Have you ever stopped to think about the amount of opportunities you have to do almost anything you want in the 21st century? Sure, your socioeconomic status and other personal restrictions may prevent you from making all your dreams come true like some Disney princess, but if you set your mind to it, you can learn to do anything you desire with something we take for granted every day. The Internet. I’m sure you didn’t figure that one out.
It’s the reason why I’m able to toy around with aspects of Adobe Premiere and Photoshop, which are programs I still won’t master for years even with the help of tutorials and advice from blogs. I was able to build a PC after countless hours of reading articles and forums that answered my questions, and now I have a general grasp on all the main parts and their functions, how to take apart and reassemble a tower, and so on. But you can go farther and look up lessons on how to beatbox, make sweet potato soup, knit a cosplay Jedi robe, or build a website like I did over the past couple of months. Anything! My point in saying this is that we may not always make our life goals a reality, but we have it easier than ever to give our aspirations a try, even if there’s more competition than ever. YouTube is one such platform that demonstrates this.
It’s where you can test your abilities as a filmmaker, comedian, entertainer, or what have you. As a legitimate career path or fun hobby, you can cover anything you want that you enjoy or think others will love, and let’s be honest. Even if you’re just making video content for the fun of it, everyone secretly wishes they could one day gain just a fraction of the views and subscribers that creators like Felix Kjellberg, Smosh, or Vsauce receive. Unfortunately, they represent an infinitesimal sliver of the amount of YouTubers out there, and let me tell you, there’s a lot of filth that manages to breach the surface, but most of it thankfully never gains traction. Likewise, lots of other great channels don’t blossom despite consistent, quality work, but it’s always good to see fortune smile on some of them who deserve recognition. Speaking about that, I had the pleasure of interviewing James Caddick for Push Square last year, and he didn’t let up on the hard truth about YouTube. “Some of the best YouTubers I know have had a small amount of subscribers for years, and aren’t even partnered yet. This is not an easy industry to get into, whatever you choose to do. Going into [it] thinking that you will get paid, as far as I’m concerned, is extremely misguided – and will only frustrate and disappoint you if nothing happens after years of hard work.”
Caddy’s right. No matter what people say, making videos is not simple if you want to take it seriously. You may be playing video games and sitting at your desk for hours on end like I have done, but fiddling with clips, audio, effects, and more to get every little detail right is an intense process that requires focus, creativity, and motivation for a few days or even a couple of weeks depending on what you’re crafting. It’s why you don’t see much from my YouTube channel even though I love to build it up in my free time because you can only do so much if it’s not a full-time occupation. So, while I’m working out what to do with my own stuff, I want to highlight 10 YouTubers I respect. Some of them stir up intellectually stimulating topics and criticism that inspire me. Others have a knack for making me laugh with their glowing personalities and comedic gold scripts. Either way, I’ve got obvious people I had to include below, but I’m sure you’ll be surprised by strangers I hope you acquaint yourself with after blasting through the paragraphs. Other than that, I’ve included links to their channels with the pictures that will allow you to better understand what each of them can do. I’ve also ordered them in concordance with…well, my subjective, ever-fluctuating enjoyment of each person’s body of work, so do keep in mind there are other channels I’ve only started watching or have never seen before that might just find a spot among my favorites later on (like this hilarious man), so the list only reflects my immediate opinions. With that out of the way, check these guys out.
Everyone on this list has some shtick involving video games. It can be with creating informal reviews or insightful looks at a particular game character. That being said, Stuart Brown (Ahoy) is the black sheep here. With a man’s man voice and natural affinity for graphic design, he specialized in “weapon guides” for first-person shooters back in the day, particularly for Call of Duty. From Modern Warfare 2 to Ghosts, he deeply covered every weapon and even attachments with statistics mixed with personal impressions to help players make the best choices for their create-a-class loadouts. When I was still invested in the franchise up until Ghosts, I looked forward to every guide he posted because he used his own lovely art assets, the writing was easy to follow, and his puns were wonderfully cringe-worthy. However, that content was time sensitive, so I can imagine why you wouldn’t be interested in those videos! While they’re still worth taking a look at, he’s taken recent strides to create videos that are truly timeless with documentaries that cover video game’s history with topics such as graphics, gore, and piracy. It’s a natural evolution for him since he always loved mentioning historical events, figures, and facts with his weapon guides, so now he goes all in to the point of exceeding the quality of what you can find on the History Channel. Heck, universities who have game design programs should show off what he puts together because it’s as grabbing as it is educational. His talents in graphic design, script writing, and even background music are hard to match, so there was no way I could forget to mention him.
