Welcome back to yet another look at my favorite video essays of the year, this time of 2022. I have been just as terminally online this year as I was last, so I have a lot of videos to shout out. And of course, I’m always looking for more, so if you know a video I missed, please share it with me on Twitter! This list, much like last year’s list, will also not have any real ranking to it, except the final video is definitely my favorite of the bunch. But I clearly would recommend any and all of these videos, and if you’re hungry for more, stay tuned for the end of the article as I do have a lot more recommendations beyond this list. But that’s enough set up, let’s get this started!

Super Bunnyhop – The Abridged Videogaming History of Big-Money Buyouts & Mergers

If you are anything like me, you were also completely flabbergasted by the purchase of Activision-Blizzard-King by Microsoft. Similar to the time that Fox merged with Disney, I felt the dread of this next step in industry consolidation more intensely than I felt the excitement of new franchises (like Call of Duty and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater) coming to Game Pass and the potential revival of dormant franchises like Prototype and Singularity. I instantly knew the news was a massive story with loads of permanent repercussions throughout the industry, but I didn’t know it’d be a story we’d still be talking about almost a year later.

So, I’m immensely thankful for Super Bunnyhop’s video on the history of video game acquisitions and buyouts that lead us to this one. The size of the purchase is so massive that it could only seem like a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but this video showed me that mergers like this are actually pretty common, and we’re only becoming widely concerned about it now that the dollar amounts are ballooning. I even learned a bit about some aspects of the industry that I didn’t even know came about by way of a buyout, like EA’s exclusive deal with the NFL. It’s a great video, and in the case of this list, one of the shorter ones, so it’s worth a watch. And if you like that one, they also made a great video about the Bayonetta series as well.

Lady Emily – The Existential Horror of Making Content About Content

I’ll admit this addition is a very personal one. I’ve been watching Emily’s videos for a while, including the many videos she co-wrote with Sarah Z, and she always makes great content. But this video, even if it is just a quick prelude to a much more massive video, really stuck a chord with me. It’s a really specific story about content creation, but as someone who makes content, it speaks on some feelings universal to everyone like us. There is always that pressure to maintain momentum with a fickle algorithm and often an ethereal user base. And if you’re lucky enough to be able to make a living off of content creation, depending on the internet to put food on the table can be a massive stressor.

This video is less about me learning about something I didn’t know about, that video is already linked in the last paragraph. But I do still love it for how cathartic of a watch it is, and if you are either interested in the mental state of content creators or are one yourself, you will likely enjoy this one as well.

Shaun – Harry Potter

Considering how things have gone with the series’ author in the last few years, I luckily have never gotten into the Harry Potter series. I saw the first movie by way of its yearly holiday showings on ABC Family, but I’ve managed to miss out on that entire cultural movement otherwise. But I know people love Harry Potter, and, in a very different way, I feel a bit for those fans as I too know how it feels to have an artist you respect fall from grace spectacularly while you’re love for thier art has a hard time fading.

But what I never thought to consider is how the books and world of Harry Potter itself could hold hints and problematic aspects that could have warned us all of Rowling’s current comments. Shawn does a fantastic breakdown on how some elements of the franchise rely on some pretty troubling stereotypes about a number of minorities and, as someone who never engaged with the text, it was wild to see. Often, when an artist falls from grace, we collectively look back on their art and question if it was ever good in the first place. This video does not reduce the entire Wizarding World to “it bad” but it does manage to provide context to the worldview that Rowling has always had, but has only more recently laid bare. It’s a great watch and will hit especially hard if you’ve ever loved the franchise to the point of being blinded to these various issues.

Defunctland – Disney Channel’s Theme: A History Mystery

We should all know what’s up with Defunctland by now. What started as a niche channel that I loved solely for its video breaking down the Nickelodeon Hotel is now one of those channels that can release a video and make nothing else in my life matter until I watch it. Last year’s video on Fastpass was excellent, but I think it’s fair to say that he has topped himself with this video about a topic that, on its face, seems to have so much less to say about it.

