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Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie, has signed a deal with YouTube that'll see the platform have exclusive rights to his livestreams. This deal, the value of which hasn't been disclosed, comes after Kjellberg left YouTube in late 2019 to stream on Dlive, expressing criticism for YouTube's then-new rules on videos containing threats and discrimination based on gender, race or sexuality.
That's right: Kjellberg felt that YouTube's cracking down on content that could easily be construed as racist, sexist, violent or worse wasn't in line with his particular form of entertainment. Make of that whatever you will. He also said that he was feeling "very tired, I don't know if you can tell".
Kjellberg offered a statement on his return to YouTube:
"YouTube has been my home for over a decade now, and livestreaming on the platform feels like a natural fit as I continue to create content and interact with fans worldwide.
"Livestreaming is something I'm focusing a lot on in 2020 and beyond, so to be able to partner with YouTube and be at the forefront of new product features is special and exciting for the future."
Prior to leaving YouTube behind, only to make this comeback, Kjellberg had amassed 103 million subscribers to his channel. His popularity began to blossom through playing video games such as Goat Simulator, Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Slender: The Eight Pages and making some excruciating/exciting noises over the top of them - delete as best suits your appreciation of them - and he eventually mixed up his output with original comedy sketches, viral commentary, music videos, everyday vlogs and more. He was an accomplished advocate for the popularisation of a great number of indie games.
Rather more prior to his departure, from the summer of 2016 to early 2017, Kjellberg posted a series of videos containing Nazi imagery and featuring comments that could be described as distinctly antisemitic. One video, posted in January 2017, had him request via Fiverr that a pair of men in India hold up a sign that read "Death to Jews". It saw him lose at least two valuable partnerships, but didn't make a dent in his subscriber numbers, then around 53 million.
Kjellberg subsequently claimed the Fiverr stunt was a joke - but if he meant it as a twisted laugh, to illustrate the absurdity of what a little money and the internet could get you, he didn't see notorious neo-Nazi and white supremacist website The Daily Stormer adopt him as a kind of hero and promote his views to their contemptible cesspit of readers. Or, maybe he did see that coming. Who can say for sure?
Later in 2017, Kjellberg used the n-word while playing PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds - not in a friendly way, not that such use would make it any better, but palpably in an aggressive, insulting context. Again, he apologised - albeit after Firewatch developer Sean Vanaman called Kjellberg "worse than a closeted racist" and said he'd file strikes against the streamer if he were ever to play one of his games.
In 2018, Kjellberg was accused of sexism and of degrading women after using the term "Twitch thots" to describe female streamers. He, again, apologised. Mere months later, Kjellberg mocked the publicised drug and alcohol addiction suffered by singer Demi Lovato, an addiction that ultimately saw her hospitalised with a suspected overdose. Again, he offered an apology.
In March 2019, Kjellberg again found himself in a spot of, let's say, antisemitic bother - this sure is becoming a habit, huh - when he promoted another YouTube channel, E;R, that featured a slew of sexist and racist opinions, Nazi propaganda and antisemitic content. The channel provided "great video essays," said Kjellberg. Naturally, inevitably, he changed perspective when the full breadth of the channel's content was revealed to him.
In September last year, Kjellberg publicly stated he was to donate $50,000 to the Anti-Defamation League, an organisation committed to combating antisemitism. But after pressure from certain corners of his audience, who claimed that Kjellberg was only making the donation after the ADL had, ahem, blackmailed him into doing so, he pulled the donation. The ADL had previously named Kjellberg as an architect of one of its Top 11 Moments of Hate on Social Media in 2018 - which, I guess, got some of his fans' knickers in a twist.
None of the above is debatable. It's not opinion, it's history. What follows, however, is my perspective. How many more chances are we going to give PewDiePie? And how long will it be until YouTube has to make a statement of some kind apologising for another mistake on the streamer's part, a misspoken phrase or an angry turn that sees him splutter out a completely unacceptable slur?
Personally, I feel enough is enough. It's fine for Kjellberg to continue streaming where he can, where he feels comfortable, and for his audience to follow him there and support him. What's less understandable in 2020 is how a massive brand like YouTube goes out of its way to sign him up for exclusive content, presumably at significant cost, when its own policies on hateful content, harassment and violence stand against the kind of mistakes he's made in the recent past. Yes, the man has a lot of numbers next to his account. No, that's not reason alone to align your wide-reaching brand with him.
Kjellberg has done great work for indie games studios and raised a lot of money for charity, in the past. And that's great. Obviously, that's great. But his signing with YouTube is the icing on the cake of a worrying trend right now where so-called controversial individuals in the influencer/streaming space are seemingly rewarded for their persistent misbehaviour.
Having been banned from Twitch in the summer of 2019 after filming inside a bathroom at E3, Twitch then signed Guy Beahm - aka Dr Disrespect - on an exclusive deal worth "shocking" and "life-changing" money. Richard Tyler Blevins - aka Ninja - has a little history of saying the wrong things while streaming, and received a 48-hour ban from Twitch in 2016 for doxing a follower. In August 2019 Blevins signed an exclusive deal with Microsoft's Mixer platform, reportedly worth at least $20 million a year.
Video games are many things. There is a game for everyone, truly, in 2020 - and to a large extent, everyone is a gamer, if we're going to keep using that word and shake off its less-wholesome connotations. Big platforms giving big money to big streamers while consistently overlooking their big histories of big mistakes seems to be sending a poor message to the gaming audience - an audience composed of all people from all places, of all preferences and identifying however they feel is right for them.
PewDiePie's time as a premier spokesperson for a hugely popular platform feels like it passed a couple of years ago. Perhaps his new deal will deliver a new Felix who keeps his slip-ups in check. Perhaps. But actions so frequently do speak louder than words, be they of support or apology, and Kjellberg simply is too damaged, in 2020, to be taken seriously as an influential, endearing, effective ambassador for any mainstream platform, gaming or otherwise.
Featured Image Credit: YouTube
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