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The Untold Truth Of TotalBiscuit

Browse over to YouTube today and you'll find no shortage of video game critics doing all of those things you find obnoxious. It's all there: everything from the ten-minute videos about two seconds of news, to the phrase "smash that like button," to the ultra-clickbaity titles with question marks that can usually be answered with the word, "no." Aside from a few standouts, it can seem like everyone is seizing upon an opportunity to gain traffic without offering anything substantive in return.

TotalBiscuit — otherwise known as John Bain — was one of those standouts. So much so, in fact, that he won a Trending Gamer Award in 2014 for his immensely popular video game coverage.

Whether it was on his YouTube channel, on his (now-defunct) website, or on his Co-Optional podcast, TotalBiscuit aimed to provide what he called "honest and informative commentary." He had over 2 million YouTube subscribers, and built up a loyal and devoted following by both talking about and playing video games. But he was also a lightning rod of controversy throughout his career. Below, we dig deep into the untold truth of TotalBiscuit.

Visa issues separated him from his family

In 2005, TotalBiscuit met the woman he eventually married — Genna — at BlizzCon, an event centered around Blizzard games. The two married in the United Kingdom, with the plan being that TotalBiscuit would eventually move to the United States to live with his wife and stepson. Genna and her son, Orion, went back home to the US, and TotalBiscuit completed what he believed to be the necessary paperwork for his US visa.

Unfortunately, something went awry. TotalBiscuit was stopped by Homeland Security after landing in Los Angeles in 2008 and spent several hours being searched, questioned, and eventually, detained. A Homeland Security officer, for whatever reason, had determined that TotalBiscuit should not be allowed in the country, and he was deported back to the United Kingdom. In 2011, when TotalBiscuit revealed the story of his immigration issues, he'd seen his wife twice in the previous two years, and hadn't seen his stepson since 2008.

Fortunately, the situation was worked out. For the last several years, TotalBiscuit resided in North Carolina with his family.

It took him only two years to become a YouTube sensation

Not everyone is destined for online greatness. Some well-meaning content creators upload videos to sites like YouTube with the hopes they'll catch on. Unfortunately, for the millions of eyeballs that the internet provides, a disproportionate number of them watch a small number of personalities. Which is what made TotalBiscuit's ascension into the YouTube elite so remarkable.

In 2010, the financial services company TotalBiscuit worked at went through some downsizing, and he found himself out of a job. He put his experience covering World of Warcraft to work, creating some early videos that quickly found traction with the WoW community. Once he saw how his content was being received, he put all of his focus on creating more videos.

"The popularity of the videos exploded overnight, quite literally," he said.

In just two years' time, he'd taken his YouTube channel from a smaller following to an impressive 800,000 subscribers, providing him with the means to pursue content creation as a career.

He was a defender of Gamergate

The Gamergate controversy is a long and sordid affair. At its worst, the Gamergate community harassed women in the gaming industry for daring to speak out against gender issues in the medium — or even for just being a part of that medium. Never centered around any single leader or goal, the whole incident roiled through the internet in multiple directions in late 2014 and early 2015, before finally fizzling out.

For the most part, major outlets condemned the movement. But one public and vocal defender of it was none other than TotalBiscuit. Now, to be clear, one tendril of the broader Gamergate movement was relatively benign: a critique against media outlets for being too close with their sources in the industry. The inciting incident of the entire movement was the revelation (later debunked) that a female developer's game had been favorably reviewed by her boyfriend at Kotaku. Did outlets ever publicly state how close their writers were to the subjects of their articles? If they didn't, then shouldn't they? How close does a writers have to be before they recuse themselves from a subject?

TotalBiscuit came down hard on this latter issue, believing that greater transparency was necessary in gaming journalism. In the process, however, he also mounted a larger defense of the Gamergate movement as a whole, which he seemed to think didn't have a harassment problem. This, in turn, led to a broader backlash against TotalBiscuit himself.

He got very upset when people pushed back on him

The game Titan Souls puts a fresh spin on top-down 2D platformers by essentially turning its boss battles, which all happen one directly after the other, into puzzles. When TotalBiscuit first heard about Titan Souls, he told his fans that he wasn't interested in its premise, stating on Twitter that "Titan Souls is absolutely not for me."

Usually this kind of statement would come and go without much fanfare. Unfortunately, the developer of Titan Souls decided to respond. "TotalBiscuit doesn't like TS. THIS IS THE BEST DAY," said Andrew Gleeson, the game's creator. He then celebrated by posting TotalBiscuit's tweet on his fridge.

TotalBiscuit, who said he'd planned more coverage of the game to explain his reasoning, then stated that he could no longer cover the game because he feared any criticism would be viewed as revenge. His fans, however, did so in his place. They flooded the Titan Souls Steam page with thousands of negative reviews.

This wasn't the first time TotalBiscuit had gotten upset about developer backlash against him. In fact, he had a tendency to get so mad about negative pushback, that his own wife told him, "You care more about what people who hate you on the internet say than what people in your real life — friends and family who like you — think of you." It was an issue he would wrestle with all his life, and only cemented his reputation for being thin-skinned and/or self-obsessed.

He's been a target of harassment and death threats

Being an online personality isn't easy. You'll always have your fans and critics, sure, but there come additional dangers when you have even the slightest sliver of a spotlight on you. One only has to look at the many cases of swatting on Twitch to know that, even streaming a video game for a few thousand people, you could be putting your life at risk.

TotalBiscuit has been the target of numerous attacks online throughout his career. Some has been digs made by other professionals in his space. Others have genuine criticisms of the kind of commentary he provided. But some have crossed the line into the world of being legitimate violent threats.

