It shouldn't be too crazy to say that videogames have a lot of problems right now. For a variety of different reasons and factors, a lot of shitty people with shitty opinions have taken refuge in the videogame space, and have become very popular doing so. And as youtube establishes itself as the premiere land of video punditry for far-right reactionaries and more and more popular game youtubers to air their sexist/racist/homo/transphobic/etc opinions and help people harass anyone who gets on their shitlist (including game devs), it can be hard to want to go anywhere near the world of videogame youtube. But I think this is precisely what is to be avoided, as our favorite problematic Marxist troll Slavoj Zizek says! I think there's still a lot of potential for really interesting video content about games. And part of the reason my opinion about this subject has changed over time is I have spent some time immersing myself in the youtube trenches and found a handful of channels I actually legitimately like. This is a post to share these channels with you all!
Please note that these are by no means the only interesting or non-shitty channels on youtube - they're just personal favorites. I also wouldn't say any of these channels are exactly perfect. Both online video content and especially video content about videogames are things that haven't really been figured out. It's a new format. And even the good stuff you're liable to find tends to still stick to some tropes or cliches to survive in the current landscape.
So maybe it's instead better to look at them as the beginning of something rather than the end-all-be-all of video content about games. And maybe it will spur more of you all to action to get involved, and do something new and interesting in this space that is often so dominated by reactionary ideologues, clickbait, and the same old boring and toxic conventional "gamer" wisdom. It's definitely a toxic space that's hard to exist on, especially if you're trying to do something new and different. But maybe it can still be done, and maybe - like a few of these channels do - it can reach a bigger audience than you might think. So go forth and embrace the new flesh, fellow comrade!
Without further ado... the list:
Classics of Game
Classics of Game is basically like a well-curated little digital art gallery. Out of context snapshots of particularly strange or alienating or funny moments from mostly obscure older games come in and out of focus before quickly moving onto the next strange snippet. It functions kind of as a document of some of the silliest, most alienating, and most unique elements of games that are often forgotten about. And because it's highly curated, it's potentially more accessible to people who are outside game culture and just want to be exposed to some quick concentrated weirdness. I do wish it credited individual games, but there are other people who have taken up the work of sourcing where the footage is from (which I can't find right now... will update when I do). Regardless, ClassicsOfGame is still a highly surreal and essential encapsulation of game history and very worth tuning into.
I discovered Retropals, formerly Adventure Pals, originally via their Playstation Year One series. There are a lot of "game historian" type youtubers out there, especially on Nintendo-related subjects and 90's era console wars, but this one struck me as a very highly specific and interesting subject to pick for an entire series. And indeed, longtime games journalist/writer Danny Cowan goes all in on covering all aspects of the PSOne's launch in a way that is well-written and informative, if sometimes a tiny bit dry. Still, PS Year One is absent a lot of the usual gamer platitudes and conventional wisdom echoed by a lot of game historian youtubers. It seems to include original research and has its own unique tone. It's also still an ongoing series, so definitely keep an eye on this series as it develops.
But honestly the biggest reason I love this channel is because Danny and his partner Alex are perhaps my favorite game streamers out there. Streams are generally laid back but entertaining and they generally pick interesting and highly unique things to play. Danny has a lot of knowledge about a wide variety of obscure games and oddities, especially a lot of FMV games and mid-90's era games that are fun to watch them fail gloriously at. Danny also generally does his research and has interesting things to say about the games they pick to play. Lightly edited highlights are available on their youtube channel and are just as much, if not even more, worth watching than the PS Year One series overall.
Here are a few recommended videos of theirs:
Double Switch 1 Credit playthrough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXF9xFKB5-w
Jurassic Park Sega CD playthrough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VlX9bUunxw
XBLIG Silver Dollar Games Postmortem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeeDWzdkRl8
They do have a small but spirited fan following, but I am really sad they don't have a larger audience. So please support them on atreon here: https://www.patreon.com/retropals and subscribe to their channel on youtube! They deserve a much larger audience!
Accursed Farms/Ross's Game Dungeon
Ross Scott is best known as the creator of the well-known humorous Machinima series Freeman's Mind, a narrated playthrough of Half-Life 1 where he gives voice to the game's voiceless protagonist Gordon Freeman. Freeman's Mind is very... of its time. The humor, while certainly not poorly written by any means, is very of the internet of when it started in 2007. But if nothing else, Freeman's Mind seems to have been a launching off point into a more recent project of his - Ross's Game Dungeon.
I discovered the Game Dungeon because it kept showing up on youtube search results when I kept searching for different obscure PC games. I have to admit was really baffled how a series that picked games that were so obscure seemed to have as many views as it did. I admit I also assumed it must have been the usual youtuber shouting over how these old games all suck. But I was totally surprised to find that it it wasn't really that at all! Ross, while he doesn't shy away from complaining about a games's flaws, usually manages to be respectful and have something interesting to say about every one of the games he reviews - even the obviously bad ones. Ross's Game Dungeon grew on me a lot, especially after seeing his Deus Ex video which actually seriously analyses the way the game takes on issues of inequality and government corruption in a sincere and accurate way. That's a lot more than you'd expect for a videogame reviewer on youtube.
