‘Final Space’ Embodies The YouTube Career Arc

The third season of YouTuber Olan Rogers’ Final Space is, at best, a mixed bag and, at worst, a shadow of its former, offbeat self. What started out as a vibrant science fantasy romp with Gary Goodspeed, a kind of intergalactic Alonso Quixano who’s delightfully loony due to his exile in deep space, is now so generic that its universe ending stakes feel without consequence. However, the plot of the show and Gary’s character arc align with the careers of major YouTubers, where success only stifles creativity and transforms a YouTuber into the kind of mainstream figure they previously rallied against. 

Whether it knows it or not, Final Space is about working as a YouTuber and the show’s decline serves as a grim reminder of how little stability and fulfillment the position holds as a long term profession. In examining the watering down of Gary as a character to a more generic protagonist, and season three’s suggestion that Gary might be a villain; it becomes clear that Final Space captures the rise and inevitable decline of so many YouTube stars.  

Final Space Season 3 In a Nutshell

Before we get too far into what Final Space is about thematically, let’s cover the actual plot beats of the season. This collection of episodes begins with the main cast of characters trapped in the titular Final Space, which is basically space hell with more, or fewer, giant monsters depending on how metal your views of the afterlife are. 

The season then follows our heroes trying repeatedly to escape from Final Space, getting forcibly separated and then reuniting a bunch, and some interpersonal relationships changing a little bit, but not in ways that feel satisfactory or are fully addressed. If it seems like I have a chip on my shoulder while I describe this season, it’s because I do and need to bleed out the venom this show injected into me.  

The only character to have any kind of meaningful arc this season is Ash, who’s voiced by the always terrific Ashly Burch. Apparently her psychic powers come from Invictus, the leader of the aforementioned giant monsters and a primordial evil. While processing how a major part of her identity is tied to a cosmic horror, she loses her adoptive brother, Fox, and begins to mistrust and resent the cast around her. As Gary’s priorities increasingly diverge from her own and as he unintentionally kills Fox, Ash even goes so far as to accuse Gary of actually being evil. This is a hell of an accusation, considering Invitus is literally space Satan, but whatever. Her frustrations with Gary are understandable, and Invictus was doing a ‘devil on her shoulder’ thing for most of the season, so this hard to swallow development is at least understandable from a character perspective. 

After thirteen episodes of Gary struggling, and sometimes failing, to protect those close to him, most of the main cast manag es to escape from Final Space, though Ash joins up with Invictus. She also captured and siphoned off power from the living weapon Mooncake, and Invictus used the energy to open a portal between Final Space and regular space. So, if an undeserved season four happens, it’ll probably focus on Invictus’ army trying to take over the universe. 

This season is a pretty standard space epic, which is exactly what makes it so disappointing. In the first season of Final Space Gary was an unwilling space hermit who was so desperate for friendship and intimacy that he tied up an assassin sent after him, Avocato, and forced him into a poker night. In season three, there just isn’t any of the weird shit that made the show so appealing in season one. There’s no encountering an alien family while wearing their dead mother as a disguise, no Gary insasting that he’s Little Cado’s new dad minutes after Avocato sacrifices himself to save them, and no jubilation in response to the death of the annoying robot KVN.

Gary isn’t a quirky guy trying to find his place in a universe that isn’t sure what to do with him anymore, he’s just the kind of space captain that the show mocked in earlier seasons. Even if it came with a pretty hefty price tag, Gary now has everything he’s ever wanted; a position of respect and power, plenty of meaningful relationships, and a partner who loves him. As mean as it might be to the fictional character Gary, these developments are a bummer and the show loses a lot of it’s charm and originality as it becomes a more standard and traditional story. 

Unless that’s the point. What if the third season of Final Space is about someone sacrificing their originality to achieve their goals and be conventionally successful? What if Final Space is about a growingly common kind of YouTube career arc? 

The YouTuber to Sellout Pipeline

Career YouTubers and the people behind the platform really like to brand YouTube as a space where creatives can express themselves freely. This digital space isn’t bound by the same regulations and ‘in-crowd’ mentality found in television and film production, meaning YouTube is a space where even niche communities can thrive. Now, in reality, YouTube makes LGBTQ+ content less discoverable and played a significant role in the recent growth of the alt-right and conspiracy theory communities, but at least YouTube and YouTubers like to paint it as a place for any content creator and their communities. 

