Why Biden, Trump, and Obama Arguing Over Video Games Is YouTube's New Obsession
"I was very excited for Kingdom Hearts 3, but it was mid, Joe. And a lot of people are saying that."
Spirited fights are nothing new in political discourse. But now, America’s glorious leaders have decided to focus on what really matters: which Dark Souls game is actually the best, as represented in a tier-list format.
"For fuck's sake, Dark Souls is literally the epitome of the term Soulsborne," argues Joe Biden.
"Wrong. Demon's Souls came first," Donald Trump contends.
"No one cares about Demon's Souls," Biden fires back.
Eventually, Barack Obama convinces them to put it in A-tier as a compromise.
Like the political cartoons of old, these comical conversations are the product of one person's imagination. But unlike the silly caricatures of previous decades, these creators now have the ability to put the words directly into the mouths of former Presidents thanks to the power of AI. The resulting videos have become a new trend sweeping YouTube and TikTok, gathering hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of views in the process. We spoke to three of these creators — all of whom asked to be referred to by their channel names — about this wonderfully weird phenomenon.
That Soulsborne tier-list video is the creation of Klone Games, a YouTuber who specializes in gaming content. Having only recently returned to the video platform after a break, he decided to try his hand at some AI-powered videos, capitalizing on the headlines that tools like Midjourney and ChatGPT have garnered in recent weeks. However, it was only when he decided to take advantage of the AI voice tool ElevenLabs that he started to really gain traction.
"These videos keep going viral," Klone Games tells Inverse. "Some of my favorite games are in the Souls series, so it felt apt to first do a tier-list video about them. I wrote down several different ideas and scenarios to put them in. I'm just trying a lot of different things."
AI voice tools used to create "audio deepfakes" have existed for years in one form or another, with 15.ai being a notable example. However, the quality and ease of use of ElevenLabs have made it a new tool in the shitposters' playbook, with content creators using it to create fairly convincing recordings of famous figures saying and doing ridiculous things.
One of the earliest videos in this mode to go viral was that of Joe Biden telling the viewer how to "get a goth girlfriend" in rather unpleasant detail. Weeks later, it now sits at just over a million views. "I've never heard Biden speak so clearly and confidently," says one commenter.
The trend blew up on YouTube in late February, and it didn't take long for gamers to get in on the action. One of the earliest gaming videos that jumped on the trend (and one of the funniest so far) was one of Biden and Trump arguing about the Kingdom Hearts series.
"Donald, can you give it a break, man? Kingdom Hearts 3 came out over four years ago, and you're still in your feelings about it," Biden says.
"I was very excited for Kingdom Hearts 3, but it was mid, Joe. And a lot of people are saying that," Trump replies.
The creator behind that video, Regular Pat, says that the process of creating such a voice sample is "shockingly easy." As a content creator who focuses on the Kingdom Hearts series (and has a reasonably successful Patreon), he saw similar videos while browsing Twitter and decided to try his own take on the trend. After paying a small subscription fee to access ElevenLabs, he used a short Reddit tutorial to create his voices, and off he went.
"It's as simple as taking a sample of someone talking for a few minutes and feeding it to the website," he tells Inverse via email. "You type whatever you want, and it spits it out in your voice. And for the most part, it's really good. My goal when making mine was to have the characters interrupt each other and pepper in some 'uhs' or stutters to make it feel more realistic while keeping it understandable."
As a longtime Kingdom Hearts fan, Regular Pat knew that making the video around what he calls "the most controversial topic in KH fandom" would make for the best content.
"The thought of really anyone in their ‘70s or ‘80s talking about Pokémon or Kingdom Hearts with such ferocity and steadfastness is hilarious, let alone when they’re the most powerful senior citizens in the world," Regular Pat says.
While the comedy of having “serious” politicians spout Reddit talking points in Zoomer lingo is easy to understand, Regular Pat was also surprised to find that viewers and commenters have also described the videos as "comforting." Maybe that’s because we wish we lived in a world where our senior heads of state can put aside thorny issues like war and economic crises to focus on what really matters: which RPG is best.
“Even with political figures, there’s something eerie about the idea of using these people as glorified puppets.”
Though the AI software can theoretically imitate anyone, Regular Pat believes that the Presidents meme format is likely to be the most successful. While some videos have attempted to throw in older Presidents like JFK, or other figures from pop culture like Drake, those tend to do worse. The reason? Obama, Biden, and Trump are well-understood "characters" to almost everyone in the world, and their dynamic is well-established and difficult to replicate.
"I don’t see any reason why, for example, singers or rappers arguing with each other about their craft couldn’t be just as funny," Regular Pat says. "There are some ethical quandaries here. I'm more comfortable using the voices of government officials than artists. I think it can get murky with the latter, especially when it comes to people who do voiceover work for a living. Even with political figures, there’s something eerie about the idea of using these people as glorified puppets, like I imagine it could be used to manipulate the more gullible parts of the populace. But I’m only interested in seeing it used for laughs."
Fellow YouTuber Fither, who used the format in a video about the Persona series, agrees with Regular Pat's conclusions. He says that though the video (in which Trump reminds Biden that "Persona 5 is not the only game in the series") is the fastest-growing in his channel's history, he doesn't plan to do more beyond the two he's made.
He attributes a huge part of the meme's success to the novel nature of the technology. Though he's experimented with AI tools before, this was the first time he was really impressed — maybe a little too impressed. He worries that the ability to make anyone say anything will just a few button presses will have a potentially large negative impact.
"I think AI is going to end up being the defining technology for the 2020s and 2030s, kind of like how smartphones were for the 2010s," Fither tells Inverse. "It's going to be interesting to see how far it goes and how it becomes integrated into society since the applications for it are so far-reaching. You're already starting to see debates about the ethics of this kind of technology. I wouldn't be surprised at all if we start to see it get regulated."