Jirard Khalil is someone I’ve started watching recently, and I already think he’s one of those people I could get along with as a friend. Laid-back and bursting with good vibes, he’s someone that always puts a smile on my face for those reasons alone, but it definitely helps that he puts out a lot of good content. He primarily sticks to the general realm of reviews, and while I enjoy his approachable criticism that doesn’t get mired in technical language, he excels in producing a large amount of collaborative projects. This is something that can’t be said for a lot of YouTubers because it’s hard to do, but it’s not weird to see 2-3 people involved in every other one of Jirard’s videos, whether they make minor or large appearances. He’s able to work off of others well and seems at his best when doing this rather than going solo, which some of his reviews and his “Defend It!” videos demonstrate. While his scripts may make me roll my eyes on occasion and video editing may not be particularly distinct, there’s an undeniable passion and sincerity behind his content that largely overcome what criticism I have for him. Looking back at his older stuff, Jirard has come a long way and established his own groove with quality stuff, so I intend to be with him for the long haul, especially since I still have a lot of his old videos to catch up on!
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There’s an immediate word that will come to your mind after watching just one of Chris Franklin’s videos: pretentious. Trust me, I wouldn’t fault you for thinking that. He’s got a complicated lexicon that might make you lose track of following his trains of thought, and he really made me wonder if he sits down with a thesaurus for hours trying to make himself sound as intellectual as possible. But he’s openly acknowledged this and admits that he doesn’t try to sound haughty, so…ha, he’s just naturally smarter than a lot of people! Especially in regard to the intricacies of game design, theory, and criticism. While I have to think hard to channel my inner academic in my writing when it feels appropriate, everything that comes out of Chris’ mouth could be published in a scholarly journal. It’s why I would rather classify his content as “video essays” because they’re highbrow through and through. Whether you’re listening to him dissect the ludonarrative dissonance debate around BioShock: Infinite or talk about how the mechanics involving the slaves in Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry ironically conflict with the narrative in interesting ways, Chris never has a safe or boring viewpoint to contribute. I like to view him as a sage of game theory; he reminds me to always be paying attention to the design and rules behind what I play to think about games in new lights. It’s something I wish more people were interested in because while game design is the obvious cornerstone of game development, game theory and criticism are what refine what they create. Game journalists and reviewers in general perform a lighter form of these things, but it would be awesome to see it increase in weight for the future so gamers can be more intellectually critical about the insanely deep medium they love. Chris is someone who’s helping move this along.
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Remember how I said my opinions are always fluctuating with how much I enjoy certain YouTubers? There was a time where I would’ve put Adam Montoya (SeaNanners) or Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie) on this list, but I’ve moved away from watching Let’s Play videos because I don’t have time to keep up with them and they just aren’t for me. This is what Joe Vargas has been doing more of over the past year. Not on his channel, but over on Twitch with plenty of live sessions each week. Look, I don’t have any interest in watching hours of someone playing through a game. I’ll chill to 10 to 30-minute videos with uneventful filler cut out every so often, but that’s my limit. Anyway, Joe will typically do one review a month now because of this change in content production, and with him — for some reason — being a bit of a negative Nancy with more petty complaints last year with a few games, I haven’t been as excited for his stuff lately. However, with some great reviews here and there that gave me hope and promises for more of them for this year, I have faith that Joe will emerge stronger than ever for 2016. Besides, it’s not like he’s taken a dive or anything in quality! I don’t want to give that impression because I still like his long-form reviews and the funny sketches he adds in while dressing up for the part alongside his best friend. But if I were to point out what I like most about Joe, it would be his consistent integrity and honesty. He not only doesn’t shy away from giving credit where credit’s due and tearing into games he loves, but he’s also the game journalist we need. He’ll go on “Angry Rants” about shady DLC, unkept promises about games’ content, or messy pre-order garbage without trepidation. A watchdog in every sense of the word, he’ll confidently confront developers vis-à-vis with interviews about past failures and business ethics with polite respect, and I’ll actually watch them even if they don’t involve games I care about. So I may not always agree with Joe, but I look up to what he stands for as a transparent critic of games and the industry.
