Goodbye, Origins (2016-2022)

A group of youtubers has been making Minecraft roleplays since 2016, and yesterday they officially closed it down. Shortly after I became invested in it, of course! Minecraft roleplays, a form of collaborative storytelling that takes place with Minecraft characters and settings, have piqued my interest for a few different reasons. I like the idea of stories told collaboratively, I love that Minecraft handles the mechanics of animations, and I am fascinated by artists for whom character creation comes easy. (To me, it’s the most terrifying part of writing stories.) On top of all that, I got invested in the voice actors and the plots in the #OriginsMCRP universe.

Yesterday, at the #OriginsIsOverParty on twitter, on youtube, and on Twitch, various content creators gave their perspective on what went well and what was difficult, and I learned a lot from their retrospectives, not just about the experience of making Minecraft roleplays but also the particular challenges of making art on youtube and of building a community.

Minecraft roleplays are not as popular as they were two years ago. Roleplays got a huge boost at the start of the pandemic when people were stuck at home and afraid for the future. Serial episodes came out several times a week, from a variety of perspectives. A fan community grew up, made fan art and fanfiction, and shipped characters. Some of the youtubers — not all — started making a livable income from their roleplays.

Some Origins creators found that content creation caused serious mental health issues. The pressure to always be bigger and better, combined with a general drop in viewership that was completely outside their control, must have been intensely difficult. Other forms of content creation, like playing video games, got more viewers for less work. Some of the Origins folks started leaving the group for jobs or Twitch or mental health breaks. Because it is a collaborative story form, people leaving messed up the storylines that other creators were actively working on, raising the pressure. Meanwhile, some who stayed behind worked hard on “cinematics.” These look amazing but are hand-animated, so they take a lot of time and effort. Sometimes the cinematics delayed the release of episodes, and youtube is not at all forgiving. The dreaded “youtube algorithm,” which ranks and recommends videos, penalizes breaks.

Let me take a moment here to rant about the youtube algorithm. This impersonal and ever-changing set of automated rules has a direct impact on folks’ livelihoods and also often on their perception of whether they are crafting good or bad content. They have to constantly watch the analytics to see how they are doing.

That’s deadly to art.

I’m impressed with what these folks managed to create even despite those hurdles, and I hope they will keep making roleplays or some other form of collaborative storytelling, and I hope they will end up being compensated for their work.

Shout outs to @CrazyMtch42, @Captain_Froggie, @FourOhFourEnt, @nayaVT, @plulesser, and all the rest. Keep telling stories.

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