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YouTube Star PewDiePie Casually Used the N-Word During a Livestream, and Game Developers Have Had Enough

PewDiePie signing copies of his book in 2015.

John Lamparski/Getty Images

Swedish YouTube superstar Felix Kjellberg, better known by his alias PewDiePie, who last made headlines when Google and Disney both cut ties because of his repeated use of anti-Semitic images and language, is up to his old tricks again. This time, as Kotaku reports, he casually used the n-word in a live video game stream to express his dissatisfaction with another player’s actions:

What a fucking n—–! Jeez. Oh, my god, what the fuck? Sorry, but what the fuck? What a fucking asshole! I don’t mean that in a bad way—Jesus, fuck. Why would he do that? Legit, why would he do that?

Here’s the video, notable mostly for Kjellberg throwing his head back in a hearty laugh when he realizes what he just said:

As Gamergate showed, there’s no behavior so vile that other gamers won’t defend it out of tribal solidarity, and Kjellberg’s latest fuckup was no exception. Daily Caller contributor Ian Miles Cheong was the most creative about it, explaining that what we’re seeing on that video—again, a white person calling someone else the n-word, then revising their comment to use the word “asshole,” clarifying that they didn’t mean it “in a bad way,” then laughing at their own folly—was, in fact, just a “heated gaming moment,” and therefore nothing to worry about:

He went on to state that abusing someone with a racial slur because you were mad at what they did in a video game was not evidence of racism:

Some people in the video game industry apparently didn’t find this line of reasoning entirely convincing. Sean Vanaman, co-founder of Campo Santo, the video game studio behind the exquisite Firewatch, announced on Twitter that he would be asking YouTube to remove any PewDiePie content that used footage from his games:

In the tweets that followed, Vanaman explained his reasoning, explicitly referencing a PewDiePie playthrough of Firewatch that racked up 5.7 million views (it was removed from YouTube later in the day):

There is a bit of leeway you have to have with the internet when u wake up every day and write video games. There’s also a breaking point.  I am sick of this child getting more and more chances to make money off of what we make. He’s worse than a closeted racist: he’s a propagator of despicable garbage that does real damage to the culture around this industry. I’d urge other developers & will be reaching out to folks much larger than us to cut him off from the content that has made him a millionaire. Furthermore, we’re complicit: I’m sure we’ve made money off of the 5.7 million views that video has and that’s something for us to think about.

The legal issues surrounding Vanaman’s decision to stop letting Kjellberg use Campo Santo content aren’t clear cut, however. Video game streamers believe that, as long as they are adding commentary, their reuse of game content falls under fair use, an argument that’s never had its day in court. In practice, YouTube makes it difficult to defend a Digital Millenium Copyright Act takedown request on the grounds of fair use, but PewDiePie is their biggest star: his YouTube channel has 57 million subscribers. (By way of comparison, Justin Bieber’s only got 31 million.) A lawsuit could establish legal precedents that might make it difficult to stream games in the future, so Vanaman closed by reassuring other video game streamers—the ones who aren’t in the habit of throwing racial slurs around, anyway—that whatever action Campo Santo takes, he’s not interested in shutting them down:

Kjellberg, who was already making as much as $1.4 million a month back in 2014, has been keeping a low profile since the news broke, and so far has not commented on his latest PR crisis. Still, he hasn’t been entirely silent: His most recent video, which argues that this year’s hurricane season is nothing out of the ordinary and shouldn’t be politicized, was posted earlier Sunday. It already has more than two million views.