On pewdiepie and the persistence of stupid

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[9]), 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.

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17 thoughts on “On pewdiepie and the persistence of stupid

  1. Hear, hear! Well said, culturegamer!

    I am fortunate to be relatively insulated from this world of puerile fear and hatred (this pewdiepie character sounds thoroughly odious!). I play only single-player games, and while I have played a LOT of them (having started by pumping quarters into Space Invaders and Asteroids machines in these places we used to call “arcades”), I don’t participate much in the online communities. I have seen glimpses of that world, however, and it sure ain’t pretty. I’m glad I enjoy my hobby offline in pleasant solitude.

    A lesser problem, but one that still bothers me, is the nearly ubiquitous dismissal of games as being purely childish entertainment. Having adored games like Planescape: Torment, Grim Fandango, Silent Hill 2, System Shock 2, and the Myst series, it is tremendously exasperating when otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people categorically deny that games can be regarded as art–especially those who should know better, given that their own favourite medium (film) received the very same derision in its infancy. I suppose the tacit acceptance of the misleading term “game” is at least partially responsible, but it seems too late to change it now.

    • The “online communities” have been a major reason I’ve generally avoided multiplayer aspects of most games. I’d like to take up the “games are for kids” idea in its own post — I think they’ve become something culturally relevant, especially to my own and subsequent generations.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Reblogged this on Note To Self and commented:
    An excellent post which dovetails nicely with some of my previous articles on gaming and the subsequent language therein. I watched a few pewdiepie videos awhile ago, specifically his Amnesia LP, since I have an undying fascination with watching people play that game. But I was quickly disgusted both with his immaturity and his language. (To say nothing of his annoying fanbase.) Every little thing does not need to be described as “rape”. At best, it’s tacky and boring. At worst, it’s contributing to rape culture and helps to continue alienating female gamers.

    • I watched a few pewdiepie videos awhile ago, specifically his Amnesia LP, since I have an undying fascination with watching people play that game.

      Heh… Funny. I enjoyed that game, but all I can remember are a couple of quick flashes of it. Meanwhile, I can remember the Penumbra series in much greater detail.

      At best, it’s tacky and boring. At worst, it’s contributing to rape culture and helps to continue alienating female gamers.

      I think it’s unquestionably at worst (although I’ve always had slight reservations about the term “rape culture”). A cavalier use of the word is desensitizing. I think this is most clearly illustrated in this gut-wrenching account:
      http://ca.kotaku.com/5914348/three-words-i-said-to-the-man-i-defeated-in-gears-of-war-that-ill-never-say-again

      The word holds tremendous power and meaning for the author, and yet for her fellow gamers, it has become so entirely generic and pedestrian that it effectively isn’t heard.

      • As of writing this, I’ve watched 9 full Amnesia LPs, plus two partial ones (PewDiePie is one of these) and a couple of Justine play-throughs. So yeah, I kind of love watching people play that game. =D Penumbra was excellent as well, but in my mind nobody could ever do it better than Helloween4545, who is currently the only person I’ve seen play it. (It was actually the first LP of his I found, and I’ve been a fan of his ever since. As such I’ve watched it a couple of times.)

        Yes, I agree that Pew’s behavior is definitely at its worst. (And your reservations are understandable–a lot of people share them. I can make a counter argument for it, but that’s not what your post is about.) His videos are disgustingly childish and offensive simply for the sake of being offensive. It was repulsive to me. (And my boyfriend, who also likes watching the occasional Amnesia LP.) I feel like so many people use those words not only out of ignorance or apathy, but because they think the only reason people *shouldn’t* use those words is because it’s not “politically correct”, and of course being PC is for those lame adults who think video games come from Satan and make you do your homework when you’d rather be playing Skyrim.

        I don’t know if you have played/heard of a game called League of Legends, but it’s generally where I spend most of my time when it comes to online gaming. It also has one of the most immature, toxic communities that are out there. I’ve managed to find some pretty awesome people there, including women, but they are usually buried under layers of pseudonyms and self-doubt. They also often adopt a lot of the behaviors/preferences of their more outspoken male counterparts who use terms like “gay” and “rape” as frequently as they change socks and who spend most of their time drooling over the hyper-sexualized female character art.

        Whenever I describe some of the things said to people who are outside of the gaming sphere–they’re horrified. And often confused. They don’t understand why people would use language like that. And I have no explanation for it, because I don’t understand it either. Yes, I swear. But I don’t use terms which are personally degrading, or things which might trigger someone. And honestly I keep most of my swearing to myself–I don’t suddenly start vomiting swears at my fellow players whenever they do something which displeases me.

      • I briefly tried out League of Legends, but found myself more drawn to Dota 2, which also has a reputation for a toxic online community. My experience of it hasn’t been so bad — I think as the beta has opened up to more and more newbies, the “hardcore” players who tended to be more vicious have either been drowned out or realized they’re damaging their own reputations. It would be interesting to know which differences between LoL and Dota account for this (if it’s truly a distinction and not just my own anecdotal experience).

