Dan Olson Discusses James Rolfe

Dan Olson is the brilliant documentarian behind Folding Ideas. He’s covered a range of interesting topics ranging from Decentraland, gamer culture, NFTs, financial scammers and Minecraft.

James Rolfe plays the Angry Video Game Nerd, that long-running game commentary and comedy series, and to some degree he is the nerd, even though the character doesn’t reflect his own views or personality. Although he plays a character, playing it has become his career. He does other videos too, but it’s what he’s known for, it’s his mark upon the world, and so it’s how he’ll be remembered.

Rolfe is the head of a little empire called Cinemassacre. Rolfe was really popular at one point, but over time his subject became less relevant. Time is unkind. By the time the mechanisms became available to effectively monetize what he does, his fandom had diminished, although he keeps plugging away, and it sustains him. Cinemassacre partnered with an outfit, Screenwave, to help him monetize it, which involves making five videos a week. It’s provided him with an income to support a family. That’s the same tradeoff most of us make, only he gets to do something he likes doing.

Dan Olson did a video on James Rolfe (1h 17m). Here, I’ll embed it:

It makes the case that James Rolfe was a victim of his own success. The Nerd character was extremely popular for a while. If you have three things you do, and one of them turns out a popular as the Nerd was, you’re naturally going to focus on that, and the others must suffer.

Dan Olson’s video is not against James Rolfe, but it’s also not in favor of him. It presents him as a hack, a jobber, a person who, when he finally has the chance to do something with his own ideas, they end up half-baked, iterations over things he made as a teenager. These things are probably true, but they’re also better than what most of the rest of us get.

I have never really been a fan of the Nerd. I think that the relentless negativity has fed into a culture that tears things down. But there is effort in how they’re made. There is a weird skill in coming up with so many distinct ways to insult things. I don’t agree with all his videos, which don’t leave much room to consider things noble attempts or failed experiments. But they’re just games, after all.

James Rolfe isn’t a bad person, far from it. Even so, Olson’s video tells us that Rolfe has an anti-fandom, a band of people who just hate him and what he does for no reason, for the crime of having a family and doing what he needs to survive. What an awful thing to exist. To think that there’s a category of person so petty. But also, this kind of pettiness is a great invisible sea. It is one of the worst of the early internet’s many legacies, and it’s largely the result of most people having no real, I’m not going to say life, but I will say stakes in life. When people’s lives are devoid of real meaning, they find what little meaning they can, and sad to say, there’s a lot of people who, to put it in Balatro terms, the best card they’ve been given is a five of clubs, and the rest of their deck is mostly twos and threes. (Can you tell what I’ve just came from doing?)

I’m rambling a bit, and part of that is due to the fact that Olson’s video rambles too. Dan Olson became obsessed with James Rolfe and his legacy, due in part to the similarity between their lives, and it feels like the video was released partly to exorcise James Rolfe from Olson’s mind.

I hope that Olson has successfully evicted the nerd from his brain attic. And I hope that Rolfe continues to be successful, even if I won’t watch his videos. It’s a hard life for all of us, far too hard to spend it tearing others down.