Over time Ross's Game Dungeon has become easily my favorite edited youtube series about games. The fact that he is able to talk about games that are highly obscure in a way that is interesting and weigh the good with the bad to a pretty large audience is kind of a miracle. It's thrown a lot of my own cynicism and conventional wisdom about what is or isn't able to get traction on youtube on its head. Maybe doing something different and new on youtube is actually possible! Maybe we shouldn't be so cynical! No doubt many of the views to his videos come because of the popularity of Freeman's Mind. But the fact that Ross's Game Dungeon does exist in its own universe at all is kind of a miracle, and I'd like to hopefully think of it as a model for future things to come.
Other videos especially worth checking out are his overview of the existential Tetris horror of Nyet 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KG0ANGRwSl8, the disturbingly bizarre and highly cursed 90's adventure game world of Armed and Delirious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qRCzIj9QEo&t=12s, and his take on lost classic and GTA precursor Quarantine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abrKxAHJ7qU.
Here I have to talk about one of my favorite video artists of all-time, videogame-related or not. The work of Docfuture, aka Topher Florence, is really hard to describe. Generally, he does a lot of bizarre and strange mashups of pop culture and videogames. Recently he's known for strange and funny videos like "ASMR Roleplay: Caring And Supporting Funky Kong Picks You Up From The Airport". But he got his start on the Something Awful forums in the mid-2000's. This spawned what would be my favorite work of his, and what I still to this day, easily consider to be the best Let's Play of all time.
Sonic 2: Special Edition (which is also up here) is a fake version of Sonic 2 docfuture was trying to convince other forumgoers on Something Awful that existed, so he made a Let's Play of it. Initially he starts out trying to present the game matter-of-factly as some kind of version of Sonic 2 with extra bonus cutscenes and other content that he has access to because he has an uncle who works for Sega (which perhaps the Twine game The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo might be a reference to?). The game initially looks like Sonic 2, albeit with a lot of strange jokes added in, but over time it slowly dissolves into a surreal mashup that encompasses so many bizarre and obscure pop-culture references and surreal video editing techniques. At times, it feels like a very strange comedy sketch. At others, it feels like a video art piece from another universe.
Docfuture has perfected the art of Let's Play as performance. The fact that this was done so early on in the history of Let's Plays, and that these ideas have basically never caught on just shows how much of a singular achievement it is. It's also, honestly, really sad because it makes you reflect on the potential of what that medium could be vs. what it largely is now. There's a sense of anarchic wonder and possibility here that is missing from the unwaveringly stiff and sad format of current game content on youtube. I find that incredibly depressing, and very much desire to see this kind of work come back. And maybe it will some day.
Less of an artistic statement, but still wonderful and surreal are his narrated Sonic 1 Easy Mode playthrough featuring a nice jazz fusion soundtrack, his playthroughs of Sega Saturn platformers Super Tempo and Thrybrush Deppy that include things like a fake interview with Super Tempo's star and a Maya Angelou narration of the game's action, and a couple bizarre video skits he did over a gameboy color game based on the cartoon Doug.
Sadly because of their age, the versions that exist online of most of these are pretty low-quality. They also aren't on docfuture's own channel, making them harder to find. BUT - they are still uploaded by other people on youtube, at least. so I've linked them below. And in spite of the low-quality these are still essential viewing.
If you want to know more about docfuture and his interest in preserving a sense of mystery online, I would really recommend checking out the interview I did with him last year on my podcast Beyond The Filter: https://archive.org/details/beyondthefilter07nostalgiaandstrangeness_topherflorence
Explaining SiIvaGunner is like trying to unravel a giant ball of yarn of in-jokes and internet lore. According to TVTropes, apparently its inspiration was a channel named SilvaGunner (with an "L" and not an "I"), which uploaded Soundtrack rips from videogames that was taken down several years ago due to copyright violations. It then eventually got resurrected as an account named GilvaSunner, which also uploaded OST rips until it eventually also stopped due to fears of more copyright takedowns.
In response, the parody account GiIvaSunner was launched. The joke being that the uppercase I made it appear to look exactly like the real GilvaSunner account, making it look like just an extension of that well-known and respected OST ripping account. Uploads are also presented in the format of typical game music uploads, also making them indistinguishable from the usual GilvaSunner uploads. And then when you clicked on the track it would usually play a bait-and-switch with some kind of humorous musical mashup - either referencing pop songs or other game music. The channel is the most famous for the recurring joke of the Flintstones theme which is a reference to some pirate version of Flinstones for the NES named 7 Grand Dad that appeared on a popular Vinesauce stream.
