The Future of Video Games Is … Reality TV?

Over by the pool, a slap fight breaks out. Two cast members, no longer content to trade insults, are flailing at each other with the fervor of a schoolyard fight. Camera screen bouncing, the producer sprints over to get footage.

It’s 1999, and players are producing the latest season of the hot reality show, The Crush House. That job includes picking the cast, capturing the drama, and above all satisfying the ever-changing audience to keep the show on the air. Fail, and you’re canceled, in the most traditional sense of the word.

Until 2024, the role of “reality TV producer” was a largely unexplored video game hero. The Crush House ends that trend. Part satire, part love letter to the indomitable industry of reality TV, the “thirst person shooter,” which is expected to launch later this year, is director Nicole He’s way of exploring the genre in a fun, yet critical way.

Crush House is also not the only reality-TV-tinged title to make waves this week. Content Warning, a co-op horror game about filming your friends to try and go viral, pulled in more than 200,000 concurrent players after an April Fools’ Day launch.

“When people talk about reality TV—I will say men in particular, the way men talk about reality TV—there isn’t this full-hearted endorsement of it,” He says. They watch it with their girlfriends, or call it a guilty pleasure: something to watch ironically. “I think this is true in general for a lot of [media-considered] ‘women’s interests.’ It’s not taken seriously, even though people engage with this stuff very critically.”

Reality TV has the potential to be very fertile ground for game developers. As it stands, it’s a one-way medium: Producers make it; audiences watch. But those audiences also interact with it—a lot. On X, on message boards, in group chats. Pet theories about behind-the-scenes drama abound. If titles like Crush House can put players in the control room, they could tap into a vein of gamers eager to engage in a new way. Even something like Content Warning, which isn’t based on reality TV per se, but still scratches the itch of capturing reality to go viral, has proven there’s a hunger for this kind of gameplay.

He originally co-conceived of Crush House as a Terrace House–inspired game—an ode to the 2015 Netflix show that offered a softer, low-stakes version of Real World–style drama. Nobody got into fist fights, or had secret gossip accounts, or affairs that became nationwide scandals; they just ran into the everyday friction that comes from living with strangers. The first prototype for Crush House was tonally similar: chill people living in a house together and navigating how to get along. “But we discovered that was boring,” He says.

Content Warning spoofs its subject matter in a similar way, adopting the feel of ghost hunter shows and influencer videos. The goal is to get famous on “SpookTube”—the better the footage you capture, the more money you make, if you can survive. Players are armed with flashlights and a camera as they enter a monster-filled world to get what they need.

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