If I had been running Daniel Floyd and James Portnow’s channel, I would’ve run out of being able to produce a steady stream of videos a while ago. Yet Extra Credits is able to roll out lovely videos breaking down game design, theory, culture, genres, and much more to this day and beyond. Daniel does the video editing (I think) and shockingly non-irritating, high-pitched voice that’s easy to listen to, James helps write beautifully simplified scripts that prove he could be the best game theory teacher at any university, and, most importantly, various artists over the years have made Extra Credits primarily recognized for its distinct, cartoony art that permeates each and every video with funny illustrations, helpful diagrams, and more. The team has a perfect storm of talent, making their work stick with you after viewing it because it’s aesthetically appealing and memorable, accompanied with enjoyable lessons I could binge-watch for hours. They’re also specifically mindful of game designers as an audience instead of only gamers and game theory junkies, so they produce plenty of advice that should be taken to heart and critically evaluated by artists, level designers, or programmers since it could better themselves. The channel also has something called “Extra History” that may not be relevant to games, but it’s a wonderful series I have to mention where they take historical events and figures and portray them in their own unique style of narration and art (they’re essentially lighthearted documentaries). For everything else involving games though, these folks are always coming up with fresh content that results in some of the most astonishingly proper, formal comment sections I’ve ever seen on YouTube, which only speaks for the kind of community of viewers it fosters.
Sometimes I just want to unwind and not think about anything, you know? I’m tired and kind of “blah” emotionally, and someone I can always count on to bring some happiness into my day is Austin Hargrave. Like Jirard Khalil, there’s something about his personality that’s infectiously happy, but Austin’s style of video editing and humor resonate more with me. Even when he becomes critical about some games, there’s this air of optimism and innocence that’s evident throughout his work, which contribute to making him one of the few YouTubers I would recommend to people of any age, much like Josh Wittenkeller (The JWittz). No controversy. No vulgar language or jokes. He’s a big goofball who creates wacky top 10 lists, hilarious compilations applying hacks to emulated games, and some hilarious Let’s Play runs. Overall, since he’s unpredictable with what he’ll tackle next and goes on silly tangents at random, and that’s what I love about him. I know I’m in for something unexpected but fun when one of Austin’s videos shows up in my subscription box. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Ah, James Caddick. He’s an odd Brit for sure, but I’m glad I stumbled across his work because he’s a huge PlayStation fan. That just means he shares a lot of the correct opinions as I do about a lot of games. Anyway, he has a ton of video series ranging from Caddy’s Retrospectives —where he critiques the first three games in any series and provides information on their development — to Current Quickies, which is when he assumes his fast-talking (and I mean fast, boy) alter-ego for more traditional video reviews on more current titles. While I’m fond of everything he does, the pinnacle of what makes him stand out are his videos that chronicle the highlights of his time spent playing obscure games that are either “slaughtered or salvaged” depending on their quality. I’d call them pseudo-reviews because while he may critique the positive and negative aspects of games, he combines this with his reactions to memorable (in either a good or bad way) bits in the form of comedic sketches, partly making his reviews a shorter, more creative iteration of Let’s Play. To boil it down, think of him as a more wild Jon Jafari (JonTron) who isn’t afraid to go outside the box with his crazy humor and erratic yet cleverly constructed video editing. I can tell he puts an impressive amount of work into his content, so give him a chance! He’s always staying beautiful.
John Bain is that guy I point at and say to people, “That’s who I want to be when I grow up.” Ha, but in all seriousness, he’s someone I specifically admire for his ethics and transparency as a public, influential figure in the game industry. He holds game developers, publishers, and journalists to the standards they deserve to be held to, whether he’s respectively tackling bribing people to say good things about a game, shallow tactics used for pre-ordering, or full disclosure of personal biases one could have toward someone in game development. He doesn’t blather to the wind about some of Kotaku’s questionable practices. He directly approaches editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo and has an almost two-hour interview with him discussing the ethics involved in game journalism. If Mad Max is receiving an odd contrast of reviews between journalists and consumers, he talks about why this could be the case, followed by a deconstruction of the reactions to this situation and what it says about reviews in general. Besides this, he gives in-depth “Port Reports” to see if PC versions of games realize their full potential, hosts a podcast, gives AAA and indie titles a chance in first impressions videos called “WTF is…[insert game title],” and even more. I particularly enjoy his verbose rants that run for about 20-40 minutes on average because he has a lot of great things to say, but unfortunately this type of worthwhile, long-form content isn’t common since people have short attention spans these days. Other than that, I really need to go back and listen to more of his stuff for my own personal benefit. My moral cornerstone and beliefs guide me to be as transparent, honest, and ethical as I can be, so John is one such man who fledgling journalists such as I should be listening to in a time where events like Gamergate have revealed that some of my ilk are either blatantly disregardful and hypocritical about fessing up to their mistakes, or they’re willing to let some things they do or say slide because game journalism is only — as I once read somewhere — “hobbyist writing.” Heh. Dat’s a good one.
Anyway, I also hope that John will be around for many, many years. He was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in his liver a few months ago, so my prayers are always sent his way for a miracle to occur and that he’ll always have the strength to face his future trials alongside his wife. Stay strong, Cynical Brit.
