Left to his own devices by an alcoholic, absentee father and languished with physical and pathological abuse from his mother on a daily basis as a child, a young Steven Williams had it rough. The Fayetteville, Arkansas native grew up in such a dysfunctional household life that it would make Arrested Development's Bluth family look like The Brady Bunch. Williams' only escape was also his shackle: food.
"I was born into a home where I was unwanted and tortured. I mean literally tortured," he recalls. "Burned, cut, stabbed, choked, you name it. Food was the only comfort I had."
But if the freshman and sophomore years of Williams' life drew a grimace to his face, his junior and senior would only get meaner. Suffering financial and medical turmoil during his mid-30s, Williams was rejected from over 200 jobs in large part due to his morbid obesity being a health insurance liability, clocking in as high as nearly 550 pounds.
"I was socially isolated, and the only money I received was through disability support," he says.
Despondent and desperate, it wouldn't be enough for Williams to get even with his troubles -- he had to pull ahead of them.
"It's as simple as this: YouTube saved my life," says Williams, better known to the video-sharing site by his username, Boogie2988. Williams, who says he received his moniker when "I had a head-cold when a friend noticed a booger hanging out of my nose, and the 2988 is just random numbers," began the channel in 2006 as a creative hobby and stress relief. It wasn't until his second year using the channel that he was able to earn a consistent paycheck; just enough for him to no longer need to rely on disability pensions.
In 2010, with the incipient intentions of marrying his longtime girlfriend, Boogie2988 thrust into high gear, raking in enough money to get off disability. By 2013, he miraculously achieved financial stability. "I try to not discuss how much I make too often, but I'm doing as well as a high-level office executive," he says.
The YouTube maven and I speak over Skype. Behind him, his bedroom rife with his passions is in full display: On his mattress are Pokémon pillows; his walls are adorned with posters of intrepid Magic: The Gathering characters. Williams himself attires a vertically striped collared shirt and over-the-ear headphones that closely resemble the pair worn by the invisible, exiled Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman.
Conversely, there's a vital distinction between Williams and Bartman, the American pastime enthusiast who accidentally robbed outfielder Moisés Alou from nabbing his Windy City squad's crucial third out and possibly a World Series title: Boogie2988 has nothing to hide and figuratively speaking, isn't afraid to play ball.
"You should see the stuff I do at home with my wife," he states. "I have a thousand different characters and a thousand different voices. It's a constantly changing formula, but now I have an idea of what works, and I'm not afraid to go for it."
Nearly every subscriber to Boogie2988's YouTube channel had a different introduction to his online interface. His official page functions as a variety show, in which its host voices his acumens on video games, documents his struggle with food addiction, marinates on mental illness and waxes philosophical on the profound purpose of life.
Yet Boogie2988 is far from a pedagogic figure. His serious discussions are tempered with flat-out absurd and sidesplitting videos. Unleashing more F-bombs than Cartman in episode of South Park, Boogie2988's most popular alter ego is "Francis," a lisped caricature of the ordinary frustrated gamer. The way Francis pronounces "bullshit" growls like an engine rattling into ignition.
According to his creator, the Francis character germinated when Boogie2988 worked at a gaming store, when the fourth edition of the fantasy tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons came out.
"Not only did the fourth edition drastically change the game, but it also drastically changed the clientele that was interested in the game," he recollects. "It was more about the game and less about the story you were telling -- the original Dungeons & Dragons was a storytelling game. So the people coming into the store were serious-faced and bent out of shape when things went wrong."
One day, Boogie2988 was hanging out with his friend and using Francis to make a little bit of fun at the clientele. "I can't believe they put Bullywugs in the Swamp of Sorrow. This is bullshit!" he shouted in character to his instantly-amused buddy.
Boogie2988 elucidates, "Francis is a little bit of me poking fun at my friends, and poking at myself for being offended by the changes to the game."
For a man viewed by millions on something as synthetic as computer monitor, Boogie2988 has nurtured his supporters on a deeply personal level; he beams a fond face to his fan base. While he says that 95 percent of feedback on his channel is overwhelmingly positive, the five percent of haters grows more glaring in proportion to his burgeoning channel's subscriptions. Despite the bile spewed his way, Boogie2988 is much more interested in converting his haters to fans than belittling them.
"One of the reasons people get so mad at Francis is that they see -- to use some Internet clichés -- this fat, neck-bearded worthless man-child," he explains.
They look at him as a detestable faction of humanity, and I love that. I love that. Because on the next video they'll see me scream about a different game, and then eventually they'll hear me talk as myself. Maybe they'll hear me talking about video games soon, so they'll listen. Or maybe I'll talk about bullying, equal rights, disability or suicide. One afternoon, someone can go through the gambits from hating me to empathizing with me.
To date, Boogie2988 suffers from occasional bouts of severe depression and anxiety, and needs to shed a significant number of pounds before he'll be allowed to participate in weight-loss surgery.
"I've lost 16 pounds since the beginning of the year, which I'm feeling pretty good about," he says. "But food is a language I speak every word in, and I have to learn another language -- specifically, the language of starvation."
He expounds on his mental health,
I have a pretty strong emotional disconnect. Happiness is something I never thought I'd achieve. It's something I have a hard time achieving most days. I only wanted to be content. I wanted to be free of pain, depression, negative memories and night terrors. That's all I ever wanted. Through my wife, I have discovered joy.
Though he admits that his the recovery of his physique and emotional stability need time to blossom, he does not miss the forest for the trees. He married the love of his life, Desiree Williams, last October. He is treated like a Greek God at PS3 conferences. Even as his channel closes in on two million subscribers, a number he wouldn't have imagined in his wildest dreams, he doesn't neglect to be true to himself. He says his wife teases him for it, but the 39-year-old man has a life philosophy that's a combination of Christian mentality, nihilism and Fight Club.
"I realized that one day I would die, and statistically based on all evidence in front of us is that when I die, I'll be buried in a hole in the ground and will no longer be conscious," he matter-of-factly asserts.
I will not affect the world anymore. So whatever I created will mean nothing; it will all turn to dust. One day, despite whatever we achieve here on this planet, the earth will eventually fall into the sun and we will be erased. That made me realize that the point of life is that there is no point. This is a game, and you can play it however you want.