened.
At that point, there was so much negative energy built up around recording videos and performing online that just every time I would sit down to the computer, everything would tense up and I just didn't want to get back to it.
I told you a little bit about my résumé before we got started, and something I never really see people talk about is when you take something fun and you make that your work, it changes the relationship you have with it. Whether it be people who write about games or stream about games -- I'm curious about a lot of the negativity.
The negativity around?
I'm struggling to figure out if this is actually two questions or one question is what's going on here.
Before we go down the negative thing: To what degree do you see people writing about games or people streaming about games, like, how do you think that affects their relationship with games from what they put out into the world?
Well, it's not -- there's a difference between when consuming games is your work and when analyzing games is your work, I guess? That's what I've found as a Let's Player and from watching streamers and being a part of that community, is that -- well, basically, actually, the dichotomy is that streamers in a very real way are consuming their games but are building a community around them and are, like, very intimately connected to the people who are watching them whereas it's the inverse for a Let's Player, where they are not as intimately connected to a specific audience, because it's not live, but they are intimately connected to their games. And they have that same kind of intimate connection that a writer would have or a critic would have with their games. And so, it really becomes very laborious. It's very job-like about things.
Are streamers aware that they have displaced or replaced writers in the sense of --
Oh, yeah! This question comes up often. It's a really good question.
And there's no anger in my voice, for the transcript, I'm just curious: Do you ever talk about that? Like, are you aware that's what's been going on?
Oh, yeah. No, this comes up often. I don't think streamers ever had any fear that they're replacing writers.
Oh, I'm not asking if they're afraid of it. I'm just asking if they're aware of it.
Or, that they're aware of it.
You don't think that they're aware of it?
I think that they are aware that that's a concern.
Yeah, I think the difference is there's more.
There's a huge amount of room for people to do both and usually at the same time.
I mean, writers replaced town criers, so.
Oh, I see where you're going.
It's the march of things.
Yup. But if you're the town cryer, then streamers are your village idiot. [Laughs.]
I mean, did you see Colbert this week?
No, I didn't. [Laughs.]
Did you not see PewDiePie on Colbert? I don't remember the last time a person who writes about videogames was on a late-night talk show, do you?
Hey! I mean, that's a good point and I don't know. Actually, yeah, I can't think of a space, either. The difference being that -- [Laughs.] I'm kinda sad that you said PewDiePie right after I said village idiot. [Laughs.]
I'm not saying anything about him. It was just on my list of things to talk about.
No. No. He's a huge part. Because at the end of the day, a writer for videogames isn't ever going to intersect with celebrity stardom in the same that way that PewDiePie directly intersects with major celebrity stardom.
Well, they called PewDiePie, like on the TV guide thing, he was listed as a "YouTube comedian." That's what he was billed as.
Yup. Yup. He's not gonna be billed as a Let's Player in the same sense or a gamer, even, as another term.
Those are kind of his thing, but his big thing is that he is a YouTube comedian 'cause those are the two largest subcultures that intersect with popular culture.
Streamers, you're saying, and I'm not saying you're an ambassador from all streamerdom.
I am. I am.
I've been elected. I actually did win an award in 2013, deemed the No. 1 Let's Player from Reddit, so thanks Reddit.
Did that come with a plaque or trophy or anything?
No, I got a little medal.
Did you really? Like a physical medal?
No. I wish. I got a picture of me wearing a medal that I made.
[Laughs.] Your winning means you got a verified medal you could make on your own.
[Laughs.] Yeah, it was verified. [Laughs.]
I'm not mocking Reddit or PewDiePie at all. But I talked to some streamers during E3 this year and it's interesting to hear about this class system that has arisen within YouTube and the split between YouTube's gaming and Twitch and how that's upsetting people.
I'm sure you know about Taylor Swift, she made some statements that changed a couple of potential policies in the music industry and I know there are a lot of streamers who feel like PewDiePie is not using his platform to try to speak up for his people. Which is a really interesting and nuanced thing for people who don't know videogames as more than Mario and Angry Birds and Grand Theft Auto. It's a really nuanced, weird, subclass, economic thing going. I mean --
Yes. Thanks for saying that, because drawing the line between Taylor Swift and PewDiePie, I think, is very important. The way that you did, I think that's very important.
Yeah, I mean, and I don't know if it is true. I have seen PewDiePie shy away from the fact that he's got a bunch of money and that he doesn't want to be important, but do you think he could be using his platform to be like, "Hey, YouTube, can you maybe help us out with the comments or help us out with a couple other things?" Like, what would you like to see him or someone in his position do to parallel what Taylor Swift has done with Apple?
