Posted on 30 Jun 2018 by Stephen Haselden

Farewell TotalBiscuit

On the 24th of May John Bain aka TotalBiscuit, aka The Cynical Brit, died aged 33 after a four year battle with cancer. His death hit me harder than I expected and a lot of reviewers, YouTubers, and gamers have said a similar thing, but that is for a simple reason: He’s had a profound effect on the gaming world.

John was a Youtuber and a games critic, and to many people that may sound unimportant. However, it’s the way he approached his work and his passion that spoke volumes about his character and his approach even had the effect of raising the standards and respect of his chosen profession. John loved games unashamedly and passionately and because he loved games he would critique them, both to make them better, and to inform gamers. But, John’s criticism was never just a string of insults: The “this is bullshit” comment would often happen but it would always be supported by an often insightful reason. John was the first to admit when his reasons were subjective, in-fact he even said: “All games criticism is subjective.” John regularly encouraged people to form their own opinions while at the same time keeping them as informed as possible about the condition of the games he played.

Listening to John was often revealing; He was very insightful about what makes a good game. But he was also entertaining and humble. That last might seem surprising to people who just remember his precise criticism. John’s personality was one that quickly polarized viewers opinions. But when I talk about humility I’m referring to how he saw himself, and the fact is that despite gathering a cult-like status John always worked to help consumers. He saw it as his job to be informative first and share opinions second. John was always as thorough about criticizing the games he liked as those he disliked, and whether it was a game he enjoyed or not, he would regularly point out the subjectiveness of his opinions.

Tribute to John from Blizzard Entertainment

Beyond criticizing games, John often criticized the industry too, both developers and reviewers. Without reservation, John called out anti-consumer practices wherever he saw them even when this meant his friends were caught in the backlash (WB cash for reviews scandal). John’s influence has left many gamers much more aware of exploitative practices but has also (arguably) left the whole industry and other reviewers with better standards of practice too.

John regularly discussed ethical and legal matters surrounding gaming and Youtube. Having studied law at Leicester university John was able to shed light on the legal grey areas surrounding copyright and fair use in such a way that the average viewer could understand. As well as consumer advocacy, John spoke strongly about the need to defend critics. As a games critic himself John also came under attack over his right to produce certain content. However, each time he found a way of fighting the copyright claimants (Wild Games Studios and Nintendo) without resorting to legal means. While there are many other YouTubers who’ve had to fight to keep their videos, John successfully harnessed consumer influence to defeat one claim and (at the least) shame the other.

TotalBiscuit often talked about strategy games (a niche market), and for me, this felt like an affirmation for a genre that was underappreciated. John was in the spotlight, his support of games certainly led to a boost in players for any title. Blizzard, in particular, benefited greatly due to his exposure in their Starcraft II, Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm games. John also championed many indie games and was certainly influential in the indie market becoming more mainstream.

As a man, I’m flesh & blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting.

It was obvious when John enjoyed a game, his WTF videos would often run-on for longer than usual and he would often stream extra content for games that particularly hooked his attention. John’s enjoyment was infectious and believable, made all the more so because his criticisms were honest and believable too. I have him to thank for pointing me to a number of my favourite games, including some which I would never have touched without his recommendation (STFU, Halcyon 6, HotS).

There were times in John’s career (like many celebs) when he courted controversy; unlike others though, he never did this for controversy’s sake, or for “exposure” but always for a cause or for a principle. There were times when John made mistakes; he was clearly human and could be goaded into anger and rash reactions. The thing that made John the most human to me was when he admitted a stupid comment he’d made one day when he tried to win an argument by claiming his IQ was 140, therefore, he must be right! Well, John was intelligent there’s no doubt about that, but his embarrassment was genuine too, and that gaff made me feel just a little better about the stupid things I’ve said from time to time.

John has a wife (Genna), a stepson, and a well loved dog called Kumo. John was clearly aware of the serious way he comes across but was always able to let that become a joke, that was never clearer than in the videos he made with his wife, where his cynicism would be overt, and she would just make jokes and giggle about him. The best example of this is the video “TotalBiscuit is the Prettiest Princess”. Despite taking gaming and taking his own opinions so seriously, he was still able to let himself be the joke.

Tribute from Gemma Bain is poem Love Constant Beyond Death, by Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas

John was often very critical of himself and held himself to higher standards than many YouTubers and games critics, and we (I’ve done some reviews and tried to follow his standards) are all the better for it. He showed that professionalism was not just something you just do in your 9-5, but something you can own, something anyone can do, in everything that is important to you. I’m in no doubt that John’s methods and standards will be copied and relied upon for decades to come.

There’s a lot more to John’s story: There’s all the other YouTubers he’s helped, all the new ones that I will be watching now who wouldn’t have existed (their own words) if not for him. There’s the greater awareness he’s left gamers with about the ways some companies and practices exploit them. But he’s also been the backbone of many movements that have and are seeing beneficial changes in the gaming industry. John has left (probably) a whole generation of gamers with a greater appreciation for indie games, he was certainly a key voice in a period when the industry changed radically, with many more indies devs venturing to design games on their own (I’m not saying this wouldn’t have happened without him, but he helped accelerate this). Game devs (should) have a better understanding of what gamers expect; In every review video John itemized the options selections, woe betide anyone who doesn’t give you re-bindable keys or 60 FPS! By standing up for critics, John has helped boost free speech for us all. YouTube and other companies have tried to squash games critics a number of times, but because of John’s (and other YouTubers – inc. Jim Sterling) stand against this, YouTube has brought out new guidelines (however flexible) in support of games critics.

John was someone with strong opinions but also someone who encouraged others to form their own opinion. John also demonstrated that integrity is important, that honesty, even about your own weaknesses, will only make your message stronger.

A brave man, who left an impact, and had fun along the way.

John’s family have been hit by another emergency at this difficult time, and the IRS has given Genna 90 days (less now) to pay all TB’s back taxes otherwise they will lose their home. If you feel that you want to help TotalBiscuit’s family the official donation site is here. Or you can watch the Co-optional memorial episode here.

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