        I think you’re absolutely right about the “anti-politically-correct” angle on the casual use of words like rape online. At some point, it was something shocking, and over the years it’s just become part of the “lingo.” This is sad, but I hope that pushing back against it (which I’m happy to see more and more of lately) could have meaningful impact on that aspect of the gaming culture. People who toss that word around should be as ashamed to use it online as they would be in public.

      • I was given a copy of Dota 2 as a gift awhile ago, but have yet to try it out. None of my friends really play it and, to be honest, I’ve heard it’s a very difficult to learn game and that the community is harsh. So it’s scared me away, especially when I already have a happy niche carved out for myself in League. Now I can’t help but wonder how many other people that’s happened to.

        It took me awhile to realize that anti-PC thinking was part of the reasoning behind the usage of such words. But then one day, a Minecraft LPer I really enjoy watching slipped and used the term “rape” to describe something unpleasant. Then he corrected himself saying, “Oops, sorry, I’m not supposed to say that. It isn’t politically correct.” And then it suddenly occurred to me that this man–who normally has a very sweet and creative personality–honestly had no clue what kind of effect that word can have on someone. He just thought he wasn’t supposed to say it because it wasn’t PC. And indeed, he doesn’t say it much anymore, at least not that I’ve noticed. (The video in question was one of his older ones from over a year ago.) But I don’t know if that’s because he’s educated himself on the problem, or if he just wants to avoid offending people who watch his channel.

        And, as someone who was raised in a household where being PC was looked down on, I can totally understand chafing against that restriction. It’s an easy way to defy society and “shock” others, especially those who are older. But very few young people (including myself not too long ago) ever stop to think *why* it’s shocking. They never stop to examine the reasons there are stigmas against certain words. Sometimes, it’s just silliness, or a holdover from superstition or religion. And other times, it actually matters.

        What I wish for most is that more people would listen instead of immediately becoming defensive whenever their habits are challenged. I don’t understand how you can come to someone with a rational, logical argument or say “Hey, this really bothers me. Please stop?” and then their reaction is anger, instead of compassion or at least acknowledgement. Turning someone away like that just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    • And your reservations are understandable–a lot of people share them. I can make a counter argument for it, but that’s not what your post is about.

      Actually, I’m not entirely sure what my reservations are, so I’m not sure whether anyone shares them or not. I’d be interested in hearing what you suspect my reservations are and then (depending on whether it sounds accurate), what your counterarguments are. Or perhaps you could just point me to a preexisting blog post that would achieve the same thing…?

      Just to attempt to pin down the feeling I have, it seems…incongruous…or perhaps just overly specific to suggest a “culture” around such a narrow thing. I could understand a term like “misogynist culture,” but “rape culture” sounds a bit weird to me. Rape is tool of misogyny (among other things), and there’s just not enough to it to build a culture around it. And isolating it seems to exclude other facets of misogyny which naturally go with it.

      I feel like so many people use those words not only out of ignorance or apathy, but because they think the only reason people *shouldn’t* use those words is because it’s not “politically correct”, and of course being PC is for those lame adults…

      Oh wow! That… That sounds quite plausible, actually! I’ve struggled to make some sort of sense of this before, but that’s an idea which hadn’t occurred to me. Yeah, that really clicks, the more I think about it!

      I don’t know if you have played/heard of a game called League of Legends

      I’ve heard of it, but I don’t do multiplayer gaming (except Civilization by email with one friend). And I avoid competitive gaming especially, because I react badly to it. I feel lousy whether I win or lose. I’m happy only when there’s a tie.

      including women, but they are usually buried under layers of pseudonyms and self-doubt. They also often adopt a lot of the behaviors/preferences of their more outspoken male counterparts who use terms like “gay” and “rape” as frequently as they change socks and who spend most of their time drooling over the hyper-sexualized female character art.

      That’s really depressing, but not completely surprising. :-(

      I can totally understand chafing against that restriction. It’s an easy way to defy society and “shock” others, especially those who are older. But very few young people (including myself not too long ago) ever stop to think *why* it’s shocking. They never stop to examine the reasons there are stigmas against certain words. Sometimes, it’s just silliness, or a holdover from superstition or religion. And other times, it actually matters.

      That’s an interesting addendum to your earlier point because I do, myself, quite relish things that are “shocking” when they defy what I see as antiquated or delusional ideas and customs. But I can see how some people might not be so particular about what, exactly, they are defying and simply thrive provoking outrage.

      • Yup, I actually figured that was where your reservations about the term “rape culture” came from–it’s one which many people share. And I agree that the name, taken at face value, is quite narrow-minded. However, the concept behind it (at least how I have been introduced to it) is much broader. It encompasses both genders and refers less to the act of rape than it does the culture which creates an environment where rape is acceptable. (Or at least something you can get away with easily.) It encompasses all forms of misogyny, not just acts of sexual assault.

