Even before Kienan Robert starts playing, you can hear the simmering tension in his voice. As he boots up a game of basketball on Wii Sports, Robert reveals to the audience that he’s bought a factory-fresh remote in order to ensure he will perform his best. “I swear to God, if my player doesn’t jump right, I’m going to take this Wiimote back to GameStop and shove it up their butt,” he intones.
And, for a second, things seem okay. The controller feels like butter, and Robert is scoring points against “Tommy,” his unblinking archnemesis on the cartoon court. Yet, as if the fates can smell his optimism, the momentum starts to fade. Tommy and his squad are, somehow, impossible to beat — blocking every shot while sinking every one of theirs. With every failed possession and lost game, the 24-year-old human on the other side of the digital divide appears to lose another piece of his soul.
Down 9-3, Robert gets the ball stolen right out of his hands and releases a shrieking laugh that sounds like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker on whippits. “I WANNA BREAK SOMETHING,” Robert screams. “I WANNA BREAK. SOMETHING. SO. BAAAAAD!”
Later, there’s desperation: “What do I need to do? WHAT DO I NEED. TO DOOOOOO?”
Then defiance: “I’m not gonna do anything. I’m just, uh, gonna have a drink.”
Nearly 10 minutes into the YouTube video, Robert is back near his breaking point, screeching like a boiling tea kettle levitating from the fifth layer of hell. Five minutes later, it happens. “I am so tempted, when they jump for the ball at exactly the same time I jump, to chuck my remote at the fucking TV like I’m chucking the ball at their stupid fuckINGUGLY FACE,” Robert warns.
With the clock winding down, he rises for the game-winning three. As soon as he realizes the shot is getting blocked, he blurts out a rushed declaration — “OkayI’mdoingit” — before whipping the Wiimote at the screen, just as he hinted at.
Observing all of this is me, snuggled under the comforter at midnight, cackling at another young man losing his damn mind over a game that came out 13 years ago. Over the last few months, I’ve nurtured an addiction to the rage captured by Robert, aka “poofesure.” This summer, he was working a job in construction engineering while watching his YouTube channel stagnate. The Fortnite commentary and trolling content just wasn’t cutting it. “June was my worst month in years, honestly. July was going terrible too,” Robert tells me over video chat.
Mulling the weak traffic on his channel, however, led to another discovery: A 2017 video of him raging and screwing up on Wii Sports was starting to surge with views. Was it luck? A token of faith from the YouTube Algorithmic God? Whatever the case, subsequent uploads of similar material proved that people had an appetite to watch a grown man scream, damn near tears, over a bowling game made for the whole family.
“It’s actually pretty crazy. I feel like if you were to meet me in the day, you’d never guess this is my style of content because I’m pretty relaxed,” Robert says. “But I’ve had a history of getting really mad at video games. When I was 16 years old, my parents got me a PS3, and I started playing Call of Duty. I would break controllers, and I’d get grounded by my parents. I’d lose my shit, to be honest with you. I have a history of raging at video games when I take them seriously.”
I can relate to this, as a temperamental man who has tasted video-game rage more than once in his life (a tip ‘o the cap to Counter-Strike and stupid-ass Madden). Just like other competitive activities, gaming can trigger intense emotional highs and lows. There’s simply something uniquely infuriating given how much control you can feel in a well-designed game. It’s one issue if the whole activity seems broken or unfair, but abrupt losses or the sensation that the technology (say, your internet connection) is betraying you can be a rude interruption to the endorphin glow of winning. There’s a reason, then, why some of Robert’s popular overreactions involve him destroying (another) controller while screaming about it not responding to his wrist-flicks.
“I do get infuriated driving, screaming in my car, but it’s not like I get out to kick their bumper or something. Other than that, I dunno. Maybe it’s like how if I bump my head into something, I get pissed at whatever I bump my head into. I want to hit it back, you know? Like, ‘Fuck you!’” he tells me with a laugh. “But yeah, I don’t go into these videos thinking I’m gonna lose and be mad. It’s like, ‘Damn, if I can beat Tommy at basketball, it’ll be a great video.’ So when I’m losing, I just get pissed.”
The history of men losing their shit over games has existed as long as there have been competitive games, marked with modern milestones like that kid who tried to stick a remote up his butt in a rage tantrum and the ongoing banality of outrageous grown-man fits on Twitch streams. And while being mad through a screen seems innocuous compared to explicit violence sown by young men, there’s a mountain of psychological literature and debate on whether or not “venting” anger through aggression, whether by punching dummies or raging through a game, constitutes a healthy outlet.
While there are plenty of cultural references to the idea that anger builds and ultimately explodes without catharsis, therapist and masculinity expert Andrew Smiler tells me it’s a lot more complicated and personal than that. Our appetite for aggressive behavior depends on a mix of nurture and nature, and research that suggests watching physically or emotionally “violent” content can have a desensitizing effect over time, he notes. But his clinical experience also suggests that many people, especially men who try to be “the Nice Guy” in life, struggle with finding outlets to feel and manipulate their anger in a neutral way.
“Some men come to see me because their anger comes out with their partner, or with their kids, but those are kind of the only places in their life where they can be angry. For some of these guys, they’ll find a video like the one you sent me to be hilarious. They’ll get into it. They’ll yell along with it!” Smiler says. “Those guys tell me that they feel better watching another man lose their mind. Some of them say yelling at the TV while watching sports helps as well.”
I don’t find the videos of Fortnite streamers screaming bloody murder and breaking their keyboards to be all that funny, frankly. Maybe the fact that they’re playing human opponents, rather than some overpowered AI, makes such self-righteous combustion look a little pathetic. Or maybe I love that Robert just narrates his rage over videos rather than pointing a camera on himself, keeping you immersed in his weird little world of Nintendo Mii characters. Maybe it’s how he articulates his anger. Whatever it may be, though, it’s obvious that the blooming fandom in the comments finds relief in his efforts, too. As one user put it: “It’s kind of cathartic seeing some other human being going through as much rage as I do in video games.”
“I have some people that will like tweet at me or comment like, ‘Are you okay?’ Like, ‘Do you need to go to anger-management classes?’ I get it. It can get a little bit much. But at the same time, I feel like I’m a mentally healthy person. After I turn off the console, I only play for two hours at a time at most. And if I know I’m getting too pissed off, I’ll stop right there, and just breathe, go get something to eat, go to the gym, whatever,” Robert says. “Then I’m fine. It is what it is. That’s not to say it isn’t fun to get angry sometimes, but I don’t want to get mad at people like that. I want it to be at inanimate objects.”
Smiler says the key for anyone who consumes angry content for cathartic purposes is to be aware of whether your consumption is growing in volume or intensity — “It’s the same questions I’d ask someone who goes from having one drink a week to two bottles of wine.” But for now, I feel like I’m learning to laugh at my own temper tantrums and realize how irrational my anger can be to everyone on the outside looking in. Like another commenter put it: “When he said, ‘argjsjjsgsgahhhahjtnnnajtyhahagah…. I felt that.”
Yeah, me too.