By the time I get this blog post up, you’ll have probably heard about the supposed leaking of the TF2 and CSGO source code on a certain imageboard that at this rate will probably haunt everything I write about. This anonymous leak is widely believed to have originated from a friend of Tyler McVicker, better known as the constantly suffering YouTuber Valve News Network. The story that I’ve seen repeated on Twitter is that this friend got removed from a Discord server for being a transphobic arsehole and decided to respond to this by leaking everything he was shared with the wider internet – presumably in an attempt to ruin McVicker’s career. This quite understandably set a small corner of the internet ablaze, with TF2 servers going offline due to security concerns and random people on Twitter getting concerningly mad about the whole thing. I’m writing this just after it was revealed that the leaked code was “given to many people in May 2018 by a mentally unstable source who wanted to cause damage to Valve” and that Valve found no reason for players to be alarmed or to avoid using current builds of their games. However, the leaked source code is arguably the least interesting part of the story (or at least it is to me, someone who has documented their love-hate relationship with CSGO in the past and has no intentions of relapsing). The anonymous arsehole behind the leak also dumped chatlogs of Tyler talking to an unconfirmed Valve source, something he apparently shared with multiple close Discord friends. Now I’m not here to play journalist (and trust me you shouldn’t trust this blog for anything like that), but I feel as if these leaked chatlogs give us an interesting glimpse into the experience of being a minor internet personality and the weird power-plays inherent to being a big deal in a community that only five people actively care about.
When I first set about wading through the 2498 lines of Skype messages I was struck by Tyler’s casual mention of having stalkers attempt to scam him. Throughout the logs Tyler was adamant of getting some form of verification from the supposed source, mentioning how he’d been “goofed before” and had false information fed to him by competing YouTubers and other assorted internet weirdos. In one particularly unsettling example, Tyler talked about how one stalker told a friend of his that “she wanted to eat [his] girlfriend and take her place”. This prompted a really relatable reaction from the supposed source – “how do you attract those people [internet stalkers] by doing harm[l]ess opinion videos?”. It’s important to note here that all Tyler does is compile possible information on new Valve games and release videos about said information on YouTube – nothing truly controversial or even that important in the grand scheme of things. However, for a small group of people Tyler’s work is clearly quite important – with competitors attempting to discredit him for material gain and various barely-socialized people trying to use him in order to live out their parasocial fantasies. In the simplest of words, the ‘Half-Life’ obsessives he makes content for are hardcore and do not fuck around – this is probably best illustrated when the source mentions how a fan walked into Valve’s office, impersonated an employee at the reception, and then proceeded to walk around the lower office hallway before security caught on to him. These people have invested a lot of time, love, and energy into a minor community, and as a result of this petty squabbles (like the one that caused this leak) become monumental quite quickly.
Tyler has always struck me as an oddly tragic figure, after all he’s probably best known for that bleak compilation video of him gradually losing faith in ‘Half-Life 3’ ever releasing. This weird sympathy I felt for him was exacerbated by the chat logs – after all, on a fundamental level we have to remind ourselves that Tyler started out as a kid who fell in love with ‘Portal’ and ‘Half-Life 2’ and started a channel based on that love. Throughout the chatlogs he showed a clear enthusiasm for the topic he dedicated his creative output to and he repeatedly mentioned how much he enjoyed his work, even if it came “with it’s cost[s]”. The more that I gazed voyeuristically into his conversation with the supposed Valve developer the more I wished that I wasn’t able to do so. At one stage Tyler asked the source for confirmation that they were legit, stating that he believed them but was skeptical as “not a lot has ever gone well for me”. He later started talking about his dream to produce a documentary on the history of Valve and his aim to eventually get it “made on some official level”. The source then proceeded to direct him towards Valve’s job application website, only for Tyler to say he “wanted to get better at making stuff” before approaching the company. When the source later half-joked about him applying to become a community manager, Tyler started talking about how he was “padding out a resume” in the hopes of getting the job. It’s clear that this minor internet personality was just a deeply enthusiastic fan and it feels really depressing that I’m here writing a post-mortem for their chances to seemingly achieve either dream as opposed to seeing them get realized.
For the longest while there was widespread enthusiasm about the democratizing nature inherent to online media. As Paddy Hoey aptly put it, “unshackled from the constraints of the mainstream media, and with a potentially global audience of billions, Internet utopians shouted that ‘we’re all journalists now’, and that the boundary between established journalism and activism was going to blur significantly”. Now obviously that wasn’t actually the case (after all you’re probably the only person still reading a blog post), however, in niche circles the line between an enthusiast and a typical “journalist” is quite blurred. We may all be journalists now in whatever part of the internet we occupy, but we aren’t properly trained to be one (even if we rake in Discord clout). The mistakes that Tyler made (mainly just trusting Discord friends with sensitive information) are perfectly understandable on a personal level (After all who doesn’t share stuff they’re excited about with friends?), but in cases like these, the consequences go far beyond small ‘Half-Life’ group chats. ‘Valve News Network’ plays an important role in the community it makes content for (and arguably does a better job than any “professional” outlet), however we have to be aware of the fact that the channel is run by a genuine enthusiast and perhaps we should expect him to make genuine mistakes. As any social engineer will tell you, human emotion and excitement are generally the weakest links when you’re messing with people online and when you’re dealing with someone who holds a genuine passion for the topic you’re talking about they may act irrationally as a result of their excitement. At the end of the day, Tyler runs a YouTube channel and not the fecking ‘New York Times’ – perhaps we should take that into account.
When I started to work on this blog post I started ironically texting my friends remarking that Tyler was the internet’s Sisyphus – forced to roll a ‘Half-Life’ shaped boulder up the hills of the internet ad infinitum while the rest of us focused our energy on more important things like getting mad at that scarily large TikTok baby. However, the closer I get to actually finishing this piece the more sense that this dumb comparison makes. Tyler has spent years at the bottom of the hill, scraping at random intentionally leaked strings of code within other Valve games in order to find crumbs of a future ‘Half-Life’ release – even when most of the internet believed it’d never come out. For the last few weeks I’d like to imagine Tyler was close to the top of the hill – after all ‘Half-Life Alyx’ released just a month ago (being the first release in that franchise for over a decade) and it genuinely seemed as if people within Valve appreciated his work. But Zeus had his way and now we’re here, the final paragraph of this weird post-mortem that delayed a mildly interesting interview I was planning to release today. Camus (a man I never understood and actively refuse to understand) stated that “A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future”. Perhaps one must imagine Tyler happy, even if his documentary (or even just a proper ‘Half-Life 3′) will never materialize.