In August 2013, young Dutch filmmaker Mick Gerards picked a copy of Call of Duty: Ghosts out of a pile of sticky tissues, popped the disc into his console, and started guzzling Mountain Dew and Doritos. He then signed up for a Mountain Dew and Doritos newsletter and began masturbating with his Doritos-caked hand to Amazon listings for Xbox One.
“I was so happy that I got so many people to watch my videos, I even called one of my friends to tell him about it. It was probably the best day of my life,” Gerards told the Kernel. “I continued making these videos since people really enjoyed them, and that is basically how it all started.”
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Two years later, AncientReality is one of the most familiar names in a cinematic microgenre known as montage parodies. What makes a montage parody is defined by a few, and sometimes all, of the following: footage of Call of Duty multiplayer; references to Mountain Dew, Doritos, weed and its advocates, like Snoop and Nate Dogg; blaring and often distorted songs from Linkin Park, Skrillex, Darude, the Sonic soundtrack, and a somber violin instrumental called “Sad Romance,” taken from a Korean TV drama; and sound bites of fired-up tweens shouting into their Xbox headsets about no-scopes and kill streaks.
What they all have in common is the biting satire of modern gaming culture in all its Technicolor, troglodytic horror. Maybe more than any subculture in history, gamers are self-loathing. The more fundamentalist sects loathe attempts to make gaming a diverse and ecumenical medium as rich as film, music and literature, while the progressive massif are fighting hard to unburden gaming from its insular affectations.
Maybe more than any subculture in history, gamers are self-loathing.
Montage parodies lie somewhere between. While they mock gaming’s aggressive tendencies, they’re also made by people steeped in the same. Their tropes are easy enough to discern for anyone who’s seen the hyperactive video game montages, set to aggressive dubstep and nu-metal, that have dominated YouTube for years, corporatized by the highlight reels packaged by esports organization de rigeur Major League Gaming.
As its name suggests, MLG is the MLB of video games, the multimillion dollar infrastructure through which any Counter-Strike player has dreamed of passing on the path from hobby to career. However, while the hypermasculinity of football players showing off in exaggerated highlight packages is generally accepted as the status quo, because MLG is trying to package computer nerds as elite athletes, the reels have become a ripe target for its self-conscious audience.
“In the beginning, montage parodies were real easy to make and were supposed to have bad editing. That was the joke, after all,” Gerards said. “But over time they became more and more popular and more people started making them. Because of this, most videos started to look the same, and people tried new, better things.”
Most montage parodies are virtually unintelligible, but some of the best, like “The Magic Weed Bus,” are almost coherent.
While others parody montage parodies themselves, “The Faze Clansman,” posted on Reddit with the provocative title “Is this the first EVER montage? [Found Film]” features a Call of Duty montage in sepia tone, sound-tracked by ragtime-style covers of “Bangarang,” “Sandstorm,” and the X-Files theme.
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One of the things that makes AncientReality’s montage parodies stand out in this hectic scene is his use of original footage, combined with a warped imagination.
“In the beginning, montage parodies were real easy to make and were supposed to have bad editing. That was the joke, after all.”
Sometimes he’ll take video-game dialogue as a prompt. In “How 2 become a wizard,” when one of the Weasley twins asks Harry Potter for some “beans” for “experiments,” AncientReality makes a vile jelly-bean concoction that takes him on a rampage around the neighborhood.
In his Hotline Miami parody, AncientReality takes the influence of Drive on the game further by portraying himself as the silent, violent protagonist.
“I guess the reason why most of my videos are somewhat original is I want to try something different [for] each video. And for someone who makes these types of videos, it’s not really fun to edit the same thing over and over again,” Gerards said.
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If AncientReality is the Vegeta of montage parodies, Senpai Kush is its Goku. The undisputed Greatest of All Time in some circles, if only for his MLG Mario video, Kush started making videos when he was 14.
