The Matt Mercer Comparison

Depending on how you came to this piece, you may or may not be familiar with Critical Role. So, I’ll explain all this briefly. Dungeons and Dragons, let’s start there. Tabletop roleplaying game. Started in the 70s, big in the 80s, satanic panic, and so on. In 2013, Wizards of the Coast who own D&D released the 5th Edition of the game. Generally, editions are like sequels in games. They iterate in their own way with specific goals in mind. People still enjoy the previous entries and may prefer them. Based on comments by the design team of this edition it seems the purpose of this version of the game was to be welcoming enough for new players and robust enough for veterans. So, how does this relate to Critical Role?

Critical Role is a weekly live stream on Twitch where, as Matt Mercer explains, “a bunch of us nerdy-ass voice actors sit around and play Dungeons and Dragons”. The show started in 2015 and has been running ever since. Critical is perhaps the most popular live play of Dungeons and Dragons. Between the accessibility of 5th edition and the eminently watchable nature of Critical Role, many new people have been exposed to Dungeons and Dragons through this show and other shows like it, including me. Now, as part of this, some online discourse has held Matt Mercer up as the DM standard that people are compared to. So, let’s look at this comparison.

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H. Bomberguy

So, a couple of weeks ago this thing happened. The stream was this spontaneous outpouring of support for a community and a charity that was targeted by a cadre of journalists, concerned parents, and one culturally irrelevant comedy writer. To sum up, YouTuber H. Bomberguy streamed the game Donkey Kong 64 to completion while raising money for Mermaids, a UK-based charity which offers support systems to trans kids. What followed was a 54-hour stream which included appearances from folks like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, John Romero, Grant Kirkhope and other notable folks from around the internet. Beyond being just this great weekend in support of those who need it, the stream also gave me hope. Full disclosure, I’m a cis straight white dude. I won the privilege game so I don’t want to make it all about me. There have been some excellent Twitter threads about the stream and what it meant to the charity it was for and the community it supported. (@CaseyExplosion on Twitter is a good source for these, as she was a moderator for the stream and shared some good stuff post-stream). When I say it gave me hope, I’ve never hidden my politics particularly well. As time goes by, I tend to be pulled further to the left. Anyway, the stream was 100 times the success that H. Bomberguy anticipated as success. The stream was a group of people coming together to support a cause over an old video game. A spontaneous outcry of positivity and love in the face of those who would have us go back in terms of rights. It gave me hope that we fight the darkness as the climate apocalypse approaches. What I did want to talk about was the fellow behind the stream. H. Bomberguy.

I can’t recall exactly when I subscribed to H. Bomberguy. Looking back, I can recall the first video I was aware of. It was one of the earliest that resembled his current format. The video details the two figures in the Gamergate movement and mocks them heavily. The part that perhaps made me laugh the hardest is how H. Bomb completely loses his shit over the skull that appears in nearly every shot of one of the figures he is mocking. While almost crying from laughing, he wonders if there are multiple skulls or if he moves the one between shots, suggesting either a pathological love of toy skulls or a deliberate placing of the skull in the mise-en-scene. Either way, H. Bomb through mockery makes these two and their points not worth listening to. Mocking them showed me, a person who without much thought in 2014 might have fallen to the movement of Gamergate. I was exactly the angry little gamer boy that that movement could recruit and drive further right. H. Bomberguy in one of his first videos showed me that ‘all you can do is laugh’.

My next encounter with H. Bomb’s content came a few years later. He had developed as a creator. I had developed (hopefully) into a less garbage human being. His next video that I encountered was about the body standards of men and women in games. Years earlier, I would have made the false equivalence that this video disputes. I would have compared the beauty standards of male and female heroes and gone ‘job done, this idea merits no further exploration’. The video does explain pretty extensively the idea that male avatars in games are power fantasies and female NPCs or avatars are often objectified. It’s pretty straight forward but if you don’t do a deep analysis of your thoughts on these matters like I didn’t, you can miss these concepts and make a false equivalence. This video, perhaps more than the previous video I mentioned, taught me to reconsider some pretty misogynistic ideas I had by appealing to my love of video games and then explaining pretty basic literary concepts to me. Now, what video appealed to my interests and broadened my understanding next? If you know me, you will not be surprised.

