Earlier this month, something crazy happened; something I’m still struggling to process.
It was, for a huge number of people, an era-ending event, yet the majority reading this may not even know to what I am referring. I am speaking of the dissolution of the Super Best Friends Play, a YouTube group that started in 2009 and has continued to make astonishing content for the last nine years. For many, including myself, the ‘break up’ is as equivalently traumatic as that of The Beatles. The thing is, the Super Best Friends were never typical content creators. Amid a slew of YouTube personalities and ‘influencers’, each more vacuous and click-baiting than the last, the Super Best Friends stood for something different. They were older than their competitors for a start, endowed with just a little more snarky wisdom. They were, at some point, QA testers for major companies, and understood their medium inside out. But not only that, their collective frame of reference for films, books, and other mediums was frankly Jonsonian.
Their channel celebrated the broken games, the indies, the off-the-beaten-track rare gems. And, at the heart of their videos, was friendship. The idea of (originally two) people coming together to express their shared love of videogames. I’ve heard lots of people express the view that ‘watching other people play videogames is sad’, but my experience watching the Super Best Friends was precisely the opposite, filled with a kind of joyous life-affirming energy. In the midst of dreadful political upheaval, social change, corporate corruption, the monetisation of so much of the videogame industry, the Super Best Friends made clear that the greatest joy in life is throwing insults and braggadocio around the room with friends. They made games fun again.
The Super Best Friends were never the biggest or most well-known YouTubers or even among the biggest gaming channels. This became something of a running joke among them. Many channels they supported became dramatically more successful than they did. And this touches on another point about them: they were ‘influencers’ in the true sense. They supported innumerable artists, animators, and writers and helped them to become full-time professionals. They influenced language and meme-culture, introducing idioms and phrases first to the gaming community and then, from there, out into the world. If the phrases weren’t original in themselves, they popularised them. I’ll die on that hill even though I’m a big coward.
They backed Kickstarters and produced games, helping indies get their work into the world. They have remained this relatively little known source of profound influence over the community for years, shaping our critical perceptions; their playthrough of David Cage’s first game, Omikron, is as much a work of art as creating a game itself, as they reflect the game’s slow slip into broken unplayability with their own descent into madness and discord and bickering. Towards the end, they fail to appropriately name their YouTube videos, mess with the intro-credits, randomly insert animations and memes intercut with game-play, breaking their own videos. It was the apex of satire, the ultimate test of friendship, and a testimony to endurance for the sake of completionism.
Throughout these nine years, the Super Best Friends have been a source of hope and optimism, lifting my spirits as much with their failures as with their triumphs. They were never perfect: they were actually pretty terrible at videogames save for one or two exceptions. They never seemed to be able to aptly time their videos (missing buzz moments left, right, and centre), and none of them seemed to have even an iota of understanding of modern European or British culture, but then one was never sure what they pretended not to understand for the sake of comedy. They self-described as ‘idiots’ and in their own words: ‘expected nothing’ from this career. They laid bare their personalities and flaws to all and shown their humanity whilst somehow remaining diamond-in-the-rough gentlemen, an extraordinary feat.
It must be said that one of the Best Friends emerges perhaps highest of all in this regard, and that is Woolie Madden. Woolie, in many ways, was the heart of the channel (though he was only credited as an active member at a later date). Woolie introduced Matt and Pat, thus establishing the channel’s premise in the first place. Woolie held them together even when personal conflicts started to emerge. Woolie’s hype and enthusiasm kept me coming back time and again. Hilariously, he is the one who is ‘shit-talked’ the most on the channel, with Matt and Pat spreading numerous negative rumours about him.
Matt and Pat are no longer friends, and both of them seem to recognise that as this was the very premise upon which the channel was founded, it makes no sense to continue. The joy of their videos was their frisson and energy, their commitment to the absurd, surreal, and the eerie chimes of coincidence. Their playthroughs were marked with a kind of bizarre Murphian magic. In one episode of their Silent Hill: Downpour long play, Matt accidentally threw the best weapon in the game, a fire-axe, into a bottomless chasm. When playing Silent Hill: Homecoming, Matt and Pat discovered a remarkably similar looking fire-axe at the base of a cliff, reclaiming the lost weapon. There’s no carried save-file here. The two games are not directly linked, save for the fact they both belong to the Silent Hill universe, yet the Best Friends created, seemingly accidentally, an eerie buried narrative. Games seemed to break on them that were play-tested to death by others without event. There remains oodles of lore surrounding their activities both on and off screen to such an extent that they have their own fan-curated site entirely dedicated to their history. Players will be sifting it for years to come.
I should say that no one has died here. The grief is that the dynamic between them, that electrical chemistry that we all, frankly, envied, is gone. Woolie, Matt, and Pat, and even Liam (a former member who left in 2016), are all going on to create their own content. They have admitted to being more passionate now about their side-projects, and looking at them, one can see why: they are ambitious and more accurately reflect them as individuals. Matt loves horror and ‘flops’ – games so bad they are good; Pat loves hardcore RPGs like Dark Souls; Woolie loves to write podcasts and analyse the creative process. They now no longer need to compromise of those parts of themselves. All things have to come to an end, and in some ways Super Best Friends ended on a massive high even though many had detected the steadily fracturing relationship between Matt and Pat emerging in some of their more recent videos.
I learned so many things from watching the Super Best Friends play. They were there for me when I was completely isolated at a corporate job, having just moved to a new city. It was their thrilling, excited voices emerging from my iPad that inspired me to write The Meaning of the Dark, which is about one man alone in space with only a box of recordings for company. They resurrected my love of Halloween and horror, and taught me about the joy of indie horror, with their annual event the ‘Shitstorm of Scariness’ which featured them playing 31 horror games for each day in October. I can’t fully credit all the inspiration I have taken from their channel, their banter, their analysis – it is too wide-ranging and all-encompassing. They are even directly referenced at the end of one of my as yet unpublished novels. And I’ll be damned if I change it now.
If you’re reading this and you’re still wondering: Who were the Super Best Friends? Let me make it plain. The Super Best Friends were a pervasive force for good throughout my life: for the gaming industry, for the fans, for everyone. And though they continue as individuals, it will be a long time before anyone can step into the colossal vacuum left in their collective wake.
Check out what they’re doing here: