Each month I attend The Moth, a live storyslam. It's a nationwide event, NPR radio show, and podcast that invites audience members to tell a five-minute true story from their own lives on a given theme. For November 2014, the theme was "Accidents". I submitted my name and was called upon to tell a story. That story was how I accidentally launched a YouTube channel that now has over seven million views and fifty thousand subscribers.
How does one launch a YouTube channel by accident? The video of that story is above, with a transcript below.
When I was kid, I loved Nintendo video games. Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Kid Icarus — I loved them all! Loved them so much that I went to college wanting to write my own video games. Turned out I wasn't so good at writing code, but I was good at writing. So I switched to communications. By the time I finished college, I had a syndicated newspaper column, I had a portfolio, I was writing under the name of Gamebits, and I thought, maybe I can turn this into my career. At one point, I even got flown out to Seattle for an interview with Nintendo Power magazine!
But then I graduated, 9/11 happened, the economy collapsed, the Internet came along and just destroyed the print industry, and there was just no way for me to fulfill this dream of mine. So I gave it up. I was so discouraged that for a long time, I gave up games, too.
Two years ago, Nintendo came out with a new video game system called the Wii U. I thought, well, I liked it as a kid — maybe I still do. So I went and I bought it the day it came out. If I was still a little kid, I would've rushed home and torn it open — you wouldn't've been able to keep me away from it. But I'm older now, calmer, more mature. I thought, I'll do an unboxing video.
This is a thing on YouTube where you put a video camera on a tripod and you point it at something that hasn't even been opened yet and you narrate as you open the box and pull out the parts and talk about your first impression of it. It's the stupidest thing ever. I figured, I've never done one of these before, it's probably going to be stupid. Everyone has this thing now, because it's out, so they're going to be opening their own, not watching me open mine. So I just did it for fun.
Put it up on YouTube on a Sunday night. Monday morning, I wake up, it has 301 views, which is about 300 more than I expected. Turns out 301 is a magic number on YouTube. When a video is getting an unusually high amount of traffic, they temporarily pause the display of the views at 301 while they make sure that the views are actually legitimate. I uploaded this around Thanksgiving; by Christmas, it had half a million views.
I had to figure out: is this a fluke, or what? I was really incentivized to find out if I could do this again, because every time you watch a YouTube video, and there's an ad shown before it, whoever uploaded that video is getting paid to show you that ad. So I was getting a check from Google every month for this video.
A year later, this past November, Sony comes out with the PlayStation 4. I hadn't thought I was going to get one, but I wanted to open it on YouTube. So I buy it the day it comes out, I point the camera at it, I open it up — here's what it looks like, everybody! That video now has two and a half million views.
Now I've started doing other videos, where I'm opening games, and I'm playing games, and I'm interviewing game developers, and now I'm going to conferences and giving talks about game development. I'm really excited to have all these opportunities! But I'm also really pissed off — because these are the opportunities I wanted ten years ago! I was trying to make my living at this and I couldn't, and I gave up the dream. Now I stumble into it by accident and life tells me, "No, you can do this!" And I'm like, "No, I can't! I have a day job! I can't open boxes for a living!"
But beyond being excited and frustrated, I was also really baffled at why anybody would watch these videos. Why would you watch me play a game when you can just go play it yourself? So I pulled up my analytics to try to figure out some numbers behind this. I noticed that my traffic spikes on two days: Black Friday and Christmas Day. And it stays really high that whole time! I realized that my target audience… is little kids who want these toys for themselves, and they can't wait to open it Christmas morning. They're living vicariously through me, and watching me open it, thinking, "I'm going to get to do that!" They're practicing by watching me do it.
And I remembered — I remember BEING that kid! I remember being ten years old, Christmas morning, rushing downstairs, hoping Santa had brought me the Game Boy. And when he had, and I slammed that new Super Mario cartridge into the system, I already knew how to beat it, even though I'd never played it, because I'd been poring over every page of Nintendo Power for the last month.
But when I was a kid, playing video games wasn't cool — and I played games so much that it made me unpopular. So I didn't have any friends — and since I didn't have any friends, I played video games instead. I remember just wishing that there'd been somebody who understood the fascination I had with this stuff. Somebody who I could talk to and share this with and who understood that it WAS cool! And it was neat, and it was fun, and it was just… it didn't have to be unpopular. I finally realized that these videos that I was producing — this isn't the content I wanted to be producing ten years ago; this is the content I wanted to be consuming twenty years ago.
In the last two years, I've uploaded over 300 videos that have collectively gotten over six million views from 43,000 subscribers. One time I asked them why they even watched these videos. One girl said that she used to watch her older brothers play the games, and now that they're off to college, she watches me instead. One kid said that he is not very good at games, and so I'm showing him all the levels that he would never get to on his own. Another kid says that watching me play video games helps him pass the time while he's undergoing chemo.
Those are just three of the responses I've gotten from over twenty thousand comments that have been left on my channel. I've read each and every one, and I try to reply to as many as I can. Because it may too late for me to be the adult I hoped I would grow up to be — but it's never too late to be a kid.