On some level, this branding is true. As the current default video hosting platform, there’s something for everyone on YouTube. Where the lie really starts to breakdown, though, is when YouTubers paint the platform as being superior to traditional media industries. Now, how the problems found on YouTube measure up against every other entertainment medium and industry is a whole ball of wax that we’re not going to get into today. We don’t even need to, though, because most folks aren’t on YouTube as their last and best career move; they’re just doing it until they can move onto a better, more stable gig. 

If you’ve been on YouTube since it really started taking off in the late 2000s, chances are you can think of at least a dozen channels that have functionally shut down because its personalities moved onto greener pastures. You can hardly blame them too, as between the constantly changing algorithms, nearly unchecked harassment, and demanding production cycle; a nine to five gig working in a more established industry seems like a pretty cushie deal. That creates an unusual situation, though, where YouTube, which as a community that celebrates and demands authenticity, is functionally just a temporary gig for its biggest creators until they build up enough clout to move onto their ultimate career. It’s like working as a production assistant until you make enough connections to make the jump to a script writing gig; except there isn’t a convention for PAs and they’re not treated like celebrities. 

The job of being a YouTuber centers on presenting yourself as being as raw, original, and unique as possible; right up until you can afford not to be those things anymore. And then we have Final Space, which originally set itself apart from most other television shows by feeling one of a kind, and is now a generic sci-fi romp that feels like something that’ll just keep getting renewed until the second it’s unprofitable. 

I don’t know if this symbolism is intentional but, considering the rest of season three’s writing, I’m guessing it’s not. There are definitely parallels, though, and, as I witness Gary’s weirdo charm fade until he’s a monotone cliche, I’m filled with the same kind of sadness I felt watching the YouTube channels I grew up with chase algorithms until they’re not longer appealing to me before the creators leave the platform all together. 

Enjoying the Long Death Spiral

I don’t bring this comparison up to commend Final Space season three’s writing; as the season was so bland that I can’t even recommend it to my friends who watched the previous two. I’m bringing it up because this show accidentally reminded me that nothing great can last forever. That’s not even what I’m really upset about, though. Nothing genuine or anything trying to be can last forever. At least not in any kind of way that allows the people behind the project to live comfortably, or maybe even sustainably. 

With the systems we have in place, and how we as a global culture value art and entertainment, current media industries just don’t allow for authenticity unless it has, or can turn into, mass market appeal. Sure, anyone can do small projects that are wholly their own as a hobby, and there’s definitely value there, but only the lucky can make anything close to a significant amount of money off of those kinds of projects. That’s not even getting into the issue of creators burning out as people, the systems they form, and hosting platforms demand a steady stream of similarly high-quality work. 

As of writing this essay, Olan Rogers uploaded his last, non-promotional, video to YouTube ten months ago. If he never returns to the platform and the kind of material that helped him reach his current success, I don’t think anyone can fault him. He made the jump from being a YouTuber to successfully writing and developing his own TV show. He doesn’t need to come back; he’s outgrown YouTube unless there’s something he really wants to do that can only happen on that platform.

That really sucks for the people you enjoyed Olan Rogers’ channel. I think the only thing we can do, though, is enjoy the upward spiral of our favorite small-time creator’s careers, until they manage to ascend to anything beyond the initial stages of their career. YouTube and other hosting platforms aren’t the goal for most of the people trying to make a career out of their creative drive, it’s just one possible first step. No matter how YouTube wants to brand itself, that’s just how it is. 

I wish I had a more positive note to end on, but yeah, being yourself is just a means to an end for a lot of online creators and most will drop that veneer of openness the second they can take the next step forward in their careers. All we can do is enjoy these half-truths while we can and appreciate the stuff we connect with while the people behind it are able and willing to make it. 

I wish I liked the third season of Final Space more; I wish it was something that I could like. But it doesn’t have to be the things that made me like it anymore and the same can be true for the dozen or so YouTubers I loved in high school who aren’t around anymore or are no longer that version of themselves. 

