The recent and deserved controversy over Felix Kjellberg’s questionable content and moral standards has made for depressing viewing and reading. To be clear, it is a man named Felix Kjellberg who is in question; to continually refer to his stage name of ‘Pewdiepie’ is to already grant his fame undue influence on the debate at hand.
This debate raged, for perhaps three weeks. As is so often the case, the pull of continuous content has prevailed – other stories have come by, Kjellberg’s indiscretions were apologised for and the industry, barring vocal minorities on social media, has moved on. There are no high-profile boycotts, and only one prominent objection has been made, in the form of Firewatch developers Campo Santo’s much-discussed DMCA notices.
These takedowns were an understandable response to the situation, and were effective in the way they drew attention to Kjellberg’s unacceptable conduct. Yet they were also emotive, and splintered the conversation. The commentariat moved from evaluating the relative sinfulness of a children’s entertainer repeatedly swearing and using racial slurs in his videos, to examine the rightful use of DMCA takedowns. The focus did not migrate totally, but did so enough to draw some heat away from Kjellberg.
A separate hesitation lingers over the absurdity of Kjellberg’s manic voiceover superimposed over the contemplative journey of Firewatch – calm dialogue and beautiful vistas interrupted by chirruping and buffoonery to keep his viewers engaged. That this is the state of gaming’s most popular media content creators speaks to other, broader cultural malaises.
The scattergun tactics of Trump are showing the danger of prominent figures giving journalists and commentators too much ammunition, but Kjellberg is no Trump. He has built an empire, in the world of YouTube, but has demonstrated no ability to tactically change the subject, self-aggrandize or brush off criticism. Instead, an industry which struggles to admit its disproportionate reliance on the mores and needs of white teenagers, at least in terms of publicity, has once again demonstrated its own willingness to forgive the normally unforgivable.