Disney Channel’s Theme: A History Mystery is the perfect kind of video essay. Its topic is something almost universally recognizable, but no one ever thinks about it much at all. It has production value better than not only every other Defuctland video I’ve ever seen but several of the other videos in this list. And it manages to hit you with a delightful twist near the end of the journey. It really is a masterclass in this weird niche art of online video, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is willing to hear someone talk about a 4-second musical stinger used in commercials a decade ago.

hbomberguy – Deus Ex: Human Revolution is FINE, And Here’s Why

You might have been expecting a different hbomberguy video, huh? Well, no. That video is great and all, but I find myself having loads more to say about his extensive look at Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I’m not particularly a fan of the immersive sim genre, nor am I a fan of Deus Ex specifically, but I did play Human Revolution many years ago once it was given to me for free through PlayStation Plus on PS3. I enjoyed the game well enough. And from the title of the video, you can tell that he also thought the game was fine.

What makes this video so satisfying is not that he likes the game more or less than me. He likes this game exactly as much as I do, but he has a wider arsenal of examples, reasons, and comparisons to explain why. It’s like we both had a decent meal at Applebee’s and we both liked it, but he just happens to be a professional chef who has had every other item on the menu in the year before. So, he uses that expertise and research to more brilliantly and exhaustively describe every flaw and delight of the meal. So often we get videos like this that gush with praise or burn with criticism, but this video manages to do both at the same time with the same amount of detail. Can’t recommend this video enough, it’s absolutely worth the heafty runtime.

Foreign Man in a Foreign Land – Asiaphobia in the BIack Community

Foreign Man is a creator I’ve only recently been introduced to through his awesome video “Gendering is a Luxury”, but as far as his output this year, I also really liked his video on Asiaphobia in the Black Community. In this collaboration with another dope content creator, oliSUNvia, he tackles not only the similar harms that come to Asians and Blacks from the white majority but also the harms that happen between our communities alone. We collectively don’t often talk about how minority groups harm each other, and I love that this video highlights those issues. And it, of course, comes at a perfect time, as the racist framing of the Coronavirus by the prior administration really set the country into a massive spike in Asian hate over the last few years.

Plus, while this isn’t about this video specifically, I just really appreciate Foreign Man having these conversations. As a black man, I’ve seen so few of my kind willing to even think about the topics of his videos at any deeper level. And while I’m not Caribbean at all, I’ve been exposed a bit to Jamaican culture through close friends. With that general knowledge, and even with him talking about how his content has an effect on his relationships with people back home, I can only imagine how daunting it is to put yourself out there like this. There is power in someone who looks like him and talks like him saying and doing the things he does, and I am really glad he’s doing it. Not to mention, the production value on all of his videos is way off the charts. So, I recommend this video specifically, but his whole channel is worth subscribing to as well.

Errant Signal – TikTok: Life on the Algorithm

I’ve known about Tiktok for several years, but up until the last year or so, it’s been that dancing app for children that I knew to stay clear of as a whole-ass adult. But I now know it to be an incredibly powerful app and one that I’ve given way too many hours to this year. With exception to particularly wild days on Twitter, like the death of the Queen, Tiktok is most often the app I’m scrolling through when I look up and realize I’ve been in the parking lot after my shift for the last hour instead of driving home.

The fact that the app is this addictive is a bit troubling, though, so I’ve had a more complicated relationship with the app lately as I try to minimize my use of it. And Errant Signal’s video on the app sums up all of my complicated feelings about it. He usually makes excellent videos about video games, and his Children of Doom series has also been a highlight this year. But this video was a refreshing change of pace, and I’m still impressed with how he’s able to translate his very personal experience (as the app is nearly purely algorithmic) into an effective breakdown for everyone, even folks who don’t use the app. TikTok is definitely a double-edged sword, and I think this video paints the most effective picture of each edge. 

Broey Deschanel – Licorice Pizza: Does Depiction Equal Endorsement?

Funnily enough, I have never seen Licorice Pizza. Hell, I didn’t even have any interest in doing so and still don’t really. But there is one aspect of it that found out about due to the discourse around the film: the age gap between the two main characters. Having a love (?) story between an adult and a child seems like the kind of creative decision left firmly in the early 90s, and for good reason, as it created a cloud of controversy around the film for months.

