About a month ago I was recommended a Girlfriend Reviews video through Twitter. The name of the channel made me apprehensive; I imagined the worst stereotypes of the expectations of women and games bubbling up. But when I dove into the channel's first video on Red Dead Redemption 2, I was hooked on its insightful wit. In the opening for the video, narrator Shelby quips what will soon become the standard for all the weekly videos that would follow. "This isn't a review of Red Dead Redemption 2. This is a review of the experience of living with someone who plays Red Dead Redemption 2."
Each Girlfriend Reviews video is well-edited and punchy, usually resting between four and eight minutes, matching acute observations with a consistently sharp sense of humor. Matt, the boyfriend, edits and pens the rough script. Shelby, the girlfriend reviewing, provides the narration for the videos and improvises jokes on top of everything. Unlike the sea of dudes who yell a lot for no reason as they review games on YouTube, Girlfriend Reviews parts the polluted ocean. As someone who finds most YouTubers obnoxious, Girlfriend Reviews has been pointedly refreshing in its approach, making enjoying games feel warmly accessible to everyone—even to those without the intimidating gaming literacy needed to wield a controller.
As for Matt and Shelby themselves, they're as normal of a couple as can be. They're so struck by the sudden influx of internet fame that they're still on the fence about revealing their full names—they're even hesitant to reveal their day jobs as to not inspire creepy netizens to track them down. Their inclination to secrecy has even led to bonkers conspiracy theories, like how a corporation is running the channel and not a real life couple with an admiration for video games.
"It definitely stung a little bit at first and was kind of scary because people were trying to figure out who we were, and people were actually messaging us and stuff. But now that we've started streaming and have gotten a little more intimate with our audience, the truth is out there that we're just two genuine people, making videos in our apartment. Now any of those conspiracy theories or skepticism we just take as a compliment," Matt tells me over the phone, joined alongside Shelby. "But we've said from the beginning that, you know, if we were Disney or some big corporation behind this, we just don't see why they would like two Spider-Mans spanking each other in the beginning of a video," they both laugh, "so we just let people believe what they want to believe."
The idea for Girlfriend Reviews got started about a year before the channel launched, when Matt was playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Since the couple lived together, Shelby would deal with the signature map sound—you're probably imagining it this very moment—chiming "a hundred times every 30 minutes." The annoyance sparked an idea: a YouTube channel where someone reviewed a game, but wasn't playing the game themselves; they were just experiencing it vicariously with whoever they lived with. A review based on only couch spectating, if you will.
The couple already had the skills needed for making such a channel. Matt has been working for the past decade editing and writing for other YouTubers, and has a degree in creative writing. Meanwhile the voice of the channel, Shelby, has a background in performance arts, namely in singing and acting. "It's just serendipitous that we met and we can combine our talents to create a silly channel," Matt says, noting they've been together for three years now.
"My favorite part [of doing Girlfriend Reviews] would probably be working with my favorite person in the whole world," says Shelby. "And the fact that we get to work together and, like I said, it's our baby. We both put in a lot to it, and to see people appreciate that and resonate with it is really just so fulfilling, you know? But we love the people that we've met. Hearing that people are getting their significant others to start playing video games because of our videos is amazing, and I never expected that."
Girlfriend Reviews' first video on Red Dead Redemption 2 was a massive hit when it was uploaded in late November. At the time of writing this, it's at 1.2 million views; the channel itself has over 350,000 subscribers. The rest of their videos average at about 400,000 views, at least. That's no small feat for a channel that launched just months ago, with a dorky everyday couple behind it.
Since then, Girlfriend Reviews has uploaded a new video every week. Throughout the week, they also stream regularly, as a way to both capture footage needed for the videos and to interact with their fast growing community. Shelby says on average, they have a few hundred people watching their streams. As for now, YouTube is still their primary focus, even if they did recently become a Twitch partner.
The name Girlfriend Reviews brings up a lot of feelings to some about "fake geek girls" and clickbait-y articles headlined with, "Here's All the Games Your Girlfriend Will Actually Want to Play," listing games with heavy femme leanings (as if we can't like shooters?). For the couple, subverting that expectation came basically accidentally. "It's never really been a thought that we've had," Shelby is quick to tell me. "We're just making videos based on our experience as a couple. So, you know, we never really felt like we needed to change what we make, because we're being authentic to ourselves."
Girlfriend Reviews has already begun to shake up its core formula, with recent videos like "What Co-Op Games Should You Play With Your Girlfriend?" In the future, they hope to do some What Should Your Boyfriend Play divergences, with Shelby recommending games for Matt. ("I'm not as much of a performer as Shelby," Matt adds sheepishly.) Other ideas include movie reviews and date reviews, such as "Should You Take Your Boyfriend to Disneyland?" For Shelby, that one poses the most potential. "Any excuse for me to go to Disneyland is a win in my book," she says.
"It's still so new for us. And we're still so uncertain of, you know, how long it will last or how far we can take this idea," says Matt. "But you know we also have other ideas and hopes and dreams for ourselves. We would love to actually create an actual series, maybe an animated series and Shelby's a really talented voice actress. So there's things like that that are big picture dreams we have, but for now we're just kind of, week by week basis trying to play a game and make a funny video."
Matt and Shelby say that the success of Girlfriend Reviews has literally changed their lives; morphing something they once did as a hobby into something that viewers can actually resonate with and enjoy. While the future is uncertain, Matt and Shelby hope to start attending events and growing the channel even further. At 500,000 subscribers, they're even kicking around the idea of maybe doing a face reveal, as they've tried to stay as anonymous as possible thus far. Regardless of what the future holds, the by all accounts normal couple are just happy for the experience.
"I mean, all I can really say is how incredible this has been," says Shelby. "Even if it were over tomorrow, we would be so thankful for this experience so far and everyone that said that our videos have improved their day or something. It's just really been such a pleasure and so fulfilling for us."