TotalBiscuit Talks Candidly About Stress, Side Effects, in a Hard Look at Internet Fame
by Amy White
John Bain (A.K.A. TotalBiscuit, TotalHalibut, and The Cynical Brit) recently offered a rare, unflinching look at the real life effects of fame on a gaming icon.
The response was prompted by a discussion in /r/Cynicalbrit when community members began discussing TB's decision to quit engaging with them on reddit. Eventually TB joined the thread, opening with:
"Right. See this is what happens when I try and quietly remove myself from the situation, people just make it worse and worse and worse. There's no winning. So apparently I should have made a final post saying why I don't want to engage on this subreddit anymore, so here we go." Source
YouTube, Twitch, and eSports icons have proven that in some cases, it is possible to make a living playing games. But what you don't often hear about is the downsides of those much sought-after jobs. John Bain (TB) let down the curtain for a few moments, and it would be wise of us to take note of what he's shared.
Don't Let Your Audience Kill Your Work
"I dread talking to my audience on a daily basis"
As creators start out, having an engaged audience is one of the very best ways to motivate more work and creativity. Unfortunately, the more passionate and vast that audience becomes, the more likely they are to have the opposite effect.
"I used to love waking up, logging in and seeing what the viewers was saying, replying to their comments, doing the whole interaction thing. It was great. But that was a long time ago. Now everytime I post a Hearthstone video I have get anxiety over the amount of horrible comments it will get. It keeps me awake at night. I barely play the game now because of it."
"...the only reason I keep that series up is because it pays well now. It used to be through passion for the game but the audience killed that."
Carefully consider whether having some level of audience input will fuel your fires, or whether you (and ultimately, your audience) are better off with working in a bubble. If bubble is the way to go, then embrace that:
Sometimes, You Really Should Ignore the Critics (And the Fans)
"I've read so many people with their "advice", oh... you should get a thicker skin! You should just ignore it! Those people have no idea of the volume of it all, or how constant it is, it never stops, it's day in day out 24/7, no end in sight noise. So many people talking at once... It's death by a thousand cuts. That thick skin isn't invincible, occassionally it buckles and when it does I tend to react badly."
Know when to engage and when to ignore. TB mentions that he's successfully turned things like Twitter over to other people, but in other instances he can't provide his own filter for feedback. When interacting with your audience starts to feel like a burden or something you dread, take steps to minimize your exposure, or remove it entirely. Whether you need that input is different for each person and each project.
Have a Purpose, Don't be Consumed by It
"This sounds really dramatic but this is my life, this is ALL I DO. I only exist to do this right now."
Purpose driven work is awesome; it makes hard work more rewarding and gives us the strength to push harder for our goals because we believe in them. Trouble is, if you let that purpose consume you it will, and the result will be burnout and a lack of energy, empathy or drive.
"I made a career out of trying to protect my audience from bad purchases... That's what I get up for every day now, that's what I live for. I work that job 6-7 days a week and I do it because I believe what I'm doing is helping, that it's making gaming better even if it's just a little."
Finding something that makes you excited about your work can be the difference between a soul-crushing job and a fulfilling one. But it can also make you turn a blind eye when your fulfilling job becomes soul crushing, as in this case. Willingness to admit that your 'dream job' is wearing you down can be the difference between proactively managing that stress and an early exit. When you don't take that step, you (and your work) begin to suffer.
Unmanaged Stress Can Ruin even the most Dreamy of Dream Jobs
"My hair is going grey, not to mention it's falling out."
When you start letting a purpose (no matter how awesome) consume you, the results aren't pretty. TotalBiscuit is searingly open with the impact his career has had on his well-being, and it should serve as a warning to others who aspire to jobs like his.
"I fucking eat because I'm sad or angry or whatever, I have days where what should be a dream job is something I don't even want to think about doing. I'm seriously fucked in the head and I have been for a very long time."
"...a f%cked up, sad, balding, overweight guy who is good at one thing and is lucky enough to do it for a living"
In addition to poor diet, poor mental health, and bad hair days, he goes on to allude to several health issues that have been aggravated by stress. For those who really do feel endlessly fueled by the goal of their work, stepping back or slowing down can feel like a useless waste of time, or a betrayal of their dreams. If this feels familiar, one thing that can help is reminding yourself that if you burn out, you either won't be doing this work at all anymore, or you'll be doing a piss-poor job of it. If neither option sounds good, then you need to strive for some level of balance in your life.
Trust Yourself, Your Product, and Your Audience
I know, I know. Here I've warned you to ignore your audience and focus on yourself, lest you become a burned out husk of the passionate creative force you once were. Thing is, all that's true, to a degree. But embrace that even if you limit your exposure to unregulated feedback and take time to care for your well-being, it ultimately improves your work and is better for your audience.
"I live for my audience. I put myself on the line for my audience. Right now my livelihood is under threat because I said what needed to be said to make sure my audience stayed informed. I give everything I've got on a daily basis to try and make my audience happy. So imagine how I feel when they lash out at me. Yeah, you're right, I should handle it better, but I can't."
There's no shame in recognizing it when you can't take any more exposure and pulling back, and that's exactly what TotalBiscuit has chosen to do. Perhaps a bit late, but better late than never.
Remember the Golden Rule, and Think Before you Rage
"Understand what it is you do to the people you apparently like."
As an audience member, everyone you turn to for entertainment is put under some amount of stress in exchange for being an entertainment figure. TB's video addressing Flappy Bird (below) talks about how many people aren't built to deal with the flood of negative feedback when they are thrust suddenly into the spotlight.
"I kinda hoped that some people would realize when I did that piece on the Flappy Bird dev that there was more than a bit of my own personal issues in there."
"Everyone you like feels this way to a greater or lesser degree. Some people handle it better than others. I handle it terribly. I probably always will, so it's best I do what others in my position do and put a wall between the audience and myself to prevent further damage being done to both."
Best of luck to TB
Personally, I enjoy he keeps on entertaining and informing us for years to come. Even in his farewell to the r/CynicalBrit community, he did his audience a service - he gave them real insight to who he is behind the camera and the critic. I hope that they can be understanding that sometimes, shielding himself is the best choice for his fans, and for him.Originally Published Feb. 13th 2014