ECH! How could one of the most influential YouTubers in the gaming scene not be on my list at some point? His comedy is sheer brilliance, let alone iconic because of his blend of subtle jokes and rapid-fire cuts of himself yelling while making the most beautiful facial expressions known to mankind. For the love of flying bagels, the man was the seventh most searched for “meme” last year. Whether you think that’s depressing or an achievement is your prerogative to judge, but there’s no denying that Jon Jafari is the sole reason why so many YouTubers — including some of the gentlemen I’ve mentioned — even gave this video-making thing a chance. That includes myself. He’s honestly someone who doesn’t need an introduction. He’s done Let’s Play work in the past with Game Grumps and will occasionally critique awful films, but he’s primarily known for the same kind of pseudo-reviews that James Caddick produces. However, what makes him different is he’s moved on to strange themes for his videos. So instead of doing one centered around 90’s survival-horror games, he’ll cover a bunch of obscure games about food brands or showcase the time he had with plug and play arcade games while providing what backstory he can on where they came from. While he’s known for taking a long time to upload content, he’s never failed – especially last year – to continually improve upon his work. While the humor didn’t feel as strong sometimes, he’s recently found a groove in vastly improving the set, cinematography, and writing for his show. I wish him well as he continues to do what he does best: make people roar with laughter.
You ever stumble across a song and felt…pulled to it? Music is magical like that. You’ll be attracted to a track by some band but not be compelled to listen to their other work. Or perhaps you actually do that, but you never re-listen to them. However, once a month or two for me, I’ll perk for the first minute of some song and say to myself, “…I love this band already.” Sure enough, when I listen to the rest of their work, I’m immediately drawn to it all and will keep it on my repeat loop of music for weeks. When I happened to find Satchell Drakes and his first “Anti-Semantics” video, I felt that same kind of connection. I knew I was going to take in and adore everything he had to show and say, and sure enough, I was right. He’s now my favorite YouTuber.
What doesn’t make sense is that he’s a part of Normal Boots. He couldn’t be any more different than Jared Lee Knabenbauer (ProJared), Jirard Khalil, and the rest. He’s introspective and reserved. Thoughtful and wise. He almost carries an air of solemnity, but perhaps this comes across because he treats video games professionally. He’s able to crack a joke here and there, but that’s a rare thing to see since he focus on game design, theory, criticism, and other subjects I find that other YouTubers have failed to capitalize on: philosophy, emotion, sociology, religion, etc. He ties subjects like these beautifully into how a specific game’s themes, mechanics, or narrative is designed or communicated to the player. He’ll also do side-by-side comparisons of games from similar eras and genres to reveal how they differ on a deeper level technologically and structurally, critique a particular aspect of a game and what we can take from it in “Case Studies”…but if I keep giving more reasons for why the substance of his work is so interesting, I’d fail to stress why he has some of the best video editing I’ve seen. His eye for aesthetics, alignment, color, cinematography, lighting…ugh. Real talk: I’m incredibly jealous of his background in graphic design. The experience he has in that field touches every corner of his work, even if some of his VHS-inspired transitions and rendering of video clips may not be to everyone’s tastes. Regardless, Satchell Drakes is someone I’ll stop to watch no matter what I’m doing. He’s someone I wish I could sit down and have a chat with about anything. He embodies much of what I aspire to be like as a game critic and hopeful video producer, so it just hit me: he’s a representation of my final form. So obvious.
This makes me look like some hipster though because Satchbag’s Goods is the channel with the lowest subscription count here. Well, it’s like I said earlier, some of the greatest creators have an iota of views compared to others who are infinitely more popular. That may always be the case, but as long as the underdogs continue to do what they do best and excel at it, that’s all that matters. The views and subscriptions aren’t a means to an end, but the rewards that will be reaped along the way depending on how you treat and entertain your audience first and foremost. In turn, that outlook will hopefully lead to you gaining more followers should fate be on your side. So yeah, Satchell’s got the best goods out of this bunch. Go get ’em.
I’ve had this article on my mind for quite some time, so hopefully you enjoyed it! Which YouTubers made you fist-pump the air when you saw they made it among my favorites? Who am I missing? Markiplier? Super Bunnyhop? Perhaps you have a bone to pick with some of the guys I’ve included? If you happen to stumble across this article, I’d love to hear from you.
And as always, thank you very much for reading!
The pictures contain portions of all the creators’ respective YouTube headers. Other than this, the photo of TotalBiscuit and Satchell Drakes in my article header belong to them. All other edits made by me.