The show's host, Brian David Gilbert, adopts a conspiratorial mien throughout the series, which adds to the humor. (Image via Polygon)

The Lore and Esoterica of the Video Game Universe, ‘Unraveled’

The YouTube series presents video-game worlds as conspiracy theory, making far-flung gaming information funny and interesting.

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The YouTube series presents video-game worlds as conspiracy theory, making far-flung gaming information funny and interesting.

With all of the available video-game content on YouTube, deciding what to watch can be a pain. The sheer number of videos means that there’s an inevitable variety in quality. Balancing information about the game with actual entertainment is a trick that not all content creators have mastered. Never fear, however — there is one show that can navigate the complex esoterica of any game while not losing sight of the need to entertain: “Unraveled.”

“Unraveled” is a video series hosted by Brian David Gilbert (BDG) that tackles topics of obscure video game lore. Each 15-minute episode addresses one piece of lore from one video-game canon, exploring the topic to a greater depth than may seem possible. The point behind the show is not education, however, but rather entertainment. “Unraveled” videos are all about how this arcane video-game lore is presented to the audience.

The Episodes

The first “Unraveled” episode focuses on the timeline of “Legend of Zelda” stories. As a flagship game for Nintendo, there have been a number of Zelda games for many different consoles. There have even been board games and comic books and game watches. BDG dives deep into the lore of the various games in order to interpret which story comes first and how many different timelines are implied by the various stories.

This process involves laying out the title of each “Zelda” story on a giant bulletin board, creating a rough order and general hierarchy. As BDG does this, he provides commentary about each title, growing increasingly frenetic as his board grows increasingly disordered. As he proceeds, he sheds articles of clothing and introduces wild concepts, like a “time break,” in order to explain the Zelda universe. The end product is more raving than intellectual discussion, which is what makes the series spectacularly fun to watch.

Another installment of “Unraveled” compares the stories of “Sonic the Hedgehog” that appear in video games to the original lore from the inception of the character. In this video, BDG takes his theorizing to the extreme, creating a cult of the true Sonic despite never having played one of these games.

Other episodes deal less explicitly with game lore than with real-life ramifications of game methodology. One video focuses on all of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations in every level of the new “Super Smash Bros.” While this has little to do with expanding knowledge of the universe of this game, it does allow for rigorous analysis of the available levels and the hallmark frenetic presentation of “Unraveled.”

Other episodes follow BDG as he reads through the 337 set-decoration books from “Skyrim,” ranks the robots from the “Mega Man” series, identifies the hottest monster from “Castlevania,” looks at the story of “Kingdom Hearts” through the lens of the hero’s journey, calculates the best game of the year using science and math and establishes the military hierarchy of bad guys in “Mario.”

So What Makes “Unraveled” Interesting?

Deep-dives into esoteric video-game content sound unapproachably academic, as if this show were aimed at a scholarly audience.

Yet the “Unraveled” videos are able to make even the opaque entertaining and approachable for a wide audience.

Host

Part of the credit for this should go to the series’ host, BDG. He handles various roles, from cult leader to safety inspector, with panache and makes the conceit of the videos even more believable. Yet his performance isn’t polished, resulting in a lead character that is at once entertaining and approachable.

Moments where he breaks the fourth wall to talk to producers add not only to the entertainment value but also help to establish the (pseudo) veracity of the video. The more real the content seems, the more real BDG’s descent into raving conspiracy theorist seems, and the more entertaining it is.

BDG also occasionally lets the audience in on the difficult process of interpreting all of this lore, which helps to make the material more accessible. Though he begins each episode in business attire, the strain of processing all of this information often leads to shedding jackets and loosening ties. If even BDG must strain to tackle these weighty topics, then it’s okay for the audience to as well.

Network

The “Unraveled” series is produced for Polygon, a website from Vox Media that features video-game content — reviews, news, features and guides about video games new and old. In addition to written articles, Polygon also generates video content for a corresponding YouTube channel. Their video team is responsible for well-known series like “Monster Factory” and “FMV Quest,” and is also the origin for two of the three McElroy Brothers.

With such illustrious history, it’s no surprise to find continuing video content out of Polygon that is truly captivating. While BDG might not yet be a household name, his work for Polygon demonstrates his talent and knowledge and suggests that it soon will be.

Style

Part of what makes “Unraveled” unique is that it treats video-game lore much like conspiracy theories. BDG’s conjectures hinge upon the intricate minutiae of the world, much of which requires significant outside reading to notice. Drawing from obscure and potentially irrelevant facts, BDG then cuts out labels and images by hand from print outs and pins them to a large wall. The end effect is not dissimilar to the images of conspiracy theorists with yarn-connected news cutouts and clues.

In addition to the set decoration, much of the “conspiracy theory” vibe is a result of BDG’s delivery. He inserts more emotion as the video progresses, getting angrier and louder with each new piece of esoterica. As the board behind him grows incomprehensible, BDG himself grows increasingly unhinged, taking the audience with him in his descent.

Language

BDG’s language is also a crucial component of the “Unraveled” videos. Little intentional stutters help sell the idea that he buys into all of these conspiracies. Made-up slang words like “norted” are juxtaposed with the pseudo-academic speak of much of the rest of the script, contributing to the humor.

He even creates songs, like “We Are the Toads,” a protest song in support of the lower levels of Bowser’s military hierarchy, or the jingle he created for his “Skyrim” book report. The attention to the language the he uses and its delivery contribute to the quality of this video series.

Accessibility

At this point I should probably admit that I haven’t played a single game that’s discussed in “Unraveled.” But I think that actually puts me in a unique position to discuss why this series is so valuable and so good. The lore that BDG discusses is information relevant to stories that I don’t know. It should be the case that a deep dive into this lore would be uninteresting because I don’t know the base stories.

Yet the presentation style makes the lore compelling. The fast-paced, conspiracy-theory-style delivery makes for must-watch content. BDG draws viewers in with an awkward charisma and keeps them through the emotionally charged rhetoric that is at once logical and deranged. I leave each video knowing more about the game, maybe more than I had ever intended, which is certainly high praise for a series that isn’t about teaching at all. “Unraveled” makes video game content memorable and approachable no matter what your exposure to the game itself might be.

So for those looking for the best of video game YouTube content, search no further than “Unraveled,” and join BDG in his descent into video game esoterica conspiracy theory frenzy.

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