Last night I was scrolling through my YouTube home page, as one does, and came across a variety of videos that YouTube and Google thought I may be interested in watching. From video essays about geopolitics and obscure films from the 1960s, clips from gaming podcasts, to shorts of some guy making a grilled cheese sandwich. It was a swell time, but YouTube doesn’t always get it right, however. Because they suggested me a video from a creator that, though I knew of, never really watched and didn’t even know were still making videos: Kwebbelkop.
Jordi “Kwebbelkop” Van Den Bussche, is a creator from the Netherlands and has been on the platform for over a decade, during which he’s amassed a colossal following of over 15 million subscribers. He would achieve that number by playing and reacting to popular games like Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto V, with his lively, humorous, and somewhat eccentric personality being the draw for younger audiences. It was impressive to see that even after a decade Jordi was still at it, so I decided to click the video; figuring I’d sort out the algorithm later as god help me I didn’t want to be inundated with ‘scream-tubers’ by the next day.
It was your standard affair, with Jordi’s unnecessarily excited voice narrating over the otherwise simple actions of his Minecraft gameplay. This time, however, there was no face-cam of himself in the top corner of the video that I’d previously seen from him. Rather, his face was replaced by an animated version of himself. Something out of a discount Pixar film from the early 2000s. The character bobbed and nodded along to the gameplay, and even mouthed along to Kwebbelkop’s voice, articulating its mouth with some accuracy to the words. At first, I thought it was one of those Live Avatars that some Twitch streamers used, which basically overlayed an animated character over the user’s body. Though, this avatar seemed far more basic than the ones I’d seen in the past. And with Kwebbelkop’s success, I doubt he would’ve cheaped out on something like this.
The more I watched, the more I felt something was…’off.’ From the way the video was edited, to Jordi’s voice constantly being ‘on’ to the point where it felt bit overly put on, to the animated character just looking like some cheap asset you could buy from a digital stock asset shop. Moreover, everything about the video just felt shallow; almost egregiously so. I figured to do some digging, and what I found was something that truly scared me. Apparently, gameplay aside, everything that I had watched was generated by A.I. From the script, to Jordi’s overly animated voice, to the avatar character that was ‘reacting’ to the gameplay.
My jaw dropped, though this apparently shouldn’t be a surprise for those that have been following Kwebbelkop’s journey on YouTube. The YouTube sensation sat down with Wired earlier this month, wherein he opened up about burnout and not being able to take a vacation, because doing so would mean his “entire business would stop.” He considers himself retired, though understands that his content, his persona, is needed for the longevity of his business—by which I assume he means brand deals, merchandise, and so on—telling Wired:
“I’ve had a lovely career. I had a lot of fun. I want to take things to the next level. And that means making this brand live on forever.”
And so, he found a solution. Using a couple different A.I tools, he trained one on his on-camera likeness including his voice, and the other to work on the actual video-making process whereby it can take a simple prompt and edit the footage into his bespoke style. In so doing, Kwebbelkop has essentially simplified his entire content output through automation; allowing his likeness to exist entirely through artificial intelligence. The reaction? Not great.
Go through the comments on any of his recent videos and you’ll see a smattering of negative comments that criticize the lack of ‘soul’ in the videos. There have also been a number of video essays and reactions on the platform by other creators that have admonished Jordi for “taking the ‘creator’ out of ‘content creator.’” Some have gone as far as to lament that if this becomes an ongoing trend by both established and upcoming creators, then this may as well be the death of the platform as a whole.
And frankly, that’s not all that hyperbolic. As someone who has been watching YouTube since its inception, and sees how A.I has been a subject of concern for a number of industries (art especially) it’s a frightening notion to think that future content could potentially be made by a bunch of ones and zeros. Ones and zeroes that have had to steal the content of actual, human artists to even create its insipid impersonation. So I hope that the backlash against Kwebbelkop is loud enough that content creators don’t follow suit in using A.I to this extent, and I hope we the audience continue to shout at the algorithm gods that this type of content is not something we want.