Broey Deschanel’s video looks at Licorice Pizza and tries to see if the film itself endorses this relationship through the filmmaking techniques used within it. But that’s not even the main reason I dig this video. I love it because she goes beyond this movie and looks at other films with age-gap relationships and how they portray them. It was fascinating to have aspects of films I saw long ago, or only knew about vaguely, pointed out and see the effects those choices in shot composition and color grading made on my perception of the characters. She’s made a lot of great videos, this year especially, but I think this look at such a Taboo topic was a compelling enough watch for me to put above the rest.

Folding Ideas – Line Goes Up – The Problem With NFTs

What is there left to say about this video that dozens of other, likely smarter, people haven’t already said? This video, released at the start of the year, months before the NFT trend truly reached its peak and sharp decline, helped me fully understand what NFTs actually were in a tangible way. But not only was it an effective explainer, but it also showed just why NFTs are bad. The crypto community is a uniquely bizarre and terrifying beast, and Dan Olson is a great travel guide to journey through the madness with. By now, the NFT boom really has blown up, so if you wanna know why it was never destined to stick around, this is probably the perfect video to describe why.

F.D Signifier – Drake and the Death of Hip Hop

I have such a weird relationship with Drake. I could name a dozen or so of his earlier songs that I absolutely love, and I could probably recite a bunch of his earlier features and tracks from memory. Hell, the other night at karaoke with friends, I knew his verse on ASAP Rocky’s Fuckin Problems by heart. But in the last few years, really ever since he released Views, I’ve been more annoyed with him that not. He’s become the poster child for a certain kind of toxic male that makes me cringe, which is wild because one of Drake’s distinguishing traits initially was his sensitivity. Well, he has been trying to separate himself from that persona, or at least just trying complicate that image.

That’s why I love this video from FD Signifyer so much. He chronicles the rise and not-quite fall of the artist, shows why Drake might suffer from some of the insecurities that he seems to have, and shows how the landscape of hip hop itself shifted to even allow an artist like Drake to be so successful in this genre. Most of this story is history I was alive for, so I wouldn’t say this video revealed anything new to me, but it did lay out events and draw connections between them in a way that crystallized a lot of my feelings on Drake overall. Sure, FD has had loads of more important videos on his channel this year, including his excellent videos on the Manosphere, Barack Obama’s legacy, and the fetishization of black men. But I gotta shine light on the Drake video because it just hits differently for me.

Vivian Strange – In Defense of CinemaSins

I’ve been on the internet for a long ass time. So, without having ever seen a video from the channel, I am well aware of CinemaSins. Their “Everything Wrong” series is iconic to the point where I know the ionic dig and error counter exclusively through dozens of parodies of their style. Because of this, though, I only knew CinemaSins as a negative entity and assumed they were only popular due to their snarky tone and willingness to nitpick movies for no good reason. So, I never cared to change that perception for several years.

But then I came across this video by Vivian Strange and it really made me second-guess my view of CinemaSins. I’ll be honest, It’s not like I’m a diehard stan of their content now, but it did provide some missing context and introduce a new perspective to look at their content through. There are dozens of massively popular things on the internet that I write off just so I never have to think about it alongside all of the other content on here, but this video got me to ease up a bit on that mindset, because I may be missing out on something good. And speaking of something good, while Vivian Strange is a relatively new face in this space, she already has dozen or so videos that are at least at the same quality, so it might be a good idea to get in now so you can say you knew about her first when she blows up.

The Penultimate Conquest – How Solarpunk Fiction Envisions a Better Tomorrow

Speaking of smaller channels, here’s another one that I am admittedly biased for. This is from The Penultimate Conquest, and specifically from Cristian Macias, someone who has guested on VGU.TV content and has had me on their own content in the past. But even if I never knew the guy, I’d still add this video to my list. This is the kind of video essay that put words to concepts I’ve been thinking about for a long time now. For the first few months of the year, thanks to the climate nihilism of 2021’s Don’t Look Up and the beautiful nature of Horizon: Forbidden West, I had been thinking a lot about how humanity treats its permanent home of Earth. Last year’s film fed my negativity about our current ecological situation, but Horizon gave me a sense of hope, but I didn’t quite know why until watching this video.