Yeah, I think the first thing that I would do is to see if there's anyway that he'd be able to help clean up the atmosphere of YouTube to make the climate less hostile to people who are younger, people who are woman, to people who -- just, anyone who's in a marginalized community that makes things on YouTube and has to deal with the brunt of the comments. Because it would just make the whole atmosphere around YouTube a better place to work with. But that's not PewDiePie's place necessarily, I don't think. There is someone at that high level who could be making statements like that in the way Taylor Swift does.
I mean, there's a real lack in the games space, someone in the inside with that type of audience publicly being like, "Hey, maybe we should think about if we want to change any of this."
But I know he's been working on a game and he has a book coming out later this month.
Yeah. All the people who are at that level usually stem out into other media.
Well, you can't blame anyone for wanting to get more income and establish their careers.
No. Yeah. There's probably more important things they could do than to deal with the things that are honestly pretty beneath them and a lot of what brought them to the dance anyway.
I don't know. It depends how you define "important.”
Yeah. I'm just -- when you get to that level, that kind of class that you were talking about, it's definitely very different. [Laughs.]
Do you ever feel like you see real people on YouTube?
I definitely know when I see fake people on YouTube. And I don't think that's any kind of dismissal on their part, because the performance is very important when it comes to YouTube. I know I've been a fake person on YouTube from time to time.
I'm talking about the full expanse of YouTube. Not just videogames.
Like, I can't remember the last time I've seen someone not performing on YouTube.
I don't know when it is. It has to be closer to when I first heard of YouTube.
I think Let's Playing might be one of the realest places.
The George Michael from Arrested Development of website verticals.
Just all sincerity and awkwardness.
Minecraft YouTube is a very real place. I have a lot of respect for the Minecraft community that performs on YouTube because they actually do a lot of work to work together and play together and keep Minecraft itself to be a safer space. And because of that, they're allowed to just be themselves. They don't have to feel like they have to put on an act.
What does that work you're talking about here entail? Why don't more places like websites keep the peace in a similar way?
So it’s like we talked about, you’ve gotta build that backbone. The structural parts that make social change possible which Minecraft YouTube does in spades: the streamers and LPers actively search eachother out, build out wikis that feature each others content, their discoveries and they plan events together. They host servers together that link new Minecrafters with other Minecrafters. Most importantly, they build room for future generations. It’s kinda like a church in that it’s a self-preserving social structure built out of a community for the good of the players and the viewers. And outside of Minecraft, Let’s Playing doesn’t sustain that kind of atmosphere of responsibility to one another.
What's it like being in that public eye, the center of a Let's Play channel with a community of some sort?
So, okay. This is the best part. Here's the punchline of why you are reading this right now on this site, because the joke was on me all along.
When you're making videos on YouTube, when you're making Let's Plays, you don't feel like you're in any kind of public eye. Things just happen. Things happen that you can't explain. So, I have not published a video on YouTube in the last year and a half. About 15 months or so. [Laughs.] Over those 15 months, my channel has become more popular than it ever was when I was making videos.
Everytime I take a break from Twitter, I gain 20 followers.
I don't know what that message is. I don't look at Twitter as some sort of game where I have to gain followers, but I'm more popular when I say nothing. [Laughs.]
Yes. No. This is my huge lesson to creatives at work. [Laughs.] It's just a laugh.
No. Yeah! Right?
Give up. Don't do anything. This is the only way to build an audience.
No, like, the lesson that I've learned is that it's been a year and a half and I have basically my effective audience without making anything, which was completely counter-intuitive to what I understood. But the big lesson is having distance from all of this, being able to take a very huge amount of distance and get involved in other communities, get involved in other subcultures, watching Netflix for hours on end -- sleeping in with my partner who has for some reason held my hand through all of this -- all that has actually been extremely healthy and totally normal. [Laughs.] All of the shame that I had built up around performing and making games was unfounded outside of me.
Wait, why did you have shame?
The shame came from not being able to make something. For those 14 months I wasn't contributing anything to YouTube, so all the friends that I'd made over that course, I didn't feel like I was there to interact with them and to continue our friendship in the way that I knew how, which was making Let's Plays.
And so, yeah, all of that distance? They're still there. Other people that were there for me before are still there, just hanging out. There's now more people that would be interested in watching me play a dating sim for a couple of hours while talking about why the relationships I'm getting into are important to me. [Laughs.] It's amazing.
