When Roxanne Parsons was six years old, her mum noticed that she would narrate her daily life. "She would fill in the silence, like, 'Look at that outside the window,' and, 'That's so great,'" explains Emma, Roxanne's mum. "It wasn't really until a bit later that I realised what she was doing – she was acting like she was on a YouTube channel."
Like many children, Roxanne has grown up with YouTube, and Emma says her daughter has only watched terrestrial TV "a handful of times in her whole life". It's unsurprising that the schoolgirl, now ten, would like to be a YouTuber. "The thing I'm nervous about is putting her face out there," says Emma, who hasn't yet allowed Roxanne to create a channel. Thankfully, there is another option. For the last few months, Roxanne has been playing the simulation game Youtubers Life OMG!
Released on Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch in November of 2018, Youtubers Life OMG! is the kind of thing people like to hold up as a sign of the impending apocalypse, clutching their "I don't want to live on this planet anymore!" memes like pearls. Yet despite the disparagement, the game – which is like The Sims, but instead of drowning your character in a pool, you try to make them into a famous vlogger – has sold over a million copies. Like it or not, Youtubers Life OMG! reveals a lot about modern life.
The game opens with a cut scene in which a successful YouTuber talks about how successful they are. "I manage my own network," is the third line the player reads in the game – naturally, the young audience know exactly what this means. From there, you choose your character's appearance and select from six personality types, one of which is simply "Loaded". For a few years now, money has substituted for personality on YouTube – videos titled "I spent $10,000 on…" thrive, while Jake Paul – the second highest earning YouTuber in 2018 – has a song (a song that has been viewed 28 million times) featuring the lyrics "Gucci, Louis, Prada, it's a habit".
Newspaper articles that proclaim every child wants to be a YouTuber presume it's this fame and fortune that appeals; in January of 2018, the Metro ran an article entitled "Children now more likely to want to become YouTubers than actors." In reality, kids have slightly different motivations – ones that are reflected in Youtubers Life OMG!
What makes being a YouTuber such a cool job? "Because you can play games all day," answers eight-year-old Spencer Parker. Five of the top ten earning YouTubers in 2018 were men who streamed themselves playing video games, and as such, thousands of young boys have a new ambition.
"You get to play the PlayStation and you get to play the new Spiderman game, and I like getting subscribers," says nine-year-old Samuel Ironmonger, when asked what makes YouTube life so appealing. His older brother Nathaniel, ten, agrees: "I can have fun playing the games I like to play."
If you choose to become a gaming YouTuber in Youtubers Life OMG! things quickly become very meta. Within the game, you must buy a game, play the game on your in-game console, record yourself and upload the footage to your channel. You then look at a computer screen within your console screen and drag and drop clips as though really editing a video. Your missions include upgrading your equipment and buying more video games. "It's a bit tricky," says Roxanne.
Just how many children want to be YouTubers is up for debate – a widely-cited survey puts it at 75 percent, but closer inspection reveals this was a survey of just 1,000 kids undertaken by a travel firm. Bloomberg claims a third of children aged six to 17 would like to be a full-time YouTuber, while a comprehensive study of 13,000 British primary school children undertaken by the Education and Employers charity found 6 percent of kids wanted to work in social media or gaming.
Regardless of the exact figure, it's enough that Youtubers Life OMG! was a no brainer for developers Raiser Games. "It was an idea that rose to the top while looking for genres for a tycoon game," says Quim Garrigós, the development director of Youtubers Life OMG! While 90s kids could be nurses in Theme Hospital or construction managers in RollerCoaster Tycoon, today's wannabe YouTubers can play as other, pixelated, wannabe YouTubers. "Some of the team members are parents to young children that were paying attention to the YouTuber phenomenon, so it clicked really quickly," adds Garrigós.
Again, this is something that's widely seen as grim. "Gone are the days when children dreamed of becoming doctors and nurses – today's children want to become YouTubers and vloggers," spluttered the Daily Mail in 2017. Yet, in reality, kids are (almost unnervingly) pragmatic about their ambitions.
"If I did [become a YouTuber], I'd also have a side job, because you never know when something could be taken down," says ten-year-old Roxanne, demonstrating an understanding of both Google Adsense and YouTube's demonetisation strategy. "You need to make sure that you can always get out and make other money as well."
Oliver, a nine-year-old whose mother asked that he is identified just by his first name, is similarly realistic. "Of course I will have a good job as well, not just YouTube," says the wannabe-streamer. Spencer's mother Rachel says her son also has additional ambitions. "Recently he's wanted to be an environmental scientist. He wants to clear the oceans of plastic waste," she says.
Andy Gardner has been a careers adviser for 33 years. "A colleague of mine keeps a list of the career titles he's never heard of," Gardner says, explaining that technology means jobs are changing rapidly. Yet despite hearing more kids talk about YouTube, Gardner – who works in two state sixth forms in north London and sees around 500 teenagers every year – reiterates that young people are pragmatic. "My experience of it is not that people are obsessed with becoming YouTubers, it's almost like a creative hobby people have, and they're doing it alongside other things," he says.
YouTubers Life OMG! also helps promote this realism. In the game, you are forced to study, or else your mum (a frightful woman with green lipstick that matches her dress) will punish you. Before your channel becomes successful, you also have to earn money through part-time work – your options include shoe shining, delivering papers, helping your grandma or washing cars.
This – combined with the fact that many parents don't want to allow their kids to have a real YouTube channel – might explain the game's success. "They have asked, lots and lots and lots of times, if they can do YouTube videos – but I've never actually let them yet," says Theresa Ironmonger, mother of Nathaniel and Samuel. "I feel like they are too young – and too sensitive – to deal with the onslaught of general public nastiness that floats around the internet. I feel like it's my job to gate-keep until I think they can handle negativity in a safe way."
So is Youtubers Life OMG! really something we should disparage? Apart from a missing apostrophe, the game is mostly inoffensive. If anything, it suffers from being too realistic (I have 22 subscribers and have earned $3 in ad revenue). Dr Elnaz Kashefpakdel, head of research at Education and Employers (the charity that undertook the study that found 6 percent of kids want to work in social media) says we have to start accepting that times are changing.
"Children in primary schools are the next generation of our employees and leaders – how can we ignore the fact that internet and technology are going to be the building block of their career?" she says. "The conventional school-to-work transition is no longer the norm. Routes to the labour market are now very diverse and there is no right or wrong. Families and schools should be open about this and help broaden aspirations and instil the idea that anything is possible."
Gardner – who has three former pupils who went on to make a living as YouTubers – agrees, and says even part-time YouTubing can impress when it comes to getting apprenticeships. "If people have been making their own YouTube videos, that would go down very well, because it shows initiative, it shows drive," he says.
After our chat, Roxanne's mum Emma decides it's time to let her daughter have a YouTube channel – provided she doesn't show her face. Instead, Roxanne wants to use the channel to showcase her homemade animations. "I wouldn't want, like, face-cam – it costs extra money and I don’t want to cost extra money. All I wanna do is make videos," the ten-year-old says. "I'm very creative in general.”"
Which is all to say: the kids are alright, aren't they? Don’t forget to subscribe!
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.