I had never heard the phrase Solarpunk until watching this video, but I’ll be damned, that is exactly the best word for what that is. I love imagining a world where high technology and digital innovation don’t necessarily have to be the enemy of nature and our environment, but so little of the media out there is willing to show me an image of the future like this. But this video not only defines that future but shows a list of examples that I’m now eager to check out. I mean, I knew I was slacking by never having watched a Hayao Miyazaki movie and sleeping on Citizen Sleeper, but this video motivated me to check out both even sooner than I was planning to. Christan has been making video essays for a few months, and I’ve been noticing the progress here and there, but this shows just how good he’s gotten with it, so it definitely deserves a shout-out here.

Daryl Talks Games – A Misguided Guide To Finishing Your Gaming Backlog

Something that I have been increasingly self-conscious of as the year ends is the fact that I just haven’t completed many games this year. Hell, I haven’t even played that many games this year, completion be damned. But despite this, I haven’t slowed down on buying games. Even with me maintaining my PlayStation Plus and Xbox Game Pass subscriptions, my recent purchase of a Steam Deck has led to me buying so many more Steam games than I could ever complete. My backlog, including several releases from 2022 that I still have yet to beat, has been a slowly growing stressor in the back of my head, and it’s something that has actively soured my time playing the games I do get around to playing lately.

So this video from Daryl Talks Game was very cathartic for me, especially coming so late in the year, right as I was procrastinating on beating God of War Ragnarok. Daryl talks about his own journey in organizing and tackling his own backlog, and his experiment leads to some unexpected results. But also, this video really focuses on why folks even care enough to keep backlogs anyway, and why they can sometimes harm our relationships with games. The video feels like both a locker room pep talk to motivate me to check off some games I’ve put on the back burner while also being an informative look at why I’m doing all of this in the first place. So, if you have a bunch of games you’ve been meaning to get around to, definitely check this one out.

The Golden Bolt – PlayStation All-Stars Retrospective: The Failure That Changed Everything

I understand that this article may get a lot of views from folks who have no idea who I am. So, let me make one thing clear: I am exactly the kind of weirdo that likes PlayStation All-Stars way more than any game in the Super Smash Bros franchise. I’m not so far gone that I can’t admit that the game has several fundamental issues, but I still love it very dearly. But no one seems to take my love of the game, or really even the game itself, seriously, as it is often dismissed as nothing more than the failed Smash clone it honestly was.

But thank God for The Golden Bolt for this video. He’s made videos on the game in the past, and he makes great content in general, including his fantastic retrospective on the Ratchet and Clank series, but this video is my favorite of his yet. It manages to have a near documentarian level of research and detail into the development and public reception of the game but also has a very personal perspective on all of the events, as Bolt was one of the more notable fans of the game during its heyday. This video will probably always stand as the definitive video on the legacy of PlayStation All-Stars, and whether you’ve never heard of the game or prayed for a sequel daily like me, it is certainly worth a watch.

FUNKe – EVEN MORE Movement FPS

Here’s another thing you may not know about me if you are new here: My favorite game of all time is Titanfall 2. I love shooting things and I love going fast, so a game that lets me do both and rewards me for doing so handsomely was destined to be a beloved game of mine. But despite the critical acclaim and passionate fanbase, its fast-paced combat never really caught on. Or, actually, it never really caught on in a mainstream way.

In the indie and AA scenes, shooters have been getting so much faster. For every Metro Exodus, there’s an Ultrakill, and for every Call of Duty Modern Warfare, there’s a Dusk. Movement shooters have risen in popularity over the last few years, and FUNKe has been one of the biggest names on YouTube covering the trend. His production values are top-notch, and he understands this subgenre well enough to make great observations on these games, but I gotta be honest: I added this video mostly because it satisfies my niche interests too perfectly. I guarantee there’s no other YouTuber out there at this level willing to devote nearly half of a 40-minute video to the modern Shadow Warrior games. That is just absolutely my shit, and maybe if you check out the video, you might come back with a few cool shooters to check out yourself. The movement FPS is truly one of my favorite genres and I hope this video series introduces it to many more people.

Quality Culture – Kendrick Lamar: Deconstructing a Culture of Trauma

Kendrick Lamar dropped his latest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, this year and we’ve been talking about it in the months since its release. It’s his first project in several years, plus its subject matter is so deep & deadly serious compared to many other rap albums this year. As a massive Kendrick fan myself, I wrote an exhaustive review of the album and reviewed all of his prior projects in the lead-up to this release. But the scope of all my work was too narrow to outline the story of Kendrick’s creative progression as this video from Quality Culture.