        When I use the term rape culture–and again, this applies only to me since I have seen others use it in a totally different way–I am referring to the culture which is created by desensitizing people to things like sexual assault. I am referring to what happens when you make sexual assault, rape, and verbal/physical abuse seem like the norm, or something which is expected to happen to women if they act “out of line”. Using the term “rape” in a video game settings is a perfect example of this. An example of the result of rape culture thinking can be found here: http://seanan-mcguire.livejournal.com/470626.html

        I would love to link you to blog posts about rape culture, but unfortunately even though I have read some very good ones, I did not bookmark them, since I did my reading on the subject awhile ago. Sorry. :( However if I find one, I will happily send it to you.

        And going back to the point about being shocking for the sake of disturbing those around you; I’m a fan of it too. Sometimes. I think it has its place, like anything, and I think if you do it too much things become unbalanced. It’s a fine line between being shocking and just being vulgar. Plus, shocking people can so often be done by simple actions. You don’t always have to use swear words. (For instance, how “scandalous” was it for women to wear pants not so long ago?) But unfortunately, swears are the easiest and most accessible tools in the anti-PC toolbox. And I think we’ve all met (or been) someone who gets a childish giggle out of using “bad” words, particularly in front of adults/elders. Add a bit of anonymity to the equation and, well…you get online gaming.

        (As a side note, I totally understand what you mean about not feeling the groove on multiplayer stuff–I really only enjoy it when I’m with friends, or in the case of League, it’s the sport I was never good at in real life. My competitive streak is what keeps bringing me back to it. But it can still be extremely stressful, and I spent years avoiding multiplayer games as a result of that. Also– “Civilization” rocks. =D)

    • Yup, I actually figured that was where your reservations… [snip]… I am referring to what happens when you make sexual assault, rape, and verbal/physical abuse seem like the norm, or something which is expected to happen to women if they act “out of line”. Using the term “rape” in a video game settings is a perfect example of this.

      Hmm… Ok, you’ve given me something to think about.

      I would love to link you to blog posts about rape culture, but unfortunately even though I have read some very good ones, I did not bookmark them, since I did my reading on the subject awhile ago. Sorry. :( However if I find one, I will happily send it to you.

      Oh, that’s quite understandable, but there’s probably no need to send me links. The topic is sort of “on my radar” now, so my eye will naturally be drawn to references that might otherwise have been passed over.

      I’m definitely attuned to the phenomenon (e.g. of repeating the word “rape” so often that it becomes acceptable or even inevitable–as your icky link demonstrated :-P). I’m just not sure whether I like the term “rape culture.” I think it will likely grow on me, however (with time and further education). I can appreciate how it might be valuable to focus attention on rape directly instead of on misogyny.

      • Ehr… Ok, the icon this site replaces “colon hyphen P” with ( :-P ) isn’t quite the face I had in mind. I was trying to do “nausea” there, just in case there’s any confusion.

      • I’m glad you’ve found my comments useful. :) I’ve enjoyed discussing the matter with you.

        As always, people often take labels and use them for their own means. Which is why I can understand your hesitation at using the term, because I know there are people who misunderstand it or purposefully change the meaning of it to suit their own needs. I think it suffers from an unfortunate name, too. I’ve seen a lot of people who see the word “rape” in the name and immediately think it’s only about the one act. Indeed, that’s the same thing I thought for awhile, until I did some reading on the subject. I’ve also seen people try to rename it completely, going with terms like “coercion culture” or “misogyny culture” instead…and hey, if people want to rename it, I guess that’s fine.

        But anyways, enough of my rambling. Good luck in your reading! :) It gives me hope that there are still so many people who are willing to learn about the subject, or who are genuinely disgusted by people like PewDiePie. Maybe that means things will change soon. That would be pretty cool.

  3. I’m baffled that you’re sane enough to find pewdiepie to be stupid nonsense yet you find totalf*ckwit (soz i mean totalbiscuit, same thing rly) to be entertaining. I mean srsly, good job losing all cfedibility in your opening paragraph by outting yourself as inspiried by that tool.

    • Not sure why you’re so hostile to Totalbiscuit. He’s a guy with a personality and opinions about games that are often different from mine, but I find his content informative, useful, and yeah, entertaining. Care to expand on why you dislike him so strongly?

  4. I agree with the anti rape part of your column. Repeatedly shouting rape is not real comedy. However I implore you to watch his other (less watched) more serious series, such as: heavy rain, the walking dead and more recent, the last of us. I prefer these series over his others because he posts them quite quickly and they are enjoyable to watch.
    Most of his more watched videos appeal to the mass of adolescents and children, these include the amnesia and slenderman videos as well as the happy wheels series. They are generally quite bad.
    I also think Totalbiscuit posts good content and I appreciatw that he advocates the use of critical thinking. However his fan base and he himself, while spreading this message often forget to think critically themselves. Using the one video posted on retsuprae as their only evidence for their claim that Pewdiepie is a bad lets player and that he only shouts and yells rape all the time, when the video clearly picks those parts out.
    I am subscribed to pewdiepie and I enjoy some of his content usually his long running more serious lets plays as mentioned before. I advise you to watch some of them and maybe get a more balanced view of him.

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