I’ll always have the joy that the first season of Final Space brought me, though, just as I’ll forever treasure the niche channels that I and my high school friends revealed in; even if those channels have now been defunct for longer than I was in high school. Time goes on, things and people change, and we’ve just got to enjoy what’s good while we can. 

Thank you for checking out this essay! If you want to keep up with all of my writing, following me, @LucasDeRuyter, on Twitter. Also, be sure to check out my media focused podcast, Voluntary Viewing

I hope you all enjoyed my ramblings about a declining cartoon, and good luck with whatever you have going on. 

‘Final Space’ Embodies The YouTube Career Arc

Is It Ethical To Buy ‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game’?

The Scott Pilgrim game is coming back and that’s fucking rad! After abruptly disappearing from digital storefronts at the end of 2014, likely due to licensing disputes, the game was unplayable to new audiences for half a decade. This especially sucked because the Scott Pilgrim movie was a notorious sleeper hit, and it took a while for people to discover and appreciate the world and story first crafted by Bryan Lee O’Malley in his graphic novels. 

Developed and published by Ubisoft in 2010, Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game is as good, if not better, than the comics and movie that inspired it. Which, for a licensed game released in the early 10s, was a nice change of pace. The art direction perfectly captured the style of the later comic volumes, the loose story of the game does just enough with the world and characters to be endearing, and Anamanaguchi’s score is an absolute bop, if not an outright banger. 

Although, the music isn’t quite as good as the movie’s fire soundtrack, mostly because the game doesn’t have any Beck and Brie Larson songs, but then again painfully few OSTs do. Getting back to the point, the game also helped revitalize the Beat ‘em Up genre at a time when it was starting to stagnate. In short, Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game is a pretty good video game, and an amazing one if you were a nerdy teenager between 2010 and 2014 like I was.   

This rerelease comes with some caveats, though. In the years since Ubisoft delisted the game, a lot of unsavory material has come out about the company; with 2020 revealing that it was a dangerous environment for the people working there. Furthermore, it’s come out that leadership at Ubisoft had extremely problematic political and social opinions, deliberately contributed to women being underrepresented in games, and conflated a civil rights movement to a terrorist organization. 

Between all of this and the fact that much of the original team behind the game isn’t involved in this rerelease, many gamers are left asking themselves, “Is it ethical for me to buy Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition?” 

No, no it’s not. 

Okay, so obviously it’s a little more complicated than that — and this prompt is mostly just an excuse to create a master doc compiling all of the really shitty stuff Ubisoft’s done — so let’s get into why you shouldn’t give Ubisoft your money. 

Members of leadership at Ubisoft were scumbags, and performed a wide variety of misconduct while they were gainfully employed. Maxime Béland, one of Ubisoft’s co-founders, allegedly choked a female coworker at a company party. Employees have said that a lack of disciplinary action against Béland, and his overt sexist behavior, made them feel like there was a culture of sexism at the company. Which there was and still could very well be, even after Béland’s resignation, as many describe the company’s Toronto studio as having a “party culture” and generally using free booze and company events as an excuse to not pay their employees more. 

Serge Hascoët, the creative lead that had final say on a game’s content, also left Ubisoft in 2020. Hascoët actively prevented women from being the lead character in Ubisoft games, based on the assumption that games featuring prominent female characters wouldn’t sell well. Oh, and he also supposedly helped propagate Ubisoft’s culture of sexism by playing a sexually explicit song featuring the name of a female coworker when she left a meeting. 

Tommy Francois, the vice-president of editorial and creative services — which is to say Serge Hascoët’s lackey — was fired after an investigation into his alleged sexual misconduct. Yannis Mallat, the person leading Ubisoft’s Canadian studios, also left the company amid this controversy. Employees filed numerous complaints to Ubisoft’s HR department over the actions of these executives, all of which seemingly went ignored until recently. It’s no wonder then that Ubisoft’s global head of HR, Cécile Cornet, also left the company as, on paper, a company’s HR department is supposed to prevent any of this misconduct from happening. 