Perhaps one of H. Bomb’s most popular videos is on the subject of Sherlock. The video details how the fourth series of Sherlock getting drunk and then shitting in an alleyway was not some unforeseen circumstance but was based on the very foundations of the way that Stephen Moffat tells stories. I’ve been very critical of Moffat in the past. Of how he ruined Doctor Who after I so enjoyed his early episodes under Russell T. Davies (which H. Bomb dissects in his video on the 2017 Christmas special of Doctor Who). My basic critique of Moffat is simple (kind of). He only knows how to tell one type of story (things happen in unusual order because time travel) and he never finishes a story arc satisfyingly. There is always another question to be answered that results from the previous season finale and it feels exhausting. Because there is never a satisfying conclusion. H. Bomb’s video on the subject traverses Moffat’s whole career and shows how they inform the contemporary stories we get from Moffat. It also lays bare how unsatisfying it can be to subvert audience expectations if that subversion has no weight behind it. The video showcases completely my frustrations with one of the most famous TV writers of the early-2010s. That’s probably why it’s so popular because it is comprehensive and cathartic.

Which brings us to H. Bomb’s more contemporary stuff. I’ve spoken before about his video on the internet meme Loss before in my Best of YouTube 2018 post. Earlier in 2018, H. Bomb released a video in his Measured Response series. A series that began with his discussion of those two Internet weirdos I mentioned earlier. In this video on the insult Soy Boy, he does what he threatened to do in his earlier videos and does a 40-minute rebuttal. The benefit of this is that he examines in detail the claim that soy contains phytoestrogens which must be feminising because estrogen. He debunks this pretty thoroughly, looking at sheep and the shape of chemicals. In a later video, H. Bomb dissects the works of H.P. Lovecraft. He talks of adaptation and speaks about his past as a smarter-than-thou figure who devoured Lovecraft and his transition away from that. Perhaps that’s why I connected with H. Bomberguy. We have somewhat similar origin stories.

I’ve often worried that I come off as condescending in my worst moments and people extrapolate that to my whole personality. As I begin to reassess my former days as the worst kind of person, it does sort of have an opposite effect. Perhaps my 2018 could be summed up as me dealing with my own mediocrity. I mean, this website, is a way for me to have my own sort of vanity. To pretend that my opinions matter any more than the next person because I write 1000 words of them on the Internet each week. This is probably getting away from the point. The reason I wrote this thing was pretty simple. This website wouldn’t exist without H. Bomberguy. You can see the influence in the way that both our platforms sprawl across an amalgam of topics and get vaguely more political as time goes on. In fact, there is a cadence to my words that was probably influenced in part by H. Bomb. All of this is to say two simple things, really. First is that if we want to engage people on serious issues, it can help to go where the people are. Talk about interests and the ideas they convey subtextually. Like with my Thanos and Elon Musk piece. I wanted to talk about the weird way in which we frame overpopulation and how you can’t convince ideologues that they’re wrong because their worldview is complete to them. Second, is that we mustn’t forget to laugh at the monsters. Chances are, the Ben Shapiro’s and Charlie Kirk’s of the world will do something ridiculous. Just people in laughing at these fools because sometimes it helps to think of these terrible figures as something to be laughed at.

