If you have been engulfed by the all-consuming black hole that is depression or anxiety, or have found yourself peering over its event horizon, then you may be fortunate enough to have also spotted—if perhaps only fleetingly—the glimmer of light that is hope. When public figures speak of their heroes’ journeys through hell and back, it can provide those who suffer with a message: maybe I’m not alone; maybe there is a way out.
There are many bad things about the rise of YouTube and other such media, but one relatively new speck of light in an ocean of darkness is the surge in popularity of video essays. I use the terms nerd essays and nerd essayists not as pejoratives, but as affectionate names for those who provide guidance on the path down what can seem like a very lonely, dark road. These essayists have turned inward, confronted their suffering and created from it something truly inspiring.
Until recently, one needed permission from the gatekeepers to provide a commentary on computer games and movies. Now this restriction has been lifted, one can find hours and hours of commentary on books, movies and video games online, for free. Perhaps you are fascinated by the parallels between Resident Evil and Nietzsche’s work? Fancy listening to six hours of commentary on why Star Wars: The Last Jedi signals the demise of the franchise? Or maybe you would prefer to curl up with a cup of tea and listen to an exploration of the deliciously disturbing Lovecraftian themes permeating Blood Borne?
Many of these videos are the work of creators who have ventured down into the abyss and crawled back out. These courageous artists share their struggles and difficulties with the unwashed masses, giving us a glimpse of the experiences that led them to become keen observers of the human condition—countless hours of reflection, isolation and grappling with your own demons will do that.
In-depth introspection and commitment to an isolated craft can provide salvation from an otherwise dark and nihilistic reality. Jordan Peterson often reflects on his frequent battles with depression, especially during his formative years as a thinker, when he mentally wrestled with the very real threat of nuclear annihilation. When you watch him talk about Communism, the Bible or Jungian psychology, you see a man who has been tormented by very complicated questions.
Art reflects the soul, and it is therefore no mystery that those who have suffered the most have produced the most profound work. Why should YouTube video essays be any different? A number of YouTubers have openly talked about their mental health issues and struggles such as homelessness, typically experienced during their formative years. Isolation, reflection and the considerable time spent playing games have honed gamers’ sense of what video games mean to them and to others and what they reveal about society. When you are hurting and alone, you spend a great deal of time observing and observation leads to a keen awareness of others. This can become a powerful tool with which to create something profound. People who are drawn to careers in the video game industry, such as the world famous Hideo Kojima, have often felt alone and shunned by society. But their unique ways of perceiving the world probably compel them to create something born of the dedication and fanaticism of a mind grappling with darkness.
I am a below average gamer. I not only lack the requisite skills; I don’t have the time or inclination to get good at it. Because of this, I miss out on what YouTubers have shown me are games of incredible depth, infused with symbolism, which critique the human condition. Some of these nerd essayists have transformed my view of computer games: from basic entertainment to a serious art form, which can compete with Hollywood. Nerd essayists take pain and suffering and use them to develop a refined set of skills. If, like me, you will be forever tormented by having failed to complete games like Dark Souls III, or simply don’t have time to read about how philosophy is interwoven into Aliens and Silent Hill, these nerds can provide you with well-crafted, carefully produced, painstakingly polished video essays oozing with creativity and passion. At worst you will disagree with their interpretations—and, at best, they will open your mind to a world you never thought to explore.
For those who are struggling with mental health issues—alone, purposeless, cursed with a ravenous mind, prone to overthinking, fascinated by society and by the human condition—consider turning your suffering to a purpose. You will be joining a club of people who bring joy to others, and, along the way, you might meet some like-minded people and create something wonderful together
My List of Recommended Nerd Essayists:
Critics of Ideology
Philosophy and General Knowledge
Philosophy and Folklore in Video Games (warning: this is bone-chilling stuff)