People talk about streaming and Let’s Plays as these shining beacons of the future for the industry. But if you can burn out doing it, that indicates there's some sort of shelf life. Are you aware it's being treated like that and it's being pressured to be the future?
What do I think about the future of streaming? [Pause.] From everything that I've worked on over the last year, ever since leaving live streaming and leaving Let's Playing, so far suggests that we've only kind of touched the tip of the iceberg for what kind of content one can stream. And so the people who -- the individuals who work with live streaming, there's definitely a shelf life there, but there's such a huge diversity of content that's being created by all the people who run their own Twitch channels and all the people who run their own YouTube channels. I think, probably, the future of Twitch is probably the past of YouTube.
Basically that means that Twitch came from YouTube originally, came from YouTube's little gaming corner, to bring live video of YouTube stuff. Now Twitch is getting into music and getting into lifestyle kinds of things, like people drawing art and live streaming that. That's what YouTube used to do. So, as Twitch expands the things that it wants to live stream, it will basically become more like what YouTube is.
So, if you want to look at where the future of live streaming is, you can pretty much just look at what came first from YouTube. And we see that with, like, Periscope and some of these other applications are coming out. Since Twitch still wants to specifically be about videogames, which is noble that they've stuck with it for this long -- I'm a little skeptical that they're gonna continue that. But the blog mamas have to go somewhere, the people who blog about their families at home on YouTube and on Blogspot and stuff. The do-it-yourselfers have to go somewhere.
I mean, the main thing is to just be documenting everything you do online all the time.
Yup. Constantly. A live stream of all that stuff.
Just don't be busy experiencing stuff. You have to document it.
The genuine side of the sarcasm is as more things are live streamed, the future is going to go -- just like YouTube did -- with more professional and more curated live experiences. So, just like YouTube became the place for someone like PewDiePie, who has a very tightly curated and polished show that he puts on, Twitch now becomes more like that. The top streamers are now more polished than they ever were. Basically, they match what the Twitch aesthetic can become more. The idealized Twitch streamer kind of becomes more stratified is probably the best way of putting it.
These conversations I post here are not only really just about videogames. When people are streaming a game, what do you think they're actually really saying? You're good at being analytical, right?
Yup. Thank you. Yes!
You said you do critical Let's Plays, and to get a little meta: What are people really saying when they do this?
That's the right question. No, this is a fantastic question.
A lot of them are saying, "Watch me play this game!" Just like you said. And I think that that exclamation of, "Watch me play this game!" is probably one of the most profound exclamations that we have right now. Without any sense of hyperbole, "Watch. Me. Play. This. Game!" is an extraordinary exclamation to make, because of all the parties that are required within the sentence, "Watch me play this game!," you are introducing the expression of a subject, the "me." You are reflecting the expression of a product or of a work of art, the game or "this." Whatever "this" is. "Watch me play this anything" is important. You're introducing the perspective of the audience with the "watch." And most importantly, you're playing.
So "watch me play this game" is extremely important for where we're going as people. And that's why Twitch, of all places, is what it is. Because you can expect to watch someone play something. Maybe they're playing this game. Maybe they're playing just instruments now. But it's not, "Watch me do this job." It's not, "Watch me build a bench."
Yeah. It adds to that work and play dichotomy.
But you just said that the play people do, when they get successful with this, it is work.
But it is work. That's kind of the secret behind it all. I think that really puts into perspective what is the play-work dichotomy. Because it makes it a lot more complicated.
People of my generation or people who are older will just sort of shrug and say stuff looking at things like streaming or and say, "I'm really worried about the state of this country. People have a lot of time on their hands."
People will see PewDiePie and Colbert didn't do much to add more depth to what it is PewDiePie is doing other than, like, "Wow, that's a great scam you're doing. You made $7 million just dicking around all the time."
That's basically the takeaway.
And PewDiePie was -- I guess that's the first time he's been on TV in something that huge? He was looking around at the size of the theater.
He made some joke about how he doesn't even watch TV but he'll watch this because he's on it.
He was probably nervous.
Absolutely. Like, that's way out of his element.
But that's his personality, yes. He was playing his role. He was performing. PewDiePie. But [Colbert] didn't ask Felix [Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, PewDiePie's non-stage name] on. They asked PewDiePie to come on.
Yup. So they asked his wrestling persona to come onto the stage and wrestle with Colbert in the way that he knows how.
Colbert's not that wrestler anymore.
