YouTube Millionaires: The Game Theorists Think Hard About Video Games

By 02/27/2014
YouTube Millionaires: The Game Theorists Think Hard About Video Games

Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments of YouTube Millionaires here.

Do you think video games are lowbrow? Think again. For the past couple of years, Matthew Patrick has delivered critical, philosophical, and occasionally wacky monologues about the world of video games. Each of the videos on Patrick’s Game Theorists channel dissects specific games and offers a theoretical discussion of each game’s themes. Here’s what Patrick had to say about his increasing popular YouTube home:

Tubefilter: What do you have to say to your 1.7 million YouTube subscribers?


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Game Theorists: Something that I think every creator wants to say to their supporters: THANK YOU! Your enthusiasm for everything from sentient killer robots to killer rods from outer space (and even things that aren’t out to kill you!) has been overwhelming and life changing.

YouTube can be an immature place at times, so I’m so proud of the loyal Theorist community we’ve been able to build, one that respectfully debates everything from religion to evolution. To me, that’s a pretty impressive feat.

TF: What is your educational background, and when did you first decide to tie together video games and critical theory?

GT: Informally, learning has always been one of my passions. Formally, I was the valedictorian of my high school, then went to Duke University on an academic scholarship to major in both Theater and Psychology, concentrating in Neuroscience.

As for the show, back in 2011, I was avidly watching a series called Extra Credits that explored topics in game design. One of their early episodes was on video games as a means of “tangential learning,” self-learning within the context of something a person already enjoys. And I thought to myself that there should be some web series that made those lessons more explicit, saving gamers the hassle of having to look up the various references and topics contained in their favorite games. And thus, Game Theory came to be!

TF: How do you choose your subjects? Do you play all the games you critique?

GT: Topic selection really varies. About 50 percent of the time it comes from fan requests for games. But just as often, it’s just my own curiosity — I’m either reading about something interesting or come up with some off-the-wall question that I just want to see answered. Fart rocket physics is a good example. I also try to strike a balance between old and new games as well as between more factual episodes and more conspiracy-esque scripts.

As far as playing the games, I literally study every game I talk about. LOTS of online research. I also think a lot about them and the implications of various game mechanics. And a script can cook in my head for months. My first breakout theory calculating Sonic the Hedgehog’s true speed literally cooked in my head for months before I was comfortable putting pen to paper.

TF: How long does it take to research each subject and compose each video?

GT: Haha! Too long. Research, writing, and the audio take between 25 and 30 hours together. Then comes the edit process, which is beastly. Since the style of the show is so kinetic with relatively little game footage, we’re creating the visuals second-by-second. Literally, if something hasn’t scrolled across the screen, popped up, or transformed in 3 seconds, there needs to be some effect. For a show that averages 10+ minutes, that can be A LOT of seconds. In the early days it was just me, but now I have my fantastic editor Ronnie bearing a significant part of the work. All together it ends up being around 100 hours in total.

I always say if I could do it again, I would appear on camera more just to save on the edit process. But that’s just a joke…well, mostly. I love the style of the show and what it has evolved into. That said, I’m sometimes jealous of other gaming channels with long stretches of gameplay!

TF: How much do you consider the “entertainment factor” when putting together your videos?

GT: It’s always something I keep in mind. Since day one, it’s been my goal to have viewers walk away from each video having learned something. That said, very few people want to sit around and watch a ten minute video on the stages of grief, for instance. But by connecting it to a theory about Link possibly being dead in the Nintendo 64 game Zelda: Majora’s Mask, it becomes a lot more palatable and, I think, a lot more memorable.

TF: Many people (including the late Roger Ebert) feel that video games aren’t art. How would you respond to those critics?

GT: That’s a much LONGER discussion than just a few sentences. But yes, I do think video games are art. To me, art is defined as any creative work that elicits an emotional response. The Wizard of Oz, for example, is art because it takes you on a journey, creates a fully-realized world, and introduces characters that you come to love. Great games do the same thing. There are numerous times where a game has made me stop to think about a deep issue or well up at the loss of a character, and if that’s not the definition of art, I don’t know what is.

TF: Why did you choose to expand the Game Theorists channel to include other series, and how did you decide what the subjects the other series would tackle?

GT: As much time as I spend producing episodes, I spend just as much digging through YouTube Analytics, running A/B testing across end cards, and basically trying to reverse engineer the YouTube algorithm. And what I realized was that I needed to upload more if I had any hope of keeping the channel growing. But as someone with a full-time job and a show that requires 100 hours of production an episode, there was just no way to produce videos faster. So I brought on other series explaining to the creators that we were stronger working together than we were working on own separate channels. So far, it’s worked out well.

The topic of what those shows would cover was hard. YouTube viewers come to a channel for a VERY specific type of content. Deviate too much from that and you definitely see it in the comments and in the ratings. I wanted to find content that was focused on education and gaming, but covered topics that complemented Game Theory’s wheelhouse of science/math. This led to culture with Game Exchange and game design with Digressing and Sidequesting.

TF: How do you think an understanding of the cultural and theoretical influences behind video games helps players better appreciate the games they enjoy?

GT: It helps us appreciate things we loved from our childhood in new and different ways. It also helps those things grow up with us. For example, seeing the evidence that Super Mario may have antisocial personality disorder turns the game on its head, allowing you to experience the series as though it’s the first time all over again. There are very few times you get to re-experience something, but seeing it through the lens of a theory or understanding a cultural reference you didn’t know before, that makes everything feel fresh again.

TF: What’s next for The Game Theorists? Any new series on the horizon?

GT: There’s a lot happening right now. A new show is currently in the works for the main channel…and the sheer fact that I say main channel means there are some other things cooking. Let’s just say that there are plenty of other forms of media that have theories worth exploring.

On Deck (channels that will soon reach one million subscribers): Golden Moustache, Cat Music Romania

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