Reckoning with a parasocial relationship

It’s been about two years since the Super Best Friends ended their YouTube channel and I’ve only recently started to rewatch their videos.

Remembering all the in-jokes, the best moments, and drama is a surreal experience because only a short time ago it was a big part of my life.

Two years later, I’ve had time to find new content online to watch, expand my horizons, and reflect a bit on this relationship.

Who were the Super Best Friends?

Matt Kowalewski, Pat Boivin, Woolie Madden, and Liam Allen-Miller’s channel featured them playing games together and they posted pretty much everyday at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. They also had a podcast for a long time that was my go-to listen for long commutes.

This was the first video Matt and Pat did together.

My actual relationship with the Super Best Friends is non-existent. I never commented on YouTube videos or bought merchandise. I did once interview Matt and Pat for an article I wrote about their success working with Machinima. And I also met Liam after a concert once in Toronto.

However, I found myself referring to them as if they were my friends. I would say things like, “Oh yeah, Pat is playing that game right now with Matt”, to my family who has little idea of who these people were.

I was also really upset when the channel ended and was “depressed for three weeks” according to someone super close to me.

For a long, long time they were a source of comfort and companionship. To know that they were gone forever, that the dream had ended, and that they weren’t really super best friends was kinda devastating.

I still totally get how I was feeling back then, but now I have a bit more understanding of the kind of interactions I was having with them.

What is a parasocial interaction?

Here’s a definition based on the research of the people who coined the term:

“A term coined by Horton and Wohl in 1956 to refer to a kind of psychological relationship experienced by members of an audience in their mediated encounters with certain performers in the mass media, particularly on television. Regular viewers come to feel that they know familiar television personalities almost as friends.

Think Mildred Montag from Fahreinheit 451 (Linda in the 1966 movie) who obsesses with the families within her parlour room walls.

Mildred pours herself into the relationship with the family, but ultimately gets nothing in return. She’s depressed, suicidal, and when their home is destroyed she runs away only to die in an atomic explosion.

And if she was to meet the actors, she would know intimate details about the characters they portray, but they wouldn’t know her. That would have been death of another kind entirely.

“On the rare occasions when we encounter celebrities in the street we may smile involuntarily in recognition that we know them but we are obliged to realize that they do not know us.”

Did I think the Super Best Friends were my friends? Maybe.

Did I obsess with them to the point where I lost myself in their videos? No.

Three things helped develop this relationship: regularity of interaction, coziness of content, and general loneliness in the workplace.

At the time I really started getting invested, I was a student intern in Toronto. I spent most of the time writing scripts in a lonely corner mostly ignored by the people around me, so I watched videos to kill time. It was really comforting having them there to keep me slightly entertained.

Also to know that there would be new content each and every day kept me coming back for more and more and more.

And as a little brother, sitting down to watch my siblings play a game was a pretty normal thing. You sit there, watch, and talk, which is the same delivery method of the Super Best Friends.

Consistent, cozy, and comforting.

The YouTube let’s play phenomenon has kinda fizzled and now streaming has developed watching into something that much more closely resembles the parlour room walls in Fahrenheit 451.

Streaming is much more personal with the streamer personally thanking contributors, forming friendships with people in their chats, and making themselves accessible through private streaming events.

“Skilled hosts blur the line between themselves and the audience—both the studio audience and the audience at home. Guests on the show are treated as a group of close friends.”

One streamer who I watch refers to his collective viewers as “Chat” and each time someone in there hears that I have to believe they get a little endorphin hit.

The End of the Super Best Friends and Me

I was devastated when Super Best Friends Play ended their channel. They had been making videos for over nine years and I was there the entire time.

Did I “Literally crying now as I type this” when I learned about what had happened? No. I just found myself with a vacuum of time, so I filled that up with more relationships, reading, and writing.

That said, I missed the regularity of content and also really questioned the core idea of the channel itself. Matt and Pat weren’t really best friends, so was it all just an act? Actors in film and television work through a facade, but YouTubers and streamers are, mostly, just themselves when they appear online. To hear that Matt and Pat were no longer friends was a bit of a gut punch, but why was it one?

As they explained during that one interview I did, maybe their friendship was, perhaps, partially a gimmick.

“We were very lucky in that our gimmick was the clash of the straight man versus the angry pissed off gamer,” Mr. Boivin said. “The luck in that is that it’s our natural state.”

“My idea was about two people getting really angry at a game where there’s no reason to be angry about that was just the idea that sparked it and as it went on we just play games,” Mr. Kowalewski said. “It just blossomed from there and that’s how it started.”

“We didn’t think this through,” Mr. Boivin said. “This is all really a big happy accident.”

https://business.financialpost.com/technology/gaming/how-machinima-and-youtube-helped-montreals-matt-and-pat-live-the-gamers-dream

Regardless of whether or not they were friends, what I feel the most these days is really just a sense of gratitude toward the amount of content the four of them created.

Creating a let’s plays is a truly gargantuan effort from using video capture cards to getting good audio, so them creating videos seven days a week for nine years… you can’t help but feel grateful.

But they didn’t make the videos for me, they would have kept making them without me there, and I don’t owe them anything for their work, yet I feel like I do.

It’s complicated.

***

All that being said above, I don’t have any regrets over the amount of time I spent watching Best Friend Play videos.

What I am concerned about is the ever-growing prevalence of services that are bringing us artificially closer to people.

We live in a time where we’re increasingly socially isolated whether as a result of Covid-19 or isolation we face in general.

The important thing is to not lose sight of your own significance.

Also I miss the ShitStorm.

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