Insomnia61: merchandise, money and mistakes

One of my stepson’s dreams came true when visiting Insomnia 61 at the end of August, where he had the opportunity to see one of his favourite YouTubers in real-life. He has been watching DanTDM’s channel (previously ‘The Diamond Minecart’) for over a year now and it’s the first place he, and 16-million other subscribers, go to for regular Minecraft content.

Unfortunately for myself and my other-half, this means his voice is regularly heard throughout our house and we don’t really understand the fascination. He doesn’t appear to be a particularly good gamer (although that isn’t entirely important); his videos are poorly edited; and the jokes that pepper the gameplay aren’t funny. Some may say there are far worse things for a ten-year old to watch and point out DanTDM’s reputation for being one of the ‘safer’ YouTubers for kids.

That didn’t stop me feeling uncomfortable however as we queued up for his hour-long show at the event, and wondering whether the parents around us knew exactly what their sons and daughters were watching online. Minecraft seemed as though it would be a suitable game for the majority of the young audience at Insomnia 61; but what about titles such as Who’s Your Daddy? and The Escapists, which have featured on DanTDM’s channel since 2016?

Insomnia, video games, DanTDM

I didn’t know the father and excited little girl in the seats in front of me but something told me he wouldn’t consider a game where you can play as a baby who’s determined to take its own life as appropriate for his six-year old daughter. I didn’t think a title consisting of prisoners trying to escape jail while avoiding violence and sexually-suggestive comments from cellmates and guards would be high on his suitability-scale either.

As the show begun and it became apparent neither DanTDM himself nor his interviewer was going to mention these games, I found myself first understanding why they’d made that decision. After all, no parent was going to cough up for the merchandise plugged throughout the hour if they felt this person was showing their children things they shouldn’t see. Instead, we listened to them tell us about the tickets for his tour, his DVD, his book, and his exclusive Insomnia t-shirts and stationery – and just how awesome it all was.

Then as DanTDM started taking questions from the audience, I realised why he has been looking to expand his content outside of Minecraft for the past year. The five- to ten-year olds surrounding him would soon grow up and he’d no longer be relevant; so what better way to capitalise on your limited celebrity shelf-life than expanding your repertoire (and merchandise) as widely and as quickly as possible?

But were games such as Who’s Your Daddy? and The Escapists really the right way to go when his audience is so young? Celebrities make comments about how they never signed up to be role-models but unfortunately it’s not that simple: fame comes with side-effects both good and bad, and excuses aren’t adequate dismissals of responsibility. Children may be drawn to his channel for Minecraft videos but could very easily find other content.

Of course it’s down to the parents to monitor their online activity but, as they grabbed the hands of their kids and pulled them towards the exit, I looked around and wondered how closely they did this. Adults should make a point of knowing what their children are playing but PEGI ratings are often misunderstood or ignored; so it was with dismay that I realised the vetting of YouTube videos probably wouldn’t be much different.

As we managed to battle our way outside the hall I counted myself lucky. I had a stepson who understands that not everything online is suitable; who’s willing to talk to us about what he should and shouldn’t be playing; and who’s aware that not all of DanTDM’s content is suitable despite how much he adores him. I wondered to myself how long this would continue with his teenage years fast approaching, but realised the only thing to do was continue trying to be the best step-parent I could.

Insomnia, video games, DanTDM

There was however the benefit of Ethan now seeing DanTDM as a ‘real person’. Instead of the heavily-edited and exaggerated celebrity in his videos who achieves everything first time, he was a gamer who makes mistakes like the rest of us and died several times while playing a level of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy live on stage. Maybe now my stepson would start to realise there’s no need for him to be a ‘perfect gamer’ and to simply enjoy video games for what they are.

And with that, we forgot about DanTDM and his merchandise for a while. The rest of Insomnia 61 was waiting for us.

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YouTube and ‘perfect gamer’ pressure

For his tenth birthday, my stepson Ethan asked for a Switch or Xbox he could keep in his bedroom. We decided against it for two reasons: first, he already has a Wii and PS Vita that get overlooked in favour of playing on the PlayStation 4 in the living room. And second, because every console he has ever owned for himself has ended up being a Minecraft-only machine.

