Meet the professional video game boss killer
"I'd like to do every game in the world."
The most frustrating trial of David Bossa's YouTube career came earlier this year, as he was macheting his way through the lambent sprawl of Persona 5. That game's campaign is infamously long-winded, with heaps of incidental micro-episodes packed into Tokyo's sinuous alleyways. As the foremost archivist of video game boss fights, Bossa wasn't concerned by Haru's fractured familial relationships, or Ryuji's track meets, or Akechi's meddlesome inquiries. Instead, he was racing to document each of the game's 11 encounters on his YouTube channel for the day of its release, 4th April, 2017.
That sounds harder than it looks. Persona 5's combat can be prickly, but it's not overly punishing. With a layman's grasp of its Pokemon-style network of weaknesses and resistances, most of the bosses will fall on the first or second attempt. Unfortunately for Bossa, there's also a secret encounter laying dormant towards the end of the New Game Plus module. His channel, Boss Fight Database, prides itself on being the definitive, no-shortcut source for all of a particular game's boss fights. And yes, that includes the fringe fan-service left in by Atlus to sate those crazy enough to play a 90-hour game twice.
"It's a mad dash to be the first guy to put the videos up. It's tough. I didn't see my friends for a week, all I was doing was playing that game. I beat it, and of course there's one secret boss, where you have to replay the game and make yourself strong enough to beat them," he laughs. "That was just soul-crushing."
Bossa started Boss Fight Database as a way to mess around with YouTube's arcane optimisation modules. He was working at multi-channel network Maker Studios at the time, and was tasked with deciphering the algorithms, keywords and advertising breaks that add up into a successful new media platform. Around that time, YouTube lifted the restrictions on the length of its videos, and allowed users to upload content that crested past the 10-hour mark. This was an experiment in horrific, instantly-memeable excess. Some of the most famous artefacts from the era include everlasting loops of the He-Man song and Epic Sax Guy. Bossa, to his credit, was wise enough to think outside the box.
"I was like, 'Let's see what happens, I'm going to upload all the boss fights from God of War. That'd be a couple hours,'" he remembers. "So I did that, and that video did really well. I think it's at three million views now. I was like, 'That's interesting, let me upload all the bosses from Shadow of the Colossus,' and that did really well. I realised this was a thing people liked, and I enjoyed doing it, so I kept tapping that vein."
That was four years ago. Today, Bossa has mastered his craft with brutal efficiency. Right now, if you go to his channel, you'll find a neatly organised suite of encounters from the freshly released Super Mario Odyssey. Below that there's rows and rows of boss fights plucked from all the side-quests and Easter eggs buried in the labyrinthine South Park: The Fractured But Whole. He puts in the work himself; 90 per cent of the captures on the channel come from his own gameplay, with a few fringe cases of developers sending in their own footage for documentation mixed in. Unlike other YouTubers, Bossa does not speak or editorialise in his videos. Instead, he's committed to presenting the software in an unsoiled form - like a museum curator for enormous life bars.
"A lot of people watch these videos because they want to recapture that awesome moment without having to replay a game for seven hours," he says. "I want this to be a database. I want it to be very straightforward, almost like a library of these boss fights. I'd like to do every game in the world."
In recent years, YouTube has become something of an unregulated opinions page. The biggest names in gaming - PewDiePie, Markiplier, JackSepticEye - use the platform to air grievances and marshal their base. You see it with a clown-show such as Jake Paul, who managed to parlay a tide of preteen fame all the way to the Billboard Hot 100. But one of the things I love about YouTube are the channels that avoid those socialite prerogatives in favour of something that feels like a public service.
YouTube is old now. It's a place where you can watch a pumpkin dance on the local news in a 90 second clip that was first uploaded in the Bush administration. As Google has rolled back length restrictions (and our traditional ideas of copyright law continue to erode), some have latched onto their publishing power as a way to chronicle our cultural history. Right now you can stream a commercial-free archive of every game of the 2010 NBA finals directly to your phone, which was unheard of when that series was first broadcast.
Boss Fight Database essentially does the same thing, but for video games. Bossa tells me he decided to focus on boss encounters because ideally, they should be "the most fun part of the game".
"It should incorporate the game's mechanics," he adds. "Ideally a boss fight should be the essence of what that game is trying to be." He's absolutely right. There's no better way to explain the DNA of God of War than showing off the Hydra encounter. By mining the best and most rarefied yield of a 20-hour campaign, Bossa stumbled on the perfect way to encapsulate gaming antiquity. And it's been a successful endeavour. Last year, he quit his job to focus entirely on YouTube. Nobody hired him to be the foremost author of gaming's ever-increasing bestiary, but he created the position anyway. "I thought, 'I could do my normal 9-5, or I could do this really fun thing that I enjoy doing, and could be my entire career,'" he says.
With 170,000 subscribers and many millions of views on YouTube, Bossa is making enough money to live comfortably, though he says his perception might be skewed thanks to a few broke years in his early 20s when he slummed it on a couch in a house filled to the brim with six people. The decision to focus on his channel full-time came with a pretty dramatic pay-cut compared to his job at Maker, but YouTube continued to swell, and now he's recovered.
Like many who've found themselves entangled with an ill-defined income in the New Media Wild West, Bossa doesn't know exactly how long his Database will be his main gig, but surprisingly, he says his parents have been incredibly supportive. "Most of my family never really had any idea what my 'normal' job was," he says. "When I told my parents I was quitting my job to pursue a career making YouTube videos, they were shockingly very supportive. Part of me thinks they were just happy to finally be able to explain to their friends what I actually do for a living.
"I imagine in a couple years I could hand over the reins to someone else, or a group of people, that I would oversee. Maybe I'll have tryouts where the best gamer gets the job. Also, I should definitely pitch that as a TV show. Make it like The Apprentice," adds Bossa. "The problem is that it really is a dream job and I'm not sure I want to sell it away or hire someone to do it for me. I mean, I'm my own boss and my commute is a short walk to my living room. My last job was an hour long commute to Beverly Hills and after a year I wanted to blow my brains out."
There are, of course, some disadvantages to this position. Bossa has a hard time freeing up enough of his schedule for no-life persistent games such as Destiny, and there are the moments when he is forced to struggle through the onslaught of rock hard games such as Cuphead, or the blatantly unfair Dark Souls 3 Demon Trio, (Bossa says that was the hardest boss he's ever documented - it took him 20 tries and an entire night). When I called him on a Wednesday afternoon, he had already earmarked his weekend to jump straight into both Odyssey and Wolfenstein 2, which sounds like both a blessing and a curse. For the most part though, Bossa is living the dream. He's discovered that you don't need to shout into a microphone or drum up review scores in order to be a member of the games media. Hell, you don't even need to upload a video everyday. The market wants what it wants, and now Bossa beats bosses for a living.
"Before this channel, if I played an older game, I was wasting time. Now it's a productive thing to do for work," he laughs. "I think that's one of the reasons why people watch my channel. They don't necessarily have the time. ... It's good to be able to provide people with that."