Yes. Yes it is.
Okay that’s it, folks —article over. Cue author bio. My work here is done.
Still here, I see? Okay, I totally get it. Comedy is inherently subjective, and how are you to know that my taste in humor matches your own? Monster Factory is like a hilarious virus. Despite the first episode debuting just over a year ago, for some reason, my social media feeds seem to have only recently been infected. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen countless posts about the series, from everyone from people I know in real life to creators I admire and curators/critics whose tastes I have come to trust. Surprisingly, each post seemed drenched in hyperbole. People didn’t just like the series, it was the funniest thing ever (their emphasis, though admittedly mine as well now). Binge-watching was an apparent theme, as was genuine, side-splitting laughter. “You have to watch it,” they intoned in an almost cult-like manner. Because of this (and despite more pertinent priorities) I decided to check the series out. “Just one episode won’t hurt,” I told myself. Alas, it was too late—the virus had spread.
In short, Monster Factory is an unfathomably funny web series created by brothers and podcast purveyors Griffin and Justin McElroy, in which the two “breathe life into beautiful creatures, using games with robust character creation tools, and go on grand adventures with them.” It’s an admittedly simplistic premise, albeit one that belies just how entertaining the series is. Beyond funniness and entertainment, there’s something genuinely special about the series—something that I struggled to identify myself and which has ultimately led to this article.
I have quite honestly never consistently laughed at anything more than I laughed at Monster Factory. And not just the sharp, but ultimately silent exhale of breath that is typically depicted by exaggerated acronyms (LOL, ROFL, etc.). No, this was real laughter; ab sculpting, tear jerking, breath robbing, wake-your-neighbours-up-at-3am laughter that leaves you feeling like you actually might die. While I think of it, a warning: the consumption of food and drink during a Monster Factory episode should be reserved only for those with a death wish (or at least a splash proof computer/mobile device).
What makes the show so damn funny? After all, it’s just two brothers creating weird characters using in-game creation tools (with a few console commands, editors and mods thrown in), isn’t it? Well, first and foremost, the charisma, chemistry, and comedic timing of Griffin and Justin are nothing short of phenomenal and an absolute joy to be part of. While I grew up as a content only child who allegedly used to tell my parents that they weren’t allowed to have other kids, relationships like the McElroys’ and the Burches’ (from similarly amazing comedy series HAWP) have left adult-me longing for the cool gamer sibling I never had. The McElroys’ relationship and shared child-like wonder is as amusing as it is endearing.
I think that’s the driving force of Monster Factory: nostalgia. The feeling I get when I watch Griffin and Justin’s delightful shenanigans mirrors my own experiences as a child when faced with something as enticing as a character creation tool. The limitless possibilities those sliders represent, coupled with the overwhelming urge to immediately make everything as extreme as possible (“no middle sliders” is one of the brothers’ many mottos), are something both familiar and revered. The McElroys’ documented journey similarly follows my own, starting with recreations (their first monsters are based on bizarre versions of characters like Squirtle and Garfield) before gaining confidence and developing imaginative characters that take on lives of their own. One of the most fascinating parts of the series is the fact that you see these stories form right in front of your eyes. A single aesthetic change in a character, or unexpected result of a console command, can birth an entire new narrative riff and spawn a rich and engaging world.
An episode of Monster Factory always feels like an adventure, and even when they explore games you think you know like the back of your hand, there are always new insights to be found. For example, did you know that the baby character model used in the opening scenes of Fallout 3 is actually just your chosen adult model shrunk down? Did you also know that, in some Bethesda games, if you attack a shrunken character model it explodes into some sort of horrifying creature cross between Slenderman and the noodle-esque appendages of an Adventure Time character? That’s just one of the strange tidbits I’ve learned from the series, and as always, Griffin and Justin were right there beside me, reacting as soon as I did to an unexpected outcome.
In this way, the predominantly undetermined “Let’s Play” style of Monster Factory is tremendously conducive to its type of humor. As astutely noted in this article on the series by Film Crit Hulk, the brothers’ ability to effortlessly riff on the same (often perplexing) wavelength while simultaneously making their audience feel like they’re in on the joke is an undeniable strength of theirs, and one that shines in this format. However, there are moments of subtle scripting that really bring the story to life, making the characters and their individual narratives resonate with the audience in surprising ways. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a moment in the third Fallout 4 video where I audibly gasped, genuinely affected by a surprise lurking in a baby’s crib.
It was at that moment that I realized that I genuinely care about these Monsters (or “precious children” as fan-artist and MF title card designer catdynamite dubs them), often more so than my own playable protagonist from the same game. With highly customizable characters tending to automatically be silent protagonists by design, it’s refreshing to see them so fleshed out (despite their bizarre complexities). This is particularly true of the serialized multi-part episodes that cover a single Monster’s extended arc in a game, such as Fallout 4’s The Final Pam and Second Life’s The Boy Mayor (they’re also a great starting place for new viewers). That Griffin and Justin are creating narratives that rival and/or improve on the game they are playing is a fascinating and exciting new facet of content creation, particularly in a genre like Let’s Play, which is often criticized for just rehashing and exploiting other people’s stories.
So, is Monster Factory the funniest series on YouTube? For me it is, and I also believe it’s a whole lot more. Whether the same can be said for you is entirely in your hands. What are you waiting for? The Monsters are ready.
Nico is a writer, blogger, and student from Sydney, Australia. She was supposed to be studying for her exams at the time of writing this, but somehow decided this was far more important. She obviously has her priorities straight. Feel free to chastise her poor choices on Twitter and Tumblr.
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