In the process of recording my XCOM: Enemy Unknown “Let’s Play” series, I’ve learned a bit about the online “Let’s Play” community. I’ve found a few favorites, but with the high-level of accessibility of video-capture software and relatively powerful video cards, the “community” has become very… democratized. There’s no way to see everything, but one quickly begins to understand that there’s a lot of chaff to a pretty small amount of wheat.
So, some Let’s Players rise to the top, and do so well with their YouTube uploads that they’re able to make comfortable livings from them (due to YouTube’s revenue-sharing partner program) and often find work in the professional gaming circuit as commentators. I’ve enjoyed the work of people like Sean Plott (a pro StarCraft player and “caster” who goes by Day), John “TotalBiscuit” Bain, and Ryan “Northernlion” Letourneau.
As might be expected, not everyone who distinguishes themselves in YouTube’s gaming community is as professional and genuinely entertaining as these guys are. There are too many squeaky narrations of aimless Minecraft meandering to keep track of, and more shitty headset microphones than you can shake a mouse pointer at.
You don’t need to spend a whole lot of time sifting through popular Let’s Plays to find references to someone known as “pewdiepie,” whose rabid fan-base has propelled him to internet fame and wealth over the last two years.
A while back, I clicked a link to one of his videos. I can’t remember the game he was playing, only that I clicked away fairly quickly because all pewdiepie seems to do is scream, which he finds hilarious. Deciding he wasn’t my cup of tea, I thought little else of it.
Well, others have been thinking quite a bit more about it, because in addition to screaming for “comic effect,” pewdiepie (whose real name is Felix Kjellberg) seems to think that using the word “rape” to describe basically any action that takes place on his computer screen is also hysterically funny.
I’ve written elsewhere about rape and rape culture – mostly about what I’ve learned from women who have been patient enough to explain to me how it affects them. The ease with which we lapse into “rape jokes” is nowhere more apparent than in the online gaming community, and perhaps pewdiepie is a reflection or expression of this fact.
But as the Let’s Play critics Michael “slowbeef” Sawyer and Ben “Diabetus” Whitfield (both regulars at the SomethingAwful forums) observed in this Retsupurae podcast last month, that doesn’t let Kjellberg off the hook. His constant invocation of rape – as something that’s happening to him, something he’s doing to others, something he’s watching happen – is nothing short of creepy and disturbing. His use of the term doesn’t qualify as a “joke” in any real sense; he simply replaces any verb that happens along with it and assumes he’s being ridiculously entertaining.
Combined with his constant over-modulated screaming and “bro” talk, it would be easy to dismiss this as simply one more instance of unwatchable internet filth that can easily be ignored. This is a mistake. I like games, and I resent the fact that the “gaming community,” such as it is, is filled with over-privileged adolescent shits who toss around not only rape references, but homophobic and racist slurs from the safety of their parents’ affluent living rooms. These same over-sized children are the ones flocking to Kjellberg’s YouTube channel by the million and providing him with verbal and financial affirmation.
They’re also ruining gaming, particularly console gaming. Call of Duty: Black Ops II came out today, and perhaps the one bright side of this is that it’ll draw the hordes of Beavises and Buttheads away from the original title (which I own, but regret purchasing) and make multiplayer worth trying again. I doubt it, though – I usually played first-person shooters for the single-player campaigns, and these days, single-player campaigns, especially in the “modern military shooter” subgenre, are designed specifically to cater to the unoriginal, unthinking, easily-frustrated, slur-spouting, permanently adolescent male.
This has meant lots of explosions and set-pieces, conveniently-placed new weapon pickups, regenerating health, constant checkpoints, and ultimately… no real in-game consequences. Sure, you might die, but you’ll just respawn a hundred yards back and perhaps have to watch some engineered in-game event one or two more times before you figure out what series of actions the game wants you to take. The graphics are great, the guns sound real – but that’s all. There’s just one path to take, and you’ll see lots of pretty things along the way and get to shoot lots of under-powered enemies. And you’ll keep playing because nothing too frustrating is ever going to come up and impede your progress through this Disney’s Magical Kingdom of Death ride you’re on for too awfully long.
But that’s really a side-note to the sociological phenomenon that underpins it and still keeps many women a healthy arm’s-length away from online core gaming. It’s true that in recent years women have become a lot more visibly engaged with and interested in games, but that alone doesn’t change the fact that the cesspool of gross idiocy still exists and is going strong – and pewdiepie is as perfect a crystallization of this as one could ever hope for.
I suppose someone could shrug and tell me that I’m a 32-year-old man trying to fix a thing – video gaming – that is meant for children. But I like games, and my generation has grown up with them. Above and beyond that, if games are for children, then what are they – both boys and girls – learning from this consequence-free environment online? I’d hate to imagine that a medium that has so much potential for entertainment, enrichment, and sheer fun is actually reinforcing brute stupidity and the sexism, racism, and homophobia — the casual hate of privilege — that comes with it.
Games don’t have to rot your brain, which my mom warned me they would when my brothers and I begged for an NES in the ‘80s. But evidently, they can.