Instead, Pete came up with the idea of surprising him with a tablet. It wasn’t something Ethan had asked for but we thought it would go down well as a present; not only would it allow him to play games and watch his Minecraft videos on YouTube, but it could potentially be useful in terms of schoolwork. My stepson was over-the-moon when he unwrapped his gift and has hardly been seen without the device since.

The biggest positive brought about by this present is that Ethan no longer wakes us at 07:00 on a weekend, bored of being alone in his room and wanting to turn on the PlayStation. Lie-ins are very much needed after 04:30 alarms every day of the week so we’re extremely grateful! However, there are also negatives – like how he now prefers to watch someone else play a game in a video rather than playing it himself.

GEEK, expo, convention, video games, Nintendo DS, Mario Kart, Ethan

This worries my other-half and I as parents. Maybe we just don’t understand because we’re not ‘down with the cool kids’ any longer but it feels as though it’s encouraging laziness and impatience. In a recent conversation, we discussed whether this was the same as our own parents being concerned we were watching too much television and not going outside enough in the 90s; and perhaps that’s correct, but it doesn’t stop us worrying about Ethan any less.

We’re therefore trying to pull his head out of his tablet and get him doing other things every time he’s with us, whether it’s climbing a tree in the nearby forest with Pete (while I laugh) or making a cake in the kitchen with me (while the pair of them eat the mix before it’s baked). Although he always asks if he can go back to his room afterwards, you can tell my stepson enjoys these interactions and the affection that goes along with them.

This was why we got him to play a video game with us last weekend, rather than watching somebody else do it on YouTube. We haven’t had much opportunity to game as a family recently due to house renovations and so he was kind of excited by the idea as he squeezed himself between Pete and I on the sofa. He asked if we could put on The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and for the first hour or so, everything was awesome.

But the game’s difficulty increased and Ethan started to become frustrated. There was a certain section he was having difficulty getting past and we could see his anger starting to rise, his cheeks becoming redder and his button presses getting harder. His temper got to the point where we had to pull the controller away from him and tell him he needed to take a breather to calm down – we had to do something to get him to stop for a moment.

The tears were beginning to well up in his eyes as shook his head and repeatedly told us he ‘just couldn’t do it’. When we asked him why he expected to be able to do everything within the game on the first try, he said: “I’ve watched other people play it on YouTube and they always manage to do it.”

Bloody YouTube.

Minecraft videos are never going to be one of my favourite things to watch, but every so often I make an effort to sit with Ethan while he shows me one and explains what’s happening. Not only does it let him see that we’re interested in the things he likes and what he’s up to, but it allows us to understand what he’s actually watching without making him feel as if he’s being monitored.

DanTDM, boy, manchild

What my stepson doesn’t realise though is just how heavily edited these videos are. I’m not a professional editor in any way but even I can see just how many continuity mistakes there are. There’s one particular YouTuber he’s been watching while staying with his mum and stepdad during the summer holidays and he’s absolutely awful: I can only imagine how many times he fails during a game based on the number of terrible jump-cuts within his footage.

Maybe I’m overreacting but it seems that videos like this – ones which show how ‘leet’ the star is and hide their mistakes – are putting pressure on young kids like my stepson to complete a game without any failures. They turn gaming from a hobby into something which is only fun if you’re succeeding. It then becomes easier to watch someone else complete a title rather than attempt it yourself, and that totally sucks.

I know adults understand these videos are edited and don’t want to watch one where the player’s character dies 20 times in a row. But children don’t get that, and covering up mistakes gives the perception they’re a bad thing when they do happen. Rather than situations to be learned and benefited from, your character falling off a ledge or dying at the hands of a boss evolves into things to be ashamed of and frustrated by.

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Ethan

We explained to Ethan that video games are difficult, he should expect to fail numerous times, and it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever finish one without a single character death – but that’s what makes them fun. The majority are designed to challenge the player and that’s what keeps us coming back for more. The videos he watches are fully edited to make their star look good and are nothing more than promotional material.

“And besides,” said Pete, “who’s the better gamer, huh? You, who learns from your mistakes and will get through this section any minute now – or this YouTube dude who’s stupid enough to cover up his mistakes really badly?”