This is another video that doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, which would have been hard for any video to do considering my love for this artist. But much like FD Signifiers’ video on Drake, this video draws a line between Kendrick’s public perception and pressure early in his career to his current position in hip-hop culture and the themes on his latest album. It serves as a nostalgic look back on his discography while also giving a bit of insight of his current mindset. It’s a really solid video, and it was actually my introduction to the channel, which has several solid video essays about everything from a Brendan Frasier classic to my favorite movie of the 2022 .

Karsten Runquist – What Happened to Studio Comedies?

This might be the most basic thing I ever admit, but I love to laugh. So, naturally, comedies are some of my favorite movies out there, but I gotta admit that comedy is more of a side dish than an entrée nowadays. My favorite comedy of all time is Booksmart, but the non-stop hilarity does take small breaks near the end to make room for drama. The Marvel movies are almost comedies as much as they are action movies, with the exception of some like Eternals and The Incredible Hulk. This isn’t a massive issue, but it does mean that pure comedy is not much of a thing anymore, and it’s a trend I never really thought about until I saw this video from Karsten Runquist.

He uses the recently released Barb & Star Go To Del Mar as a lens to look at why movies are so rarely made to only make you laugh nowadays. Even the Seth Rogan style of comedy, of which I adore Sausage Party and This is the End, now has obligatory injections of other emotions, like romance in The Long Shot being a current example. And once again, I enjoy these movies, but the utter insanity of Barb & Star is just something you don’t see anymore. This video tries to get to the bottom of why that is, and why comedy films have a lot of value. It’s a topic I would never put much thought into, but it’s interesting to hear discussed in this very chill video essay.

Noah Caldwell-Gervais – I Beat the Dark Souls Trilogy and All I Made Was This Lousy Video Essay

You already know I had to get another video on here from one of the GOATs of video essays. This year was the year Noah finally got into From Software’s output, and the fruits of that labor, though few and far between, were delicious indeed. But if you don’t know why Noah is such a favorite of video essay enjoyers, you might be wondering why hearing what he has to say on this series of long overanalyzed games is desired at all. Well, what Noah is so great at is portraying both his personal experience with a game and the cultural touchstones and anecdotes about development with equal, excruciating detail.

His videos are some of the only video essays that I feel are a sufficient replacement for playing through a game. He manages to discuss narrative themes in a way that makes you feel that you’ve made the same emotional connection as he did, without even playing the game. He describes gameplay in a manner so detailed that you can imagine yourself on the sticks. In fact, his breakdown of the original Souls trilogy was so effective that I purchased my first From Software game ever with the Dark Souls 1 Remaster. Elden Ring ended up being the first one I actually played (and while Noah did make a video about it as well, allow me to recommend this video from another video essay GOAT, Joseph Anderson), but this video on From’s most famous trilogy is what encouraged me that I can actually have fun with this studio’s output. And as I’ve discussed on other shows this year, I definitely have.

Knowing Better – The Part of History You’ve Always Skipped | Neoslavery

This video from Knowing Better is, admittedly, the only video here that feels more like homework than entertainment. But, as someone who grew up watching the Discovery Channel for fun, I found it as entertaining as I found it informative. Everyone knows that slavery was a thing, especially in the United States. And I think now more than ever, most of us are aware that the repercussions of slavery are still being felt today. I knew all of that too, but this video, once again, paints a narrative that assembles all of these facts into one massive timeline that shows nakedly just how long-lasting and obvious the injustices of today and the recent past are. It’s a video so densely packed with important information and context that I’m sure it’ll be shown in a few colleges or even high school classes. And while it may feel like eating your vegetables to watch, you should still eat your damn vegetables.

