Against my better judgment, I surrendered my credit card information to YouTube today so that I could watch the first episode of the first YouTube Red [the premium paid-for YouTube offering currently still confined to the US] original series. It stars Pewdiepie, a Swedish man who’s become very rich and famous by playing video games on YouTube. Until today, I’d never watched one his videos.
Well, now I have. I watched the show — titled “LEVEL 7 | I’M NOT CRAZY (OUTLAST IRL GAMEPLAY)” — and now I feel like crap.
Pewdiepie (née Felix Kjellberg) is richer and more famous than I will ever be. This fact was highly distracting as I watched the 26-year-old pretend to navigate the halls of a haunted hospital. The premise of LEVEL 7 | I’M NOT CRAZY (OUTLAST IRL GAMEPLAY) involves Pewdiepie sort of acting like he’s in a video game except he’s actually on some weird set full of actors covered in fake blood and delivering scripted lines. He’s got a camera strapped to his chest to capture his reactions as he pretends to accomplish tasks that will help him get out of this totally invented conundrum. Quite predictably, Pewdiepie makes it out alive and swears a lot in the process.
Is this what kids are into these days? I don’t get it. I get that some people like watching videos of other people playing video games. (I don’t actually get it, but I get that it’s a thing.) But paying to watch a 20-minute video of some guy feigning fear in some grand capitalist experiment in content creation? It doesn’t help that the last time I heard about Pewdiepie was when he was stumping for YouTube Red by shit-talking ad blockers. As someone whose job exists because of ads on the internet, I get this, too.
But I still don’t get the Pewdiepie phenomenon. As our sibling site Kotaku said this week, he’s now “just plain famous.” With over 42 million subscribers, Pewdiepie is the most watched person on YouTube. He’s got his own logo, his own app, and his own bro army. This, despite the fact that Pewdiepie took fire for making rape jokes in his videos a few years ago.
None of this makes sense to me, and I don’t even have the energy to try and figure it out. Why? I’m 31 years old and feel death looming ever closer — and my teen years are an ever more distant memory. YouTube fame makes me wary, I think, because I remember a world without social media fandom, a world where we were a bit less self-centred. We lost that years ago, and lots of great things happened. YouTube itself is a great thing that I’m happy exists. Pewdiepie’s new show? Not so much.
Having wasted 20 minutes, I now know more about Pewdiepie. He’s handsome and energetic, and I wish him happiness. I’m cancelling my YouTube Red subscription immediately, though. The free version of YouTube makes me feel old and sad enough. No need to waste money on more.