In terms of reveals, Smash Bros Switch isn’t exactly the opening of the Ark of the Covenant. However, with the number of YouTubers who filmed themselves as their faces melted with excitement, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was. Since the reveal earlier this week, videos have been popping up online showing YouTubers behaving as if they had just witnessed their significant other give birth to a Nintendo 64. They scream, eyes transfixed to the image of themselves on their mobile phones, attempting to look as emotionally overwhelmed as humanly possible.
YouTube reaction videos are strange to watch; they are essentially the long-form version of replying with “lol” when you aren’t laughing out loud. The audience must know that the reactions they’re watching are over-exaggerated and insincere. Removing the camera from the equation would see these individuals quietly watching the trailer like the rest of us. However, these videos continue to get posted, receiving thousands upon thousands of views, and there is nothing that makes me feel as simultaneously old and miserable as watching them.
There has been a Smash Bros game released on every Nintendo home console since the first entry in the series back in 1999. It would have been more surprising had Nintendo not released a Smash Bros for the Switch. Yet YouTube has still been inundated with a barrage of reaction videos, depicting adults throwing themselves off their gaming chairs, screaming at their desktop monitors, or moshing in the Nintendo NY store:
I’m not exactly an old-timer over here, but whenever I watch a reaction video I can feel death’s breath against my neck, as the hairs in my beard turn gray and the wrinkles on my forehead deepen. What do people get out of watching monetized insincerity? Considering how much bile is shared around the internet these days, I can understand the need to take a break from it all and kick back with something joyful every once in a while, though I’m not sure how watching guys steadily holding their selfie sticks aloft to get the best angle of them screaming at a trailer satisfies that need.
— ᴀʟᴘʜᴀ (@007002) March 9, 2018
These reaction videos have seen me taking a significant step towards becoming an old, white guy shaking his fist at rap music, and I genuinely believe that they have made the internet a worse place. In many respects, YouTube has overtaken traditional television, yet the videos that perform the best on the site routinely veer towards reality TV levels of hyperbole and melodrama.
You can give people a camera and the option to create whatever they want, but thanks to YouTube’s algorithms favoring creators who upload en masse and sacrifice quality for quantity, the site is actively encouraging them to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Rather than being an opportunity for boundless creativity, those who want to reap the most success will be left following trends and trying to one-up their peers in the process, leading to a bunch of gaming YouTubers watching Nintendo Direct with the intention of screaming at its announcements.
YouTube rewards extreme personalities. There is no room for middle-ground in the site’s algorithms, and its gaming channels have always exemplified this. For years, the “angry gamer” was the go-to concept for YouTube gaming channels, with videomakers eking out large followings by way of getting exorbitantly mad about video games. Let’s Plays represented the flipside of that coin, with channels hosting playthroughs featuring people displaying an almost confrontational level of enthusiasm for whatever they were playing. Now reaction videos have stripped away all of the effort required, allowing YouTubers to point their cameras at something that someone else has created and scream at it for views. They can hardly be blamed for appealing to YouTube’s algorithms, but that doesn’t make the videos any less depressing.