In fact, things were so bad at Ubisoft that an internal survey revealed that 1 in 4 employees witnessed some form of misconduct while doing their job. Imagine for a second working at a place where inappropriate behavior is so common, that 25% of your coworkers tell their bosses that they saw something inappropriate. In case you’ve never worked anywhere before, people generally don’t like to bring these issues up, even in an anonymous survey, meaning the number of witnesses was likely much higher and the behavior much more widespread than what we know now. 

In the face of all of these allegations, and the stellar reporting about them, it’s very hard to believe that Ubisoft’s co-founder and CEO, Yves Guillemot, wasn’t aware of this culture in his company. In fact, it seems more likely that Guillemot elevated these individuals into positions of power in spite of, or perhaps even because of, their problematic behavior and beliefs. While the immediate bad actors may be gone from the company, Guillemot is not, and any money spent on Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition is to the direct benefit of the person who enabled this detestable situation.  

Ubisoft also put the Black Lives Matter fist in a Tom Clancy mobile game and said that it was a logo for a terrorist organization! How does that even happen!? How does a company at the forefront of a billion dollar industry make such a callous and avoidable fuck up?

Oh, the manager of the studio that made it, Owlient, as well as the director of this game is Charlie Guillemot, Yves Guillemot’s son. And now everyone who’s ever worked for a family owned business knows exactly how Ubisoft got to where it is today. 

To top it all off, the remaining Ubisoft leadership is composed of cowards and they refused to address this situation during their Ubisoft Forward showcase event. 

Where does this leave an ethically conscious Scott Pilgrim fan wanting to play this game? Probably trying to rationalize how they can give money to an inarguably problematic company in exchange for a toy they want. 

“Even if the bosses are bad, that doesn’t mean the people who made the game are,” a gamer might argue while clutching their Scott Pilgrim Color Collection Box Set. “Their work deserves to be purchased and praised so that they can more easily get a job at a better company.” 

That’s a popular, if flawed, argument in circumstances similar to this one, but isn’t really applicable here as Bryan Lee O’Malley doesn’t profit off of the sale of the game. He also said that the original team behind it isn’t involved in this rerelease. To be fair, though, O’Malley does seem pretty jazzed about the game returning, if for no other reason than it being a cool piece of media that was seemingly lost to time.  

[Note: A limited edition physical version of the game was announced while composing this essay. While O’Malley and other original artists did contribute to this edition, this physical release is through a specialty publisher and the original team’s connection to the rerelease is still tenuous. As such, the previous point stands.] 

The fact of the matter is, the people most responsible for this game existing aren’t going to profit from the sales of this rerelease. Buying a copy now only pads the coffers of those at the top of Ubisoft, who have proven themselves to be pretty scummy. Also, if you wanted to support Bryan Lee O’Malley, you could just buy the Scott Pilgrim comics. They’re pretty good, if dated in the way that a lot of media from the aughts are. Seconds is pretty good too, and I really need to make time to read Snotgirl, but hear good things. 

From here, the last desperate argument made by somebody who really wants to buy the Scott Pilgrim game might be something like, “Well not buying a game from a bad company isn’t going to hurt the abusers within it, it’ll only lead to the most expendable employees being fired or paid less.”

Again, that’s fair and the gaming industry as a whole needs to get out of the practice of tying bonuses to sales figures and Metacritic scores. Or, in the case of CD Projekt Red, giving out tokens to employees who “deserved honors,” which almost certainly means that they were crunching really hard and didn’t complain about it. All that nonsense definitely deserves it’s own essay. Which I might get to by 2023 if my pace of one self-published piece every two years keeps up! 

The thing is, this argument also doesn’t really apply to this situation. The Scott Pilgrim rerelease is a cash grab by Ubisoft, even if fans really want it. It would be a shock if any more work went into the Complete Edition beyond getting it running on modern systems and having the DLC available from the start. This is a profit generator slipped into Ubisoft’s Q1 2021 lineup as they don’t have any major releases coming up, other than the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time remake in March. Meaning that Ubisoft doesn’t have any major releases this quarter. 

