If you are a fan of Let’s Play videos, looked up Super Mario World romhacks at some point or have browsed the forums of Something Awful, chances are you know Proton Jon. Starting out the way most people watched on the internet do, Jon found a way to kill boredom doing game play videos and unwittingly became the center of viewer’s attention with a video full of anger and foul words. As of today, Jon has over 50, 000 subscribers on various video sharing websites, has been ranked “#18 Most Subscribed(All Time)-Directors – Canada” and has, much to his dismay, been known as the “King of Mario RomHacks” by more than a few people. While currently working on a new LP, a weekly podcast and just generally having a life, I was able to steal a good two hours of Jon’s time to answer some questions I’ve had and just generally shoot the shit.
What was originally to be a streaming audio file of our talk, the following is the first part of a HEAVILY abridged transcription of our conversation as both Jon and I share the uncanny ability to disrupt a coherent flow of information for aimless conversation.
Pixel-Response: First thing I wanted to ask you, where the hell does “Proton” come from?
Proton Jon: Oh god, I went through that phase stupid phase that every kid goes through at one point where they had to pick a character and add a bunch of random numbers to the end of it; I really like Mega Man at the time so I called myself “Protoman64”.
PR: Why the number 64?
PJ: Nintendo 64. At the time Mega Man 64 didn’t exist and I was like “Awe man it would be so cool if there was a Mega Man game on the N64″… and then it happened… weirdly enough.
PR: So ProtoMan64 huh?
PJ: Yeah that was my old nickname. In grade 9 I was in science with one of my friends sitting behind me and we were just talking about games and reading about protons and neutrons when he blurted out “Protons…ProtoMan… UH! IT’S PROTON-JON!” right in the middle of class and it stuck for some reason.
PR: At least it has a good sound to it.
PJ: The funny thing was I actually hated the nickname for the longest time because it was forced on me. In high school they would call me that because it rhymed and you could say it like a dick “Oooh, it’s pro-ton-jon…”.
PR: It has the perfect amount of syllables for asshat-ery.
PJ: Yeah, that was the worst when I would play Halo you would always get those guys that were like “Wassup PRO TON JON, I like saying your name because it rhymes”. But yeah, they kept doing it in high school and tried other nicknames out like “Johnny B Goode” and stuff like that. When I finally moved away after high school, I needed a nickname for Xbox Live and thought the name was actually pretty good so just used it.
PR: So no great revelation?
PJ: No, just more like “I guess this name doesn’t suck now”.
PR: How did you get started doing your thing?
PJ: Pure boredom. I was on the Something Awful forums due to a friend getting me an account a long time ago and while following the games forum, people were doing this thing that was just like a walk-through with commentary; pictures with quippy one-liners ala Mystery Science Theater. The first thread that did it, which was for Oregon Trail, called it “Let’s Play Oregon Trail” and for some reason the title “Let’s Play” stuck.
So around Christmas in 2006, this guy named SlowBeef was drunk on a bus and with his laptop was able to find a way to record him playing a game while talking over it at the same time. That is what created “Let’s Play”… someone being drunk on a bus.
PR: A fitting beginning…
PJ: Pretty much, yeah. A couple of months later he showed people what program he was using and a bunch of people jumped on the bandwagon after learning how to do it, myself included. I’ve been doing LPs since around February 2007, so I’ve been doing it for three years and that is very depressing.
PR: So what is your favorite video so far?
PJ: Well there are the Let’s Play videos and the “playing with friends” videos, which I don’t count as LPs, so my favorite video I’ve done is one of the Smash Bros. ones where one of our friends is just cracking up the entire time we are playing and we’re all just making stupid sounds the entire time. I think it was “Super Smash Bros. Brawl 8” where we are making fun of Skype. It was just really funny for some reason, a lot of the Brawl videos were fun because it was just a bunch of us hanging out like we usually do, only while recording at the time.
PR: Tell me about Kaizo…
PJ: A bunch of us were doing an LP of the full game. When it got to my turn I said “I haven’t played this stage” and he said “Oh that’s perfect! Go record!” so I did and you’ve seen the ensuing result. I almost actually deleted the video because I thought it sucked and no one would like it but was talked into posting it anyways and it became the most popular LP on the Something Awful forums for like a year.
PR: Yeah, it’s pretty much the one that is always attached to your name.
PJ: Pretty much, it’s always either Kaizo or Don’t Eat The Mushroom.
PR: What would you say you’ve gotten out of doing LPs, besides any money or internet followers?
PJ: I would say I’ve gotten a lot of personal experience out of it, more than anything. Any money I’ve received I’ve given away to charity and over the last few years have gotten quite a few donations. At first it went to rent and food because I was still in university and poor and desperately needed it but now that I’m out and have a decent job anything I receive I just keep for a bit and end up giving to charities.
I’ve met a lot of cool people doing videos, some that I could hang out with and a LOT of people that make me want to stay in my room and never leave. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs but if there is anything I’ve gotten out of this is it’s helped me develop as a person, albeit a cynical and sarcastic one.
PR: What bad has come out of it?
PJ: Death threats. You’d be surprised at how ridiculously opinionated people are about videos on the internet. I’ve had people swear at me and call me as many derogatory names as they could think of, told I’m some kid who should move out of my parent’s basement even though I haven’t even lived with my parents for, like, seven years. One good one, I had someone say “God, you’re such a mouth-breather!” because I didn’t edit out a breath I took at the beginning of a video.
PR: …And they got all knotted up about that?
PJ: Yeah, and the funny thing was they were German so the insult was all written in German and I couldn’t even read it. Google Translate couldn’t even read it because there were english mixed in. The only words it picked up were like “fag”.
PR: How many times do you think you have been called a fag in your life?
PJ: More times than I can count.
PR: All from the internet?
PJ: All from the internet. No one is gonna pull that shit in real life because online you’re anonymous and can get away with whatever you want. In real life, if they said that to your face, you would just hit them.
PR: You did Computer Sciences in University, right?
PJ: Yeah, it’s my major. I got into that originally because I thought it was going to be the only way to get into the video game industry and surprise, halfway through I find out there are many other avenues I could have taken.
PR: What was the ultimate goal in that?
PJ: The ultimate goal was that in computer sciences there was a video game design concentration you could put on your degree which would have you work on a game with some people from Radical Entertainment (the guys who made Prototype) so you would get help making a game and that would be on your resume or portfolio. Halfway through it, I realized that I didn’t want to be a programmer and dropped the course in the end because it wasn’t what I wanted.
Visit us next time when we talk about current projects and future ideas as we conclude out discussion with Proton Jon.