As A-Team’s Hannibal Smith would have put it: “I love it when a plan comes together.” It really is a great pleasure to get together with Leadhead to talk about his profound work on YouTube. Let’s hear what he had to say about game culture and game media in our “Three questions” short interview format.
Rudolf Inderst (RI): So, how about we start with a warm-up question: Let’s assume you ran into your primary school teacher and after a while the unavoidable question is asked: So, what is it that you do these days?
Leadhead (LH): Well, I’d tell them about the channel of course! It’s definitely the most interesting thing about me. It’d probably sound something like this: I run a YouTube channel called Leadhead, where I use words like ‘ludothematic’ in an attempt to get across the simple idea that games are as valid an artistic medium as any other. I keep things super casual, both because it’s just how I communicate, and because I think it helps get otherwise indifferent people on board with the whole “games as art” idea.
I (try) to do a video every monday for my 190,000 subscribers, with topics ranging from how Disco Elysium helped me find the words to describe how I’ve felt since I was a child, to Half-Life 1’s unorthodox combat loop, to how Amnesia: Rebirth made me understand the way my mother feels whenever she tells me she loves me. While some of my older fans don’t really appreciate this, I try to use the games I cover as a way to talk about myself, or at least tell real-world stories about myself as a way to tie the whole message of a video together. To say that I was telling you the “truth” about the games I cover would be an outright lie. All I can do is tell you my truth. After all, art is a mirror.
RI: In your channel self-description you state: “A channel focusing mainly on artistic readings into games, their themes, ludology, narratives and whatever else helps convey my points with a strict focus on staying positive.” Especially your emphasis on positivity sparked my interest here. Could you please elaborate a bit further on that?
I think the fact that I only talk about things I genuinely love is a huge part of why my community is so friendly.
LH: So my first image of Leadhead was actually going to be a very different channel. I wrote a script that was a total Mr. Plinkett knockoff, where I tore apart a ton of beloved modern games while singing the praises of Thief 2. I’ll probably make that script into a video for my 200,000 subscriber special, but that totally isn’t how I like to do things. Like you said, I try to keep it completely positive at all times. If you ask me, it’s easy to criticize something, and there are funnier people than myself who do that incredibly well. For a more serious channel like mine, I think negativity ultimately just leads to flame wars in the comments. I think the fact that I only talk about things I genuinely love is a huge part of why my community is so friendly. Ultimately, I think that we just need less negativity in the world, as simple and cliche as that is. There are so many amazing games out there, but if all you pay attention to is the handful of bad games, you’ll come out of that not wanting to try anything unfamiliar.
RI: In the recent past, various authors have examined the change of tone within games journalism. There seems to be not only a broader portfolio of topics which is covered by representatives of an elder, sometimes described as ‘classic’ games press (meant here: former and current print game magazines and their online outlets), but the medium itself is getting more and more attention beyond the circles of a tech-savvy and service-oriented trade as well as specialized press. General press, especially editors of literary and arts sections, started to treat digital games as objects / artefacts of cultural and public interest. Digital games are getting more editorial space because journalists increasingly understand them as complex, pop-cultural products that bring forth contrasts, tensions and paradox situations that can be read as meta-medial and political comments. I would argue then that video game essays today are a part of media criticism. How do you feel about this?
LH: Well, I don’t really pay much attention to game media. Channels like Noah-Caldwell Gervais, Game Maker’s Toolkit and Writing on Games definitely inspired me to get started on YouTube, but after the first couple months of creating videos, I just didn’t want to watch them anymore. Not because their content had gotten worse in some way, but because I just didn’t really relate to the way that they talked about games anymore.
While channels like the ones above do certainly talk about the artistic intent behind these games, it’s usually little more than a footnote to their points about general design theory, and why things work in terms of game making technique. To put it broadly, they’re more interested in telling me why Metal Gear Solid 3’s lack of crouch walking makes for tense gameplay situations, when I’d rather be talking about how Metal Gear Solid 3 strikes me as a bittersweet acknowledgement that the series will continue running well past when it was intended to end.
There’s definitely a place for both forms of analysis, and both are totally useful in learning how to make an effective game, but with critique comes criticism, and with criticism comes invalidation. Put simply: if you just tell me, “the music doesn’t fit the situation at all!” then I dismiss the music, and move on to thinking about the next thing. If you instead tell me, “The odd music choice really made me reconsider what the game was trying to say about the situation.” Then I continue thinking about the game as a whole, rather than picking and choosing which puzzle pieces I want to use, and which I want to ignore. You don’t see anybody complaining that the upbeat music in Blue Velvet doesn’t fit the tone of the film. Like I said, though, I’m just not that into games media, so I shouldn’t really be talking.
RI: BONUS-ROUND – Which gaming youtuber would you have over for dinner (and a delightful evening conversation)?
LH: Well, I gotta give it to the man who I’ve been watching for almost a decade, longer than any other YouTuber, and probably any other media altogether. Your favorite YouTuber’s favorite YouTuber: Ross Scott of Accursed Farms. While our subgenres are pretty far removed from each other, I’ve hardly ever seen somebody so dedicated to quality over everything, and that inspires me so much. That work ethic completely blows me away, and he’s just a really friendly guy to boot. I emailed him a couple of years ago asking for info on the credits song from a 2008 Machinima he made, Galaxy Gulp, and he offered to dig through decade old project files just to get me the original audio, back when I still had under 100 subscribers. I only have two thirds of his current subscriber count, and I just can’t see myself going so far out of my way for anybody. That’s how you know he really loves what he’s doing, and that’s how you know he deserves his success.
RI: Thank you very much!