“I would spend endless hours on YouTube as a kid. VFX channels like Freddiew inspired me to learn how to edit,” he said. “I would create short action films with my friends with terrible cameras and poor acting.”
Kush made his first montage parody in April 2014: “Kicked in the head by a train (MLG version),” a parody of a viral video showing a man filming himself as a leg sticking out from a passing train collected his face. In August, Kush created “MLG Mario.” It begins like any Super Mario Bros. game, with the orange-and-red plumber sprite running through the two dimensions of the Mushroom Kingdom. Only when he jumps on a pipe, he’s sniped by Bowser.
From there, it becomes a side-scrolling parody of Call of Duty, in which Mario is powered up by the disembodied head of Valve’s Gabe Newell, travels through a pipe of Mountain Dew, transforms into a Runescape wizard, and eventually defeats Bowser.
“The meta was forever changing,” Kush said. “Montage parodies lost their way and had begun to parody themselves. The jokes became less original, and eventually the majority of new content was just a screen shaking vigorously with absurdly loud music, which even I’m guilty of including in some of my videos. That being said, there are still a variety of montage parody creators that produce decent, original content. It was very interesting watching the huge impact the fast growth of the community had on the meta.”
Kush grew tired of montage parody tropes so quickly that it began to take a toll on his own work. Pushed to make something possessed of the originality he wanted to see in other videos, he became a perfectionist.
Montage parodies have a broader legacy to leave as well.
“My own videos were never finished, in my opinion,” Kush said. “There was always something I could add. When I saw mistakes in my uploads it drove me absolutely crazy.” Now, Kush is branching out, working on “a variety of comedy-based VFX videos” to further his editing skills.
“These could potentially still have montage parody elements implemented in them,” Kush told the Kernel. “Only time will tell.”
This is the hidden bonus in montage parodies. Just as MySpace gave kids a shot at learning HTML, montage parodies have put the onus on some folks to learn their way around an editing suite, teaching themselves skills that might turn into a career their moms could be proud of.
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This all culminated last year in a montage parody video game. Titled GAME OF THE YEAR 420BLAZEIT vs xxXilluminatiXxx [wow/10 #rekt edition] Montage Parody The Game, it was created by Australian developer Andy Sum.
“I just had this idea for the game sitting in my head for months and months,” he said. “It was something I was really interested in making for my own amusement, and I thought the people at r/montageparodies would enjoy it.”
Sum cites quick edits and thick collages of memes as the reason montage parodies first appealed to him: “As silly as it sounds, there’s actually a high level of sophistication and intelligent humor to some of these videos. They make references to multiple icons, subvert well-established expectations, and give total sensory overload—all within the span of a few seconds.”
One of those icons is a Belgian performer named Eddy Wally. A two-second clip of him saying “Wowww!” in his distinct accent had become a staple of montage parodies, but last month, r/montageparodies found out Eddy Wally was dying. For a forum whose comedic heartline is mockery, the tributes were surprisingly sincere. “He will be missed as a great character in the MLG community, and as a great person IRL. When he dies, I can guarantee his meme will still be thriving in the community,” wrote one commenter.
So while Wally might have been renowned in the last century for his hit songs and flamboyant outfits, he will live on through the current generation as the “Wowww!” guy. Montage parodies have a broader legacy to leave as well. They’ve gazed so deeply through the looking glass that subreddits like r/montageparodiesparodies have enough material to sustain themselves.
The snake is eating its own tail, of course, and it can only be a matter of time before it reaches the neck. As gaming’s brotacular memes cease to be relevant to a new wave of gamers, the community is running out of things to parody. It’s telling that the most common games to parody are aging franchises; they’re becoming as stale as jokes about other masculine artifacts like Michael Bay and Nickelback. Everyone got the point, and now gaming is moving on.
Maybe one day the only thing left will be these videos, commentary and commemoration at once, of a point in gaming history best left forgotten.
A version of this story was originally published on the Daily Dot on Aug. 12, 2015.
Illustration by Max Fleishman