Jacob Geller – Fear of Cold

Jacob Geller is another name that was on the previous list, but this year I chose a video from him that has very little to do with video games. Every now and then, he’ll write about random fears one could have, and in this entry in that series, he talks about the most terrifying aspects of the concept of cold. He does manage to sneak some discussion of Frostpunk in there, but most of the video is about real-world stories, books, and movies about folks battling the most frigid and unforgiving element of nature. The video feels like sitting around a campfire hearing ghost stories, except the ghost here is something we all know very well, especially for those of us on the east coast who had to deal with that nasty cold front. Jacob is an excellent writer, plus his production values are getting more and more top-tier, so hearing him flex his abilities outside of video games was indeed a treat.

Sarah Z – The Horrifying Panopticon of West Elm Caleb

Oh look, Sarah Z is on the list once again! Well, while she had many videos I loved this year, like her videos on Sacrificial Trash, Geek Culture, and the movie Idiocracy, her video on West Elm Caleb is by far my favorite and one of the videos I’ve thought about longest when not watching it. It has the blend of what I expect from her content, a breakdown of a niche internet phenomenon, but accompanies that with a look at a pretty frightening new side effect of existing online. 

It has everything one could crave from a video essay, messy, though ultimately irrelevant, personal drama, a viral conspiracy or two, and a heaping helping of existential dread. The idea of having to be “perfect” on the internet is something I often think about, especially now that I’m apparently at least a V-list internet personality. I have certainly said some things I regret online, and some of those things aren’t even from that long ago. Even now I might do something awkward or outta pocket for the sake of a joke. To think that any of that could end up being what defines me to millions of people at any given time is certainly a bit terrifying, so hearing Sarah Z, and her co-writer Emily, break down these things was very cathartic for me.

Action Button – action button reviews boku no natsuyasumi

I haven’t been organizing all these videos into a properly ranked order because I honestly don’t love playing favorites, especially when video essays are largely personal works. But my one exception to that loose rule is this video right here: the Action Button review of Boku No Natsuyasumi. This is a game I only vaguely know about thanks to ThorHighHeels’ video on Mysterious PS3 Games last year, so I was excited to learn a lot more about this game. But this video ended up being so much more than just a simple review of a simple Japanese PS1 game.

I’ve watched some of Tim Rogers’ content in the past. I watched the Action Button review of The Last of Us and most of his review of Doom, and I even saw a few of his videos from back on Kotaku. But while I appreciated his style, I never really got excited about watching his stuff. But when I saw this game as a topic, I jumped in and, 6 hours later, I was sobbing. This video uses the tranquility of the Japanese countryside and the nostalgia of childhood memory that the game plays with as a jumping-off point to discuss the very concept of memory, nostalgia, and the act of living a life “correctly”. This video is so much deeper, so much more tender, so much more emotionally moving than it had any right to be or I ever even expected from Tim Rogers. It caught me totally off guard and was the only other video essay that made me cry this year (the other being CJ the X’s Bo Burnham vs. Jeff Bezos video, which absolutely should have been on my list last year).

I’ve thought about this video so much over the last few months, and it really does feel like one of those videos that might have changed, or at least deeply enriched, my life a bit. I’m grateful to have seen this video, and I hope whoever is reading this at least checks it out, even if you don’t watch anything else. And yes, I know 6 hours is a long time, but I swear it’s engaging enough for it to blow by pretty quickly. Plus, hey, you can just watch it in parts anyway!

FIN.

And that’s all I have for you all this year. There were a lot of great video essays this year, and even though I probably spent more time watching YouTube and Nebula (😉) than consuming pretty much any other kind of media, I don’t feel like I wasted my time at all. I played only a handful of video games, barely watched any movies, and watched almost no new TV shows. But the entertainment I got from these independent creators and collectives has given me much to enjoy, think about, and act on going forward. Though, by next year, I hope to have even more new names on this list, as repeating the same few faces is not a habit I want to keep up too much.

Before I get outta here though, allow me to share two YouTube playlists. This first one is of every video I’ve mentioned in this article, including several that I cut but loved anyway. You should find even more new and familiar faces there compared to this list. And this last playlist is my personal list of my favorite video essays of all time, regardless of release year or topic of discussion. If all of these great video essays aren’t enough for you, then first off, seek help, but also enjoy this playlist of 100 video essays that I will forever vouch for. I do update it every now and then with new entries replacing old ones, so feel free to come back to it every few months or so.

Thank you for taking the time to check out my article! Hope you came away with a new favorite channel and I hope you all have a great 2023.

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