Reality TV and Indie Games Just Don’t Mix

on Tuesday, Apr. 1st

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

That’s how the proverb goes, and that appears to be the case in the story of Game_Jam, a “reality” webseries débâcle that cost a reported $400,000 which fell apart after a day of shooting.

A group of some of the most influential indie game developers were gathered in Los Angeles to participate in a made-for-YouTube game jam. Their goal was to pull aside the curtain on game development. The show’s producer, Maker Studio’s Polaris vertical, appeared to be on board. A “creative consultant” working for the show’s main sponsor, however, decided they should be making bad reality TV.

Activate total meltdown.

The story is laid out in grizzly detail by an insider, freelance writer Jared Rosen, whose main client also happens to be the main production company. Between Rosen’s account and those of the participants a picture emerges not only of pseudo-mainstream media just “not getting” the solidarity of the indie game scene, but of the way that “branded entertainment” can go horribly wrong.

A lot of the commentary I’ve seen so far has focused on the former, but my gut tells me that the Game_Jam disaster says a lot about where television will head if thoughtless wonders have their way.

A generation of television producers has come up making reality