 

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Wreck-It Ralph 2: Art and Consumerism

Over the Christmas period, I went to go see Wreck-It Ralph 2 known as Ralph Breaks the Internet. Generally, I enjoyed the first film. The message about being constrained by society’s expectations of you is an interesting one and all the pieces fit together cohesively. The central theme of the second film is pretty solid too and one that spoke to me. It is, in essence, a story about not being possessive of your friends as they pursue their dreams. All in all, the film is pretty harmless. However, the representation of the Internet kept throwing me for a loop. Before the film, I generally expected the cringy adoption of internet culture by the film in a skin that would feel as hollow as the Emoji movie. While I watched the movie, I got a sense that there could be a darker, more caustic movie behind the movie. However, the fact that this was a big budget Disney affair meant that they had to play it safe. So, let’s take a look at the Internet. Before heading into this piece, obviously spoilers ahead.

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Re-examining the Women Society Destroys

We, as a society, tend to give women the short end of the stick. Right now, you might be thinking ‘duh’ or crying misandry right now. If you’re in that second group, I can’t help you with this piece. Sometime last year I was listening to the Slow Burn podcast about the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. I had complicated thoughts about the whole thing. As someone who grew up in the 90s, I was distantly aware of the scandals. Bill Clinton mainly figured into my worldview via re-aired episodes of the Simpsons. Episodes were he appeared as a cool saxophone-playing guy, was replaced by an alien in their attempts to take over the Earth, and uh, flirted with Marge Simpson. Generally, as I learned more, there were a few conclusions I came to. What Clinton did was wrong, regardless of whether the relationship was consensual or not. The power imbalance between the middle-aged President and his twenty-year-old White House intern was always going to be fraught. Might we view Clinton in a different light in the wake of the #MeToo movement? Absolutely. However, at the time, it was clearly a partisan hack job. Those condemning the President weren’t about moral standards. You know why I think that? One of Clinton’s detractors was a fellow named Brett Kavanagh and we know what his track record with sexual assault is. There was only one person in the whole scandal who I thought was pretty blameless in all this. Monica Lewinsky herself.

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Content

I’m tired of modern life. It feels like being caught in a loop. I want to talk about the ever-present nature of content. Content is in effect, internet stuff. Online video, online writing, social media activity. It’s all branched under content. I might classify myself as a content creator. Of course, there’s a lot of content creators in our current era. Pewdiepie is a content creator. Some of my favourite YouTube personalities (influencers?) are content creators. I am a content creator. In that comparsion, I feel like a bit of phytoplankton as compared to the whale of an influencer that Pewdiepie is. Maybe even that is an ill-served metaphor. When whales shift, the ocean isn’t hugely affected. I am a content creator. Most of us are in the digital age. We have podcasts, or social media presence, or livestreams. I don’t think everyone gets into this game to be Pewdiepie. However, I think that we there is the hope that we can scratch out a middle class living this way. We are all content creators fighting over scraps.

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Best of YouTube 2018

2018 has been a hard year for me. I wasn’t initially going to write a retrospective for this year. I won’t get into all the details of why my year has been difficult but I’m sure everyone remembers the growing pains of leaving academia. There were bright spots. I might explain my feelings in a longer form piece when I feel I’m out of the woods. As usual, I enjoyed my fair share of media. I wrote a ton about media this year too. Usually I begin talking about my favourite song of 2018 but any songs I was drawn to this year were not released in 2018.

However, the sections of YouTube that I frequent had something of a renaissance this year. Picking the ‘best’ video was especially hard. Every channel below released some of their best work in 2018 and elevated the medium in their own way. So I’m going to explore a collection of what you might call honourable mentions but is more like a list of equal first place.

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Let’s Talk About Diablo Immortal

I realise I’m behind the times on this particular story. Surely all the hot takes have been said. So, if you’re not aware, I’ll update you quickly. Earlier this month, Blizzard who is known for games like World of Warcraft and Overwatch had their annual event known as BlizzCon. BlizzCon usually begins with an opening ceremony where new developments at the company are announced. At this year’s BlizzCon they had a couple things of note such as a new Overwatch hero and a remaster of Warcraft 3. However, they decided to end this press conference with an announcement of mobile game Diablo Immortal. There was a prompt backlash and I want to talk about it.

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