The funny thing about the channel, though, is because of its popularity, if you want to search for the actual OST or track from a game it is very likely that you could get the joke GiIvaSunner version instead. It confuses and complicates the format of youtube to bring you something different. In an era where a lot of mystery is gone from the internet and corporation tends to have consolidated control over the distribution of content, this kind of thing doesn't happen too much anymore.
The other part of the background to this joke is that a lot of modern software that is either able to emulate (i.e. Famitracker for the NES) or accurately extract samples from old games has made doing seamless rearrangements of the game in their natural sounds possible. This can be a trip to hear if you're used to the original game audio, and adds to the feeling of traveling into an alternate universe with these tracks. However, the channel is obviously full of all kinds of musical in-jokes and references in ways that can make it alienating to anyone but a particular audience of people, so you sort of have to pick and choose.
GiIvaSunner eventually turned into SiIvaGunner after being deleted, and attempted to end the channel at the end of 2016, but it came back not too long after that. I'm not sure how many people run the account, but it's still extremely active. And like I said - while the quality can also be inconsistent (and it's worth searching some "best SiIvaGunner rips" playlist or something) - this channel is still an essential and fascinating part of the videogame landscape on YouTube.
I enjoy this Earthbound song that quickly turns into a Beatles song (fitting, given how much the Beatles inspired the Earthbound OST): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liU-hxGbUAg
this mashup of the Super Mario World Star Road music from and David Bowie's "Star Man": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibM-zGTK_5w
and this Silver Surfer/Jet Set Radio mashup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-TxnK5z__M
Probably the most well-known traditional youtuber on this list is Harry Brewis aka Harris Bomberguy or Hbomberguy. And while he makes many game analysis videos, he is perhaps more well-known for his funny takedowns of hateful, racist and anti-feminist, alt-right youtubers, as well as his analysis of TV and film. I'd say his political takedowns are probably his best videos, to be honest, because he's one of only a handful of people operating in that space successfully from a left-wing perspective who still manages to be funny and entertaining. More than anyone else on this list (barring one..) I could imagine him pulling off his own tv show because of how he's able to cover a broad range of topics deeply and in an interesting way. His production values, editing, and comedic timing are very impressive for being all presumably done by one person as well. So that alone is enough to recommend his channel.
That said, I don't think he's brought as much to the field of videogames as he has with some of his other videos. Long analyses of popular AAA and indie games are kind of their own subgenre on youtube, but most tend to be fairly surface repetitions of gamer conventional wisdom or else far too dry and detail-oriented to be terribly engaging outside of a particular niche. He kind of joins in on that tradition and doesn't completely break the mold, but in spite of that his videos are definitely still very entertaining. I particularly like his feature-length videos on why Fallout 3 sucks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLJ1gyIzg78 and his defense of Dark Souls 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRTfcMeqhig. In spite of all that I've said, these are both really good videos and the fact that he's able to keep them both interesting and engaging over an 1+ hour of run time is pretty impressive.
Because of the hostility that women face online - both women youtubers AND women gamers, making your living primarily as a female videogame youtuber who puts her image out there has to be super difficult. So I have a lot of respect for a woman like PushingUpRoses who are able to pull that off successfully. And she's certainly not the only visible female videogame youtuber out there by any means (and maybe this is my apology for not including more women on this list... I'm sorry... but there's always potential for a sequel to this list), but she's just a favorite in general so I had to include her. Her niche is primarily older PC adventure games, and she generally comes from the perspective of a fan of the genre. She also talks about a lot of her personal experiences and history with games, and some of her own issues with past depression and eating disorders. While her videos fit into standard game youtuber tropes in some ways, they're still definitely consistently high-quality and worth checking out - especially because they often cover territory lesser explored in the game space and genres like the often highly mocked graphic adventure games.
She also does LPs that you can find on her channel as well (and streams on her twitch channel).
A couple of her favorites are her review of the Harlan Ellison-penned game I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nzr64-ESJ1A
...and her video on the infamous controversial 90's game Harvester: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51LFXWlmFMg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecVDzKzLrhk - videoGaiden season 4 episode 1
I can't mention gaming youtube channels without mentioning Consolevania, an important part of the history of internet videogame shows. Former comedy writer Rab Florence and Ryan Macleod (later joined by others) filmed their own series back in 2004 which they distributed on BitTorrent and other filesharing networks. Eventually due to its popularity, it got picked up by BBC Scotland as the show videoGaiden, which ran for three series until ending in 2008. It was also resurrected a year or two ago for a final, fourth series which you can watch on youtube. Most of the old episodes of Consolevania and videoGaiden are available on youtube too (and note that Consolevania doesn't just talk about game consoles in spite of the name).