In 2015, TotalBiscuit responded by taking some time away from social media. "I am tired of the lies. I am tired of the faux morality. I am tired of your shame crusades," he said.

A game's developer tried to censor him after he made a critical video

If you're in the business of making video games, you need to have a thick skin. Some people are going to love your game. Some people are going to hate it. And most of the time, the people who hate your game are going to be much louder than those who like it. Likewise, you have to be prepared for criticism. Professional critics exist in all types of art, and like fans, some will like your work and some won't. The trick is not letting criticism get to you.

It's highly recommended you don't do what the developer of Day One: Garry's Incident did, though. It tried to censor a critic, and in this case, that critic was TotalBiscuit.

TotalBiscuit posted a video about Day One after, believe it or not, being sent a review code by that game's developer, Wild Games. When TotalBiscuit's take on the title wasn't favorable, the company took it personally, and filed a copyright claim on YouTube to have TotalBiscuit's video removed. This unsurprisingly brought on a ton of backlash from TotalBiscuit's fans and the games press at large, and after a few weeks, Wild Games revoked its claim and allowed the video to be published once more.

He exposed a shady YouTube promotional arrangement for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Game companies haven't just battled gamers over microtransactions these past few years. There have been some other major industry controversies, too, and TotalBiscuit is credited with bringing one of them to the forefront. The company at the center of all the drama? It wasn't Electronic Arts or Activision like you might be guessing. It was actually Warner Bros.

In the video game world, early copies of games often go out to press outlets, who then provide early critiques of the game in the form of previews and reviews. But what Warner Bros. did with Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was different. Warner Bros. struck deals with a bunch of YouTubers instead, paying them while also giving them early access to the title. TotalBiscuit, through his connections, found out about the arrangement and put Warner Bros. on blast for the practice.

The situation caused the FCC to get involved, and Warner Bros. and the YouTubers it worked with were forced to publicly disclose their paid relationships.

He called Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons the greatest game he's ever played

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons first released back in 2013, and featured an incredibly unique control scheme along with a very touching story. You controlled two brothers in the game — one younger, one older — with the movement of each character mapped to a different joystick on your controller. And the game's puzzle solving mechanics made use of the two characters extensively, asking you to control their actions in tandem in order to progress.

TotalBiscuit compiled a roundup of what he considered to be the best games of 2013, and Brothers had the distinct honor of being chosen as his top game for the year. But that wasn't all. He made mention of his earlier review of the game, in which he believed that, at the time, Brothers was one of the best games he'd played. At the end of 2013, he felt comfortable doubling down on that belief.

"Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is perhaps the greatest game I've ever played," he stated in the video, citing the game's story and the connection he felt to the characters as reasons for his decision.

He was famously critical of Mass Effect 3 and its DLC

The Mass Effect series — minus Andromeda, perhaps — is often held up as an outstanding achievement in gaming. The original trilogy was reviewed rather favorably, though some did take issue with the ending of Mass Effect 3. It's that very title that TotalBiscuit himself criticized heavily in 2012, though it wasn't because of the way the game wrapped up the story. Rather, it had to do with its DLC.

Before Mass Effect 3's launch, Microsoft's Xbox Live store accidentally leaked a planned DLC for the title called "From Ashes." In this DLC — which was slated to release the same day as the game itself — the Normandy crew would team up with the last remaining Prothean in the universe in order to recover a Prothean artifact. TotalBiscuit believed the DLC content had been cut from the full game so it could be sold separately, and stated that he was canceling his pre-order for Mass Effect 3 in protest.

The DLC came out on launch day as planned, but not before TotalBiscuit's fans had taken BioWare to task for the move, which he and many felt was "bad business."

He revealed his cancer diagnosis in April 2014

It's likely that we've all been touched by cancer at one point or another, whether it's because we know someone who's lost their life to the disease, or because we've battled it ourselves. Hearing about someone diagnosed with cancer never gets easier, however, and in 2014, the video game world was shaken by the news that TotalBiscuit — who is, indeed, a normal guy named John Bain — had discovered a cancerous mass in his colon during a check-up with doctors. According to TotalBiscuit, it was "full blown cancer," and he let his fans know that he would be starting chemotherapy soon.

"Doctors optimistic," he said on Twitter. "Don't make my mistake. Get checked."

And in a tweet that was as classically TotalBiscuit as it could be, he let the world know that he wouldn't be going down without a fight. "I hope you realize just how insufferable I'm going to be when I beat this thing," he told his followers. "Just giving you advanced warning."

He announced his retirement shortly before dying

Fights with cancer can be roller coasters. There are the short-term scares before patients discover that they don't have much to worry about. There are the larger chemotherapy-and-drug-fueled battles that eventually result in full remission and victory. And then there are the types of cancer that seem far less dangerous than they actually are, or those that simply don't respond to any form of treatment.

TotalBiscuit had initially believed that his cancer was beaten, celebrating its remission back in 2015. But in mid-2018, he solemnly reported to his fans — and the video game world at large — that his cancer had returned. And there was a good chance he couldn't beat it again.

"When I went into hospital a week or so ago, it was accompanied by the news that conventional chemotherapy's effectiveness had been exhausted," he said. He added that he was "currently coming to terms with the fact that [he didn't] have long left."

With TotalBiscuit's sad news came another announcement: he would be calling it quits on his YouTube career, feeling that he could no longer put out content that met his bar for quality. He expressed hope that, when he passed, his wife would take over his channels and continue his work.

He died on May 24, 2018.