Broken People on the Internet

I’ve been going through it lately. I’m not normally so candid about my mental health but it’s been a funny couple months. I’ve struggled to manage my ADHD, sobriety, and comics stack. Really, anything that’s normally provided me with comfort hasn’t been doing it for me, including writing on dorky things (hence the hiatus). I didn’t realize how down I had become until my wife pointed out how much time I was spending watching videos about DarkSydePhil

What do our cringelords say about us? The people we watch not because we are genuine fans of their work but rather spectators of their messy lives. Based on a recent twitter poll I’m willing to wager you may not know of Phil Burnell. You might have heard of “DSP” in passing but trust and believe I know The King of Hate™ on a very intimate level. Aside from Chrischan, I doubt anyone else on the internet has a life so well documented by complete strangers. 

Phil’s a former professional competitive fighting gamer, one of the original YouTube let’s players, a fairly controversial streamer, and (to some) the source of immense drama content. If you try a YouTube search of his handle you’ll likely see a number of critical “detractor” videos before you found his stream or his channel. DSP’s content is literally drowned out by videos about himself. Why? What could he have done to earn such ire from the internet? 

The answer is complicated. DSP didn’t have a glowing reputation before becoming a YouTuber, being known in the fighting community as The King of Hate™ because of his bouts of rage and argumentative disposition. There are videos of him yelling at tournament producers and going off at people “disrespecting” his tournament results at EVO. The negative vibes he carried as a competitor seemed to have followed him over to his streaming career, with him often acting as either a poor winner or a sore loser. When he would win matches online he’d often berate and talk smack and when he lost he’d typically blame net code, lag, or cheap gameplay. 

I think he first attracted the trolls in his life with this salty approach to competition. Unfortunately for Phil, he’d also turn members of his own community against him with an aggressive banning approach to parasocial interaction that led to two new meme genres of criticism videos — This is How You Don’t Play and DSP Tries It. Both were riffs on his content that leaned into how poor of a gamer he was or how shambolic his life had become. 

I actually first learned of DSP through a Guru Larry video (shout out to Larry, whose content is consistently informative and entertaining). Larry held DSP up as a cautionary tale of how to not YouTube and, well, my curiosity got the best of me. I soon watched a multi-part series of his Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty gameplay and it blew my mind. Phil spent TWO HOURS complaining about being unable to use his rations to restore health and never once pressed the L2 button or read the manual to figure it out. The cringe was real and it was addictive. 

It’s been weeks of me spending personal time watching compilations of his snorts, supercuts of his racist moments, ripped streams of him complaining about fans not tipping his streams, and detractor videos chronicling the drama of Twitch giving him the boot. And that’s not to mention the moments that left me gobsmacked, like when he accidentally filmed himself masturbating on stream or when somebody created a puppet show based on his channel. This cringe might be the heart of the appeal for me. 

What doesn’t appeal to me is how dominant Phil’s finances have become on his streams. Just recently Phil increased his tips goal to $150/stream (twice a day) and will often complain that the tips are “too slow.” He’s repeatedly complained about people becoming members or sending superchats (a form of message attached to a monetary contribution) instead of putting money directly into his pocket via PayPal tips. Phil allegedly need these tips to pay his mortgage and debts since losing his Twitch partnership over slurs (something he refuses to admit could have occurred despite videos of him saying the N-word and the R-word along with referring to Asian characters as “Ding Dong Wong” and “Chickey Chang Wang”). This has made his trolls more incensed as it isn’t clear where exactly his money is going. One YouTuber calculated his August 2021 income to be $10,274.00 despite his claims that he can’t pay bills and has been incurring late fees on his house. I honestly don’t expect Phil to be so transparent on his finances online that they show a balance sheet but the criticisms around his budgeting and lifestyle don’t seem so off-kilter given the monetary demands of his audience. 

Outside of embarrassing moments, a salty attitude, and the constant e-begging that Phil has become known for, he also has a legacy that proceeds him when it comes to rage-quitting the games he plays. Hilariously, Phil has gone on record saying he’s never rage-quit but there is a 7-hour supercut video of him quitting games from 2009-2018 alone. 

It almost feels like Phil exists in his own reality. A reality so detached and tone-deaf that things like a personal bankruptcy are dubbed “not [his] fault” and he can call himself an LGBT+ ally while also saying that he hates movements and SJW shit. Maybe this frustrating dissonance is why I’ve been addicted to following his life? 

According to Aaron Ben-Zeév Ph.D., pleasure in others’ misfortune commonly has three typical characteristics: (1) the other person is perceived to deserve the misfortune, (2) the misfortune is relatively minor, and (3) we are passive in generating the others misfortune. Basically, it felt fine for me to indulge in videos taking the piss out of DSP because he’s said and done some terrible stuff in the past (which, I’ve barely touched on) and so long as I’m not one of the trolls being an active participant in the misery I can feel good about myself, right? 

Well, I dunno. It doesn’t feel good to have your wife call you out on being obsessed with the tortured life of a 39 year old man. It’s probably why some identify schadenfreude as sadism, arguing the difference to be negligible as you’re still deriving pleasure through cruelty. Maybe that’s an extreme perspective and there’s some moral relativity here but at the end of the day I’m still watching YouTube videos about someone I don’t enjoy so that I can feel better about myself. And therein, I think, lies the issue at hand with my mental health. 

Phil is going to continue to be Phil. Regardless of how his situation as a content creator evolves he will continue to be The King of Hate™ and be followed by a fanbase all too willing to support him along with a contingent of detractors who will twist his every move in the most negative way. The cycle is unchanging. I am the one who is broken and I’ve been attracted to Phil’s vortex of brokeness because of my own issues. I’d wager there are other DSP spectators who are in the same category. 

Taking pleasure in the misery of others does nothing good for your soul. In fact, Phil himself made a good point on his stream by saying the trolls should “move on.” So many of us on the internet are in need of serious self-care and feeding these negative emotions ain’t it, fam. So, I’m giving it up. Phil, I hope things improve in your life when it comes to your Streaming and I hope the trolls move on too. May we all become less broken people.