Both Consolvevania and videoGaiden are notable because they're written by professional comedy writers. There are sketches, there's commentary on game culture, there are in depth personal narratives about experiences around games. They film on location and, in the case of videoGaiden, actually have a budget! That's right - it's actually a legitimate tv show. Admittedly it might be a bit impenetrable for American audiences who might have a hard time navigating their thick Scottish accents or don't know so much about British staples like the BBC Micro or ZX Spectrum computers. And some of the old episodes are no doubt dated because of being 10+ years old. But I think this honestly just helps give the show more of a fresh feel, again especially compared to a vast majority of contemporary content about videogames. Both Consolevania and videoGaiden help remind us what a show about games can actually be.
Maybe as an effort to keep that flame alive, Consolevania has recently resurrected, and you can support them on Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/consolevania
and they have a youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCb5dkmeyjJ9kHbDoWGUATVg
So... that's the end of my main list. However, I wanted to include some quick extras that I thought were worth mentioning. Buckle up for the conclusion of this list, my partners in crime!
Sonic 2006 LP:
I have to give this a mention because, circa 2011, it's the first Let's Play a friend of mine who professed his love for "surreal let's plays" sent to me and said I absolutely had to watch. This let's play, like Sonic 2 Special Edition, has its own TV Tropes article and is one of the most famous let's plays out there. Basically, a handful of friends in 2007 decided to rent Sonic 2006 for 48 hours and record themselves beating the entire game uninterrupted. As you might expect, they gradually descend into madness over the course of that time.
Also like docfuture's Sonic 2 Special Edition let's play, this was released in installments on a forum thread on the Something Awful forums (which I missed out on at the time because of not wanting to pay the 5 dollars for membership). It's also on the not-as-active anymore LP Archive that was also driven by Something Awful. This was in the era before Youtube let you upload high-quality videos. LPs like Sonic 2006 were uploaded on a separate service and I remember waiting forever to watch each chapter. But I eventually made it all the way through this let's play, and it was definitely a formative experience for me seeing a Let's Play as some kind of potential for deeper entertainment.
Thankfully this LP has made its way to youtube in more recent years without any quality loss. Unlike Sonic 2 Special Edition, though, I'm... not entirely sure it holds up. While their gradual descent into madness makes for an entertaining arc, it's very drawn out and not as dramatic as some accounts make it out to be. And there are the occasional sexist or transphobic joke you might expect from internet forum humor circa 10 years ago but still weren't fun to be reminded of. While the group certainly is more articulate and less obnoxious than a lot of more recent let's players, they're still very much young dudes.
But there is something to be said for how the LP captures a whole progression of time, and also captures a little snapshot of their night - like them ordering Chinese food, the abrupt departure of NoTimesForSocks sometime during the night, or the famous billiard ball puzzle that causes them to lose their minds. That kind of outside ambiance is something you miss in more edited, sealed-off experiences. The generally surreal, broken quality of Sonic 2006, it's incredibly overwrought and stupid plot, and the insane amount of repetitions of stages it forces on players only adds to this. So this is definitely a worthwhile watch for those who are interested, even if I definitely recommend it with reservations.
And hey, if you like that they did plenty of other Let's plays you can find on pokecapn's channel. They don't have the mythic quality of the Sonic 2006 one though. https://www.youtube.com/user/pokecapnLP
I want to at least mention Chris Franklin's youtube channel Errant Signal before I forget. He does a sober and articulate analysis of games in a way that is generally more well-considered and lacking in the usual gamer platitudes. He will also sometimes cover smaller indie games that don't get a lot of coverage otherwise from a critical perspective, which is much appreciated. Definitely check his stuff out if you like more serious analysis.
I wanted to also give a shout-out to my friend Andrew's videos. He focuses a lot on basically documenting a lot of highly obscure Mac games which you can't really find anywhere else on youtube. He also provides commentary for each video which gives a little personal background or background into creators of the works. It's generally a low-key channel and good to put on and chill to. It's also updated very often.
This also leads me to a handful of channels that also document obscure games and curiosities and are worth checking that out if you like that sort of thing (though usually don't include commentary like Andrew's channel)...
Super obscure and strange mostly fps games with a unique character all of their own. This channel sort of feels like it's own weird little universe and is definitely worth a look. I'm sad it hasn't been updated at all recently though.
The obscure FPS series is definitely worth looking at, among other things
Retro Pixel Lizard
More obscure DOS/Windows games that aren't documented anywhere else and other assorted curiosities.
Curly appears to just be getting started on her channel, but I really enjoyed her one upload so far about Ape Escape and look forward to more!
That's the list! I'm sure there are a lot of things I left off, but these should at least get you started - and maybe will be a launching off point into something new. I think quality videos about videogames are totally possible and are something more people are willing to explore. Enjoy and spread your newfound knowledge out into the world, my comrades!
- liz ryerson