I feel something like that, though, still sends the impression that videogames, the perceptions of the ways they've been seen decades past of they make people violent or they're stupid or they're a waste of time -- it does nothing to challenge that notion. It's sort of a confusing head scratch of, "Oh! Someone made a lot of money doing a lot of nothing."
I guess I'm asking you if streaming matters and I'm not accusing it of not. But I know that a lot of people think that it doesn't.
I mean, it's a postmodern medium. It is a media that combines a lot of older technologies with a bunch of old-style media, like theater and television and blogging and vlogging. So it's very hard to pin down what is the core of this thing. At the same time, it reaches beyond those kinds of questions in a way. And so it can persist without needing the kinds of arguments that we're used to in just videogame journalism or videogames as pop culture artifacts. Basically, when that comes about, because it's so beyond those questions, it just makes everyone scratch their heads and go, "What a strange thing. What a phenomenon! I can't explain this."
And yeah, it's extremely interesting. That's where we get back to, "Watch me play this game!" because you can watch anyone play any game or anything. Just like PewDiePie has kind of become this flagship of the best performer of games, you can also watch the best player of games. You can watch the DOTA tournaments online on Twitch and stuff, and see who is playing this game at its best. Or, alternatively, you can watch people like me who have their own way of their own style of playing games. And so it kind of creates this infinite variability to the space. That's kind of what makes the medium run, right?
Is there payola in streaming?
To what degree?
To the degree that --
Payola meaning that it's not being disclosed. I mean, we mentioned before that some places will pay to have their games featured. But you're talking about people don't disclose that information.
Yeah. The people -- like, we talked about the idea of payola in live streaming, on YouTube and stuff, which brings in the YouTube atmosphere. The Twitch atmosphere is a little different, and it reflects on all the other live streams like Hitbox and others. What's the other one? Oh, Beam. Other streaming services like Hitbox and Beam copy Twitch because it makes sense, but it goes by the subscription method, which means that it's very clear how many people subscribe to a person, and so you can tell how much they are making very easily. Everything else from the Twitch side of things comes from ads.
When I say payola, I just mean is there a lot of game companies being like, "Hey, you have a big audience. You're very influential. Here's some money. Please feature our game and talk about how much you like it.”
That's payola. That happened in radio. There was a big scandal and it was illegal. But the same thing is kinda happening in games now but it's just not really being talked about. [Laughs.]
Oh, okay! I'm following.
I have anecdotal evidence, from a number of game publicists who wouldn't say it on the record. But I had a phone call with one earlier this year and she was like, "Oh yeah, we just pay these streamers off and they feature our products." But they don't disclose that.
There was a thing a little bit ago, which I'm sure you know about, from the FTC issuing guidelines to YouTubers and vloggers about having to disclose the nature of paid endorsements.
It's intended to stomp out deceptive social marketing. So, I'm asking: How much deceptive social marketing is going on in what you hear about among streamers and Let's Players?
Right. There is less payola happening in streaming than there is Let's Playing. Only because the method to which a live streamer can be publicly paid as a live performer is actually a lot easier to be transparent than on Let's Playing.
There is going to be more payola in Let's Playing, and this is strictly because you can be sponsored as a Let's Player. In the same way that you can be sponsored as a fighting games player or a --
Or like a racecar driver.
And so companies can guide a Let's Player and do it publicly. They can guide a streamer, too. They can get a streamer and do it publicly and be like, "I am the person who does this." I don't think enough questions are being asked in that space because it's very, very new.
What do you mean when you say "guide?" Like they're on the streams themselves?
Their products are on the stream and their logo is on the stream or around it in someway. They have a guiding hand in the creation of the stream. Not necessarily the streamer themselves.
They're part of the approval process of uploading.
Yeah. They'll be part of the stream continuing to come out, and so they want the streamer to keep streaming. [Laughs.] That's what it basically comes down to. And they want the streamer to go to events publicly, is the other thing.
You said there's not a lot of scrutiny on this yet because it's such a new space, and I hear a lot and I know a lot, but I have no proof. What questions should people be asking?
Yeah. Yeah. Streamers are the people who need to be asking the questions because a streamer will just be handed a contract from someone and they'll just say, "Put my logo on your stuff." And they're like, "Sweet. You gonna give me money? Awesome."
