I use YouTube for three things, and three things only:
1. To watch videos of cute animals
2. To watch supercuts of TV commercials from the ‘70s and ‘80s
3. To get embed codes for pieces I’m writing for work
So I may not seem like the best person to write a piece about YouTube and the people who “create” for it. That’s kind of the crux of this article, though, as the headline above spells out: no matter how big a celebrity they might be in their own world, the only time I ever learn about the existence of any specific YouTuber is when they publicly embarrass themselves by doing something extremely stupid and probably illegal.
The latest is somebody named “ProJared.” I was totally going to make a joke about Subway’s Jared here, but a quick internet search shows that roughly 5 million people have already made a similar joke, so let’s just push past that one. ProJared—real name: Jared Knabenbauer—apparently plays games on YouTube, a popular type of content that is related to my day job and yet which I have never been able to feign even the slightest bit of interest in. Knabenbauer somehow had over a million followers on YouTube, despite lacking any discernible charisma or comedic skills, and despite videos that mostly consist of him just playing old videogames while awkwardly stringing words together in misguided attempts at telling jokes. He was (or maybe still is, although not for long) married to Heidi O’Ferrall, a popular cosplayer, another games-adjacent activity that once mystified me but that I now at least keep an open mind about. (Do what makes you happy, and all that.) Last week Knabenbauer announced the two were getting divorced, and O’Ferrall followed up with a Twitter thread where she didn’t hold anything back about the way Knabenbauer treated her. Basically her account makes him look like a lying, unfaithful asshole who emotionally and mentally abused her, and that alone would have done a lot of damage to Knabenbauer’s weird career.
Of course it turns out there’s more to this story. This Jared guy’s a pro, after all.
As the divorce dust-up with O’Ferrall was becoming public knowledge, people on social media started to accuse Knabenbauer of asking them for nude photos, including one who says Knabenbauer knew they were underage at the time. If true, Knabenbauer wasn’t just cheating on his wife with a friend, but using his popularity and prominence within the YouTube gaming community to take advantage of women, including those who might be underaged. Again, if true, Knabenbauer is just another garden variety YouTube sex creep, using his newfound fame to manipulate his young-skewing fan base into lurid and one-sided online dalliances. If you weren’t aware, that’s some real grade A asshole behavior right there.
ProJared is far from the only YouTube nerd abusing his stature and younger audience, of course. They’re not all sex based, but from Pewdiepie’s racist flirtations, to Logan Paul’s general shitbaggery, to Austin Jones’ recent 10 year sentence for convincing underaged girls to send him sexually graphic videos, to more incidents than we could ever cover, some of the most popular and successful YouTube users have a history of mistreating and exploiting their fans. The acts might be different, but the commonalities are the creators’ massive success on YouTube and the fact that I’ve personally never heard of any of these fools until their behavior is exposed.
This brings me to my point. (Thanks for bearing with me.) There’s this notion that people who write about videogames need to be intimately aware of the culture that has developed around gaming. No disrespect to anybody who does learn about that culture, whether wittingly or not, but there’s absolutely no need to know anything about YouTube gaming channels in order to write about videogames. You don’t need to keep up on what’s happening with the biggest streamers or YouTube personalities in order to understand game development and design concepts, or to place a game into a larger cultural context, or to distinguish between what a game is trying to say and what it actually says, whether it’s trying to or not. Anything on the periphery of the games themselves and the people and processes that make, market and consume them is a sideshow, and in YouTube’s case that’s usually quite literal. Gaming YouTube is at best innocuous and thus easily ignored, and at worst something perverse and unsightly that attracts attention exclusively for those reasons and exists outside the tent of things actually worth paying attention to.
Games are worth writing about as a medium, an art form and a business, but “gaming culture,” to the extent that one exists, is mostly a parasite. It’s a scheme to make money off of people who play videogames. People like ProJared flatter and patronize “gamers” with uninspired videos that are usually driven by personality-free personalities rehashing bad jokes and facile observations, and rarely saying anything insightful or important about a game. They might become massively popular, and there’s much to say about how the rise of streaming and YouTube influencers have impacted how games are made and sold, but for the most part the actual videos amount to a lot of noise—just a newer, longer, louder way to advertise games. Most of these YouTubers are harmless, but some, like (supposedly) ProJared, aren’t, and since they’re usually the only ones that break out into broader awareness, they paint a sorry, sordid picture of what YouTube has to offer.
If you don’t enjoy watching these videos, don’t feel any pressure to force yourself through them. You aren’t going to miss out on any conversations worth having and shouldn’t feel like you’re no longer qualified to share your opinions on videogames. The weird world of homemade content that YouTubers like Knabenbauer have created might be dependent on games, but it’s its own distinct culture, one that might be fascinating from a sociological perspective, but that’s almost always deathly boring to try and watch, and that won’t help you understand games any more than you would just by playing them or talking to your friends about them. And that way you’re also far less likely to stumble into some Neo-Nazi talking points or get pressured into sending nudes.
Oh, I knew there was a fourth thing I watch on YouTube: videos of old Disney rides that no longer exist. It’s absolutely no recompense for the larger ills YouTube has unleashed upon society, but at least it lets me relive Horizons every few months. Really, that’s all you need YouTube for.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.