Saying Goodbye to MatPat and My Childhood

When thinking back to my childhood, I am part of the last generation to have been born (2005 baby!) before the release of the first iPhone. With Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers alive to witness technology’s integration into everyday life and Gen Alpha having always had technology at their fingertips, we are a blend of two worlds, watching technology advance from tiny iPod Touches to these sleeker, modern, titanium hunks of metal — ones that can bring you into a whole different world to explore. Being Gen Z, I remember at age nine, playing Warrior Cats with my toys in the backyard, while simultaneously writing book reviews on my WordPress blog on the family computer. I have grown up alongside the internet and, as a result, have seen all there is to see (for better or worse). YouTube has played a key role in that development.

To speak to YouTube’s growth over the course of its 19 years of existence is worth a research paper of its own, but the jump from a simple video-sharing platform to a vital source of our media consumption today was not a simple one. Years of algorithmic tinkering, policy changes and monetization guidelines have molded the site into what it is today. Along with systematic changes, YouTube’s content has also had its waves. The British vlogger craze, the Elsagate scandal, the Vine invasion (and subsequent Paul brothers’ takeover), the Pewdiepie vs. T-Series race, the Minecraft Youtuber takeover and the Mr. Beastification are just some of the waves I remember from ages 10 to 19. I understand that to an older audience seeing this, it’s pure gibberish, but similar to fashion trends or political scandals, these YouTube eras showed us the power that independent creators could have on this website and revealed to us the best and worst of humanity, when given a camera and Adobe Premiere Pro.

With academics at the forefront of my goals, I was never allowed to purchase or play video games apart from the free flash ones on sites like “coolmathgames.” Having my only access to video games being the janky Wii and its four games, I gravitated towards gaming YouTubers — Markiplier, Jacksepticeye, Crankgameplays (Memento Mori) to name a few. I never got too deep, having a side obsession with the storytime animation takeover in 2016, but it was a path I often traversed. One YouTuber stood out, however, as not just a gaming channel but a channel focused on games and their lore. That channel was The Game Theorists. I don’t necessarily have the time nor space to recap the entire history of the Theorist channels, now approaching the 13 year anniversary since the very first Game Theory video. What I will speak to, however, is the channel’s creator, Matthew Robert Patrick, aka MatPat. 

Whether you watch Game Theory or not, MatPat is a figure that transcends the YouTube sphere. He, along with his co-founder and wife, Stephanie Patrick, have spent years building a theory empire — Film Theorists, Food Theorists, Style Theorists and GT Live are their four other channels — raising money for charities like St. Jude and even meeting Pope Francis and giving him a copy of Undertale. They’ve been at the frontlines when its come to YouTube’s growth and development, serving as a voice for creators, responding to, watching and even participating in trends, and building a community of subscribers, dubbed “theorists.” MatPat’s legacy dominated the internet, becoming instantly recognizable by his voice, cutout and signature catchphrase, “But hey, that’s just a theory, a game theory!” With so many new uploads, projects and a whole child to raise underway, it seemed like nothing could stop them.

Then on Jan. 9, there was a new upload from The Game Theorists titled, “Goodbye Internet” — 25 minutes to rock the internet for the next few weeks, as MatPat announced his retirement from YouTube. Through the heartfelt memories, final plans and plenty of tears, the audience learned that while MatPat wasn’t leaving for good — still collaborating with the creative directors on future episodes and programs, as well as announcing his official sendoff date as March 9 — he would be taking a significant step back from being the face of these channels. To be able to spend more time raising his family and explore new creative pathways beyond YouTube were MatPat’s primary reason, giving credit to fellow creator Tom Scott, who is also taking a step back from YouTube content creation after producing non-stop weekly content for years.

Distraught doesn’t even begin to describe the state of the internet after that announcement, as people flocked to the comment sections and other social media platforms, sharing their stories, thanking MatPat, Stephanie and Theorist affiliates, going through the five stages of grief and sending endless memes recounting the glory days of counting animatronic toes in Five Nights at Freddy’s. The outpour of love and support was astonishing, and while I too felt these wavering emotions, something deeper inside me was starting to move on as well.

Losing touch with your childhood self isn’t a new phenomenon, but it isn’t something that happens all at once. I’ve watched bits and pieces of my childhood break away, moving to college, websites I loved shutting down, etc., with adult responsibilities taking their places. There’s a sense of grief that comes when you lose touch with that part of your childhood. Staying connected to your inner-child is one way to combat these feelings, but your mind has fundamentally changed to the point where you can’t look at things the same way. I can’t watch archived Game Theory videos with the same naivety and awe I had as a child, watching MatPat solve the mystery of Bendy and the Ink Machine. It’s a different kind of loss you experience, having grown up on the internet, one that lingers. Even though I’ve grown up and left, MatPat was still out there making videos. Now, it’s his turn to leave, and I had one last chance to return to that feeling.

March 9 marked MatPat’s final Game Theory video, live streamed to tens of thousands of fans putting in their final goodbyes. Through the many thank-yous, the advice given and the so-longs, MatPat left theorists with one final, “Thanks for watching!” closing the door shut on his last chapter on YouTube, turning to a new page, gone, but never forgotten.

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