Streamers should be asking a lot of questions of the companies that are coming to them, looking to sponsor them. And if they're looking for sponsorship and they're asking people, they should still be asking a lot of questions for their own security as well as -- see, because this is something that is a little after I left streaming, I don't know if there's an ethics to, like, asking someone what is with their contract. Because you'll see a streamer and they'll have logos on their stream just as a part of the show. It kind of becomes a part of a thing. But I don't know if streamers actually ask, like, "Hey, what does it mean that blank and blank company is sponsoring you? What are you getting out of this and how does it affect your show?" Or something like that.
I've never been sponsored. I don't know. It's not ever been a thing that I've come across.
How does the negative behavior of viewers differ from the negative behavior of game players? Is the toxicity different in anyway, from people who pop up on social media or comment threads or Reddit or whatever? Is there a different strain of negative stuff?
Yes. Yes there is. And this is actually a really important part. The difference between -- maybe it's not even different. Maybe it's just more poignant on Twitch. When you are streaming on Twitch and somebody wants to show up to your stream and they want attention, the fastest way to get attention is to make you mad or to get a reaction out of you in some way.
There was a study done out in China I think a couple years ago about how the most instantaneous way to feel connected with someone through technology is anger.
I guess because you have to earn someone's trust to make them feel good? But I talked to a media theorist for this and he said it might be because a lot of people in games just see the rest of the world in terms of games. I don't know if that's true, but I think that is true for some people. But I don't know if that's the people who are being awful. Those could be the people playing World of Warcraft all the time, too busy to actually go and comment elsewhere.
I think it comes down more to people, just individuals who really want or might have a need for attention and don't have a better way of getting it. They don't have a secure home or probably a secure community, like we talked about earlier. Or have maybe built a community around them that is centered around being desperate for attention, without a better way of putting it.
You talked a little bit about being adrift, and I have some experience with that myself. Do you ever wonder where you zigged and other people have zagged? Like, if you've been adrift and you're really into videogames, why aren't you taking it out on other people online?
That's a good question. [Pause.] There's been a lot of times where I've wanted to just unload and scream at people who kind of blew up my community in the ways that they have, as well as just general people. Like, I just wanna blow up and scream at people and the thing that specifically stops me is the knowledge that whatever I write is going to be on the internet and probably be on the internet forever and it can always be traced back to me, even if I write things anonymously there are ways it can be traced back. And that there's always a point where it just becomes useless and silly and it's not how I'm gonna feel the next day. So, just, generally being responsible to myself and to my future self is probably the zag where other people might zig. Those are probably the biggest things that help guide me. Those are just general internet tips. Like, everything you post online is going to be there possibly forever. People will take it out of context in your future if they have the ability to. And they would be right to if that was something that I would do. And that at the end of the day, it doesn't matter and I'm just mad and that there are more constructive ways for me to put that out in the world. And that's just something that I as a critic and as an artist has been able to put together. That's probably the zag right there.
I've got other things to do with my time that would be more constructive and would be an outlet for that frustration that would be more influential and more helpful. And talking to you on Don't Die is one of those things, in a very real way.
That's a fantastic question.
What do you find boring or repetitive about the typical conversation around videogames online that you see?
Probably the most boring and repetitive thing is that "it's just videogames."
They're just products?
Yes. People dismissing videogames as just another technology, which is also an important rhetoric for people within games, to remind them to be grounded. But from outside of games, it feels weird and it's the same kind of feeling that I get from recently becoming a huge fan of professional wrestling during this year and a half and seeing people kind of trivialize professional wrestling as just a jokey kind of performance thing that people do.
There's a very long history to it and a lot of things to it that have been really important as a text for me to analyze.
The reality is everything is someone's everything.
Exactly. Yeah. I think that actually comes into it, too. Everything is someone's everything, so it just sucks to continue to be trivialized in that kind of way.
I know you said you had your heart broken by games and you fell in love with games. You sound happy.
Or fulfilled or satisfied.
I would say I'm on the way back.
Do you think it's because games are not as much a part of your life anymore?
Yes. Now that I have other things in my life that are my responsibility and especially now that I've seen just how much it sucks to get a crappy job and being able to move on from that point, because for a while during this last year and a half I just had some awful, awful jobs. Now that I'm in one that is productive and safe and makes me feel good about myself, I've actually been able to start playing games again.
So you don't think games themselves are inherently negative in your life, then.
No. No. Not at all. I never thought there was a negativity to it, that games cause people to be negative. But they did bring me personally a lot of shame. Shame that I was a part of something that became very destructive to people.
I mean, it's an industry that came to be worldwide while most of the world was ignoring it.
It minimizes it.