It’s hard to envision anyone at Ubisoft getting axed if this game underperforms. Hell, it’s hard to see anything changing at all at Ubisoft if this game only manages to break even after licensing costs and the minimal development expenditure. If it does well, it’ll be a nice windfall for them, and, if it doesn’t, then at least they earned some desperately needed goodwill from gamers. 

It’s clear that Ubisoft is a company that you really shouldn’t support through purchasing their products, and that justifications for this transaction don’t hold up under scrutiny. So what are socially conscious gamers to do then? Not buy the game? If you’re so inclined, kudos! Organize a boycott of the Scott Pilgrim game? Maybe, but those don’t really work in the gaming industry. 

The sad truth is that not buying a game has never been an effective strategy for creating direct and intended change in the world of gaming. Jim Sterling has a great video covering the history of video game boycotts and, spoiler alert, they usually fail because people buy the game! Whether it be Modern Warfare 2 or Pokémon Sword and Shield, people will buy a favorably reviewed video game even if there’s a part of it they don’t like.  

Gamers are a too large and varied group for a boycott to work in a meaningful capacity. Even when the issues surrounding a game are as significant as serial harassers profiting from it, and not just some people disliking a tree. 

Yeah, the hullabaloo around Pokémon Sword and Shield really was the moment that boycotts became untenable in the gaming sphere. 

Don’t worry, you’re not a monster for buying Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition. People have defended supporting worse pieces of media from even shittier people, and unfortunately a lot of games today are made under some kind of duress. There are some things that you can do to help make the gaming industry more sustainable and less skeezy, though. 

The first is supporting games from smaller studios that developed their titles in healthy working conditions. Hades from Supergiant Games is a brilliant example of how an indie game can be successful while still valuing the health and safety of the people who made it. In supporting games like this, not only are you keeping the gaming landscape from being a purgatory of AAA saminess, you’re helping prove that other models of video game production are possible. Things don’t have to be as bad as they were, and maybe still are, at Ubisoft, and by elevating better companies we can make Ubisoft the exception and not the rule. 

A second option is directly supporting labor organization in the video game industry. Ubisoft isn’t alone in its culture and how it treats employees, and the gaming industry is in need of systemic level reform. If consumers can’t pressure companies into changing, then the only ethical thing to do is support those within them taking action. 

This can be as simple as promoting the efforts of game industry workers trying to organize, or donating to a legal fund so that those affected can fight the circumstances found in Ubisoft. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally just a good idea to give money to good causes that need them, especially when power dynamics are as lopsided as they are between CEOs and employees in the gaming industry. 

These suggestions aren’t groundbreaking, and hopefully aren’t new to you, but they’re the most the average consumer can do to help make things better for the most vulnerable people in the games industry. Which really sucks!

Of all the industries that exist under the miasma of late stage capitalism, gaming gets some of the worst of it. People enthused to work in the industry are undervalued, subject to harassment in their workplace and too often online, and are either underpaid or forced to work so much that their hourly rate isn’t all that great. Many of these problems also exist outside of gaming, but they’re more apparent here thanks to the increased public scrutiny most media companies receive. 

Workers in almost every industry aren’t treated as well or paid as much as they should be. It’s also a struggle to purchase only things made under wholly ethical circumstances. That’s just how the world is today and, while I firmly believe that we can change it if those outside of the billionaire class come together and demand that we do, it’s not going to happen overnight. There’s also no point in depriving yourself of something that brings you joy, if there’s no benefit from the deprivation. 

 So, if you really want to, go ahead and buy Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition. I hope you enjoy it and that it provides some kind of respite from the weight of having to participate in the many unethical systems that make up our society. Just remember who’s profiting from your purchase and do what you can to help the people who actually make the media you enjoy when the opportunity arises. 

Thank you so much for checking this out. This essay was originally a pitch I floated around that a few outlets rejected, so I decided to make it on my own. If you want me to make something like this for you, I’m @LucasDeRuyter on Twitter and you can find my email without too much trouble if you’d like to reach out more formally. 

I don’t know if I’ll personally pick up the Scott Pilgrim game again but, if I do, you can hear my impressions on the Voluntary Viewing Podcast. Thanks again for watching/reading this, and good luck out there.

Is It Ethical To Buy ‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game’?