The Early Days of YouTube

YouTube wasn’t a public part of my personality — it was more of a shameful love affair.


{shortcode-be29865d8a9c7908fa05930b7f2d42574eaa573c}n fourth grade, I was sitting in the cafeteria when I heard something unmistakably familiar: “We have to collect all the butter, so we can get a full set of butter armor,” my classmate said, pronouncing “butter” more like “budder.” I immediately recognized that classic phrase from the Minecraft YouTuber SkyDoesMinecraft. I was shocked — I didn’t think other kids I knew watched SkyDoesMinecraft, so I’d always kept it to myself.

I excitedly went over, and as I put my lunch tray down on his table, I made a reference to SkyDoesMinecraft’s mortal enemy. We immediately started chatting and realized we were both giant geeks.

We shared a passion for channels like CaptainSparklez and GameTheory, as well as the Tabletop series, and in the coming weeks, our conversations expanded into pop culture. I met some of his friends, and we started going to the comic book store after school every Friday. I had finally found people like me who loved Minecraft, superheroes, and boardgames.

But then after four years, he grew up.

He’d stopped caring about comics and Minecraft. I felt like I was fighting for his attention, and he wouldn’t give it back to me. Then, we got into an argument, and his friends began ignoring me in our group chats. I had still been planning to go to his birthday party, but he made a new group chat without me and sent everyone else the invitation. I found out I was being ghosted once I saw their Snapchat stories of the party.

Going into a new high school without my childhood friends, I couldn’t find my group. I’d sit with people during lunch, but it would never feel right. They never invited me around after school, and I never made it into the group chats. When my former best friend arrived a year later, he slid into the social scene seamlessly. He formed a tight knit group in less than a month.

But after school each day, I could return to my friends on the internet. The site was a beacon of familiarity in a sea of new faces, new classrooms, and a new social scene. YouTube wasn’t a public part of my personality — it was more of a shameful love affair. I felt parasocially connected to the content creators that, at this point, I had spent years watching. YouTubers were willing to talk to me about whatever crazy idea I was interested in at any given minute. Unlike TV and other traditional media, these YouTubers felt like they were my friends.

With time, I began to watch science and philosophy videos rather than those about Minecraft and gaming. Through YouTube I could actually enjoy learning for its own sake, rather than being motivated by a grade. By the start of sophomore year, I made friends outside of YouTube: through music, school, and sports. But none of them were gamers and none of them were into niche science or philosophy. They couldn’t tell me anything about the true speed of Sonic like GameTheory could.

YouTube was growing up at the same time as me. It had once been a community of weirdos but became dominated by production teams and mainstream media. YouTube culture was no longer the geeky monolith I’d felt so connected to as a kid.

Then, this summer, MatPat, creator of GameTheory, announced his retirement, and science YouTuber Tom Scott released a video explaining his step back from the channel. I was devastated — Tom Scott was one of those YouTubers I fell in love with in high school, who always had something interesting to say about culture or science. This, paired with CaptainSparklez’s announcement to pivot away from Minecraft on his main channel, symbolized an end to something I thought was eternal.

Other YouTubers have had sad retirements, but MatPat’s retirement shook my soul. When I was 10 years old I watched GameTheory religiously. I felt like MatPat, then a recent Duke graduate, was speaking to me on a personal level. He could’ve been one of my closest friends. My brother and I would argue over details from episodes weekly.

Fourteen years after starting GameTheory, MatPat has a wife and kids. Tom Scott will turn 40 this year. I’m not 12 years old playing Minecraft on the family desktop either, but these content creators provide a window into my past self. It’s easy to subconsciously forget that these creators are so much more than their presence on the screen, and sometimes their outside lives take priority. It was time for MatPat to be a dad. And my relationship with them has to change, too: from catching up with an old friend, to fondly looking back on old memories. There will always be a record of their content. But saying goodbye to something that gave me so much joy will never be easy.

— Staff writer Thomas Harris can be reached at