That's why I answer that "it's just games" is very frustrating when you're inside of games, 'cause "it's just games" is what fuels the military industrial complex within videogames. "It's just games" Is what fuels constant harassment of individuals around games. "It's just games" just trivializes everything in such a way to make it be lessened as a pop-culture object. "It's just games" is kind of what became the counter-argument to people saying that -- like the Focus on the Family people in the '90s saying that X media object was from the devil and everyone would counter-argue with, "Oh, it's just games."
We do a bad job of recognizing patterns. I don't know. There was another school shooting this week and I don't know if he played games, but I told you about how a major media outlet contacted me to ask about, like, these connections between videogames and violence. But it's also probably true that the people shot also played videogames, and does that really mean anything?
Did the shooter own any cell phones? Yeah.
So, in light of not minimizing them, what do you think videogames have accomplished?
Well, just for me personally in my line of hobby, my line of work, they've absolutely revolutionized the way that we express ourselves. and how we express ourselves with objects of art and with each other, because what this whole conversation that we've had so far has centered around is people playing with works of art or works of labor together. And I think that that's super important and that's something that never existed in the same way before. The closest things you'd get to that would be before, the ways that we shared our play together -- at least at this kind of level -- was, like, Civil War re-enactments. That in itself is a Let's Play as people are engaging with a media that is in a critical light. Any kinds of theater, theatrical performance like that in that same kind of vein.
A Civil War re-enactment is very much like a Let's Play in a way, and that's how people shared their play together. LARPing and other associated role-playing-esque kind of things throughout history are also in the same vein. But it's never been at this scale.
Any sporting event or the broadcasting of it is similar.
The broadcast of a sporting event is, I would agree, kind of similar. The playing of the sporting event is also, in a way, a different kind of similarity too.
What would be kind of nice is if videogames chilled out a little bit and acted like they've been there before.
Like, when 60 Minutes did a story about videogame championships. A lot of people in the industry were freaking out and bragging about how it had happened. But every time you go around shouting about what a big deal someone else is making about you, you do reinforce the notion that you're kind of an immature space.
Yeah, I guess. No, you're right.
I just mean, be a little more chill about it.
Yeah. Bring a little more chill to the table.
Just put it in the bottom of an email forward.
At the same time, that's what I'm saying. When it comes back to the atmosphere around popular culture, it's very much embroiled with games and the performance of games especially, because PewDiePie is on Colbert. Twitch is the largest live streamed thing being broadcasted. And just the scope and scale of what it means to perform games with one another is very much molded now into the fabric of who we are as individuals and especially the people who are going to be growing up into the next people who go on. The next generation.
I work with people in seventh and eighth grade as my job, and that's really awesome, but holy crap do they wanna watch a lot of Twitch. [Laughs.] I was not ready for that level of --
Even for you it was a lot?
Yeah. I was like, "Oh yeah, seventh and eighth graders love Twitch." It's like, "No. Everyone here in this whole area that is in seventh and eighth grade love watching Twitch." I was like, "Woah, guys! Okay!" I was expecting, you know, the nerds to be into it and this guy and that guy. But it's like, "Oh, everyone's here in this assembly to watch aDOTA tournament. Is that what we're doing today?” That's a little bit hyperbolic, but it's very similar to that.
Things are changing.
Just that idea of it being kind of woven into the atmosphere.
Do you think it being normalized in that way, although also being glorified, that will ripple out and --
[Laughs.] Yeah. It's being normalized. It's being glorified. It's being dismissed. You can't win either way.
[Laughs.] Yup. Yeah. Playing games is normalizing, and eventually, like long from now, streaming games will have its own normalizing factor. Or at least performing games in whatever way they are performed in the future. It's kinda funny because everyone thought there'd be a Let's Play bubble that would just burst. And in 2011 and 2012 when I was starting out, it was a huge thing to talk about the over-saturation of Let's Plays. And all of these new Let's Play channels would come onto boards together and be like, "Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!"
And nobody would get any of the recognition they want and they would all hate each other for it. [Laughs.] They'd be like, "Nobody's looking at me 'cause you told them to look at you!" So, they'd all get really frustrated.
But at this point now, that kind of big bubble, we're kinda over the hump and now it's becoming normalized. It's centralizing itself to becoming its own craft. So, Let's Play is now a craft that people can participate in just like any other craft. And that's kind of an interesting, new thing that's come around in the last couple years with Let's Plays. It's not the biggest, hottest thing in the whole world because streaming is now, but it's also not gonna die. It's not going away. It's not going to be a past pastime that people once did in their basement. It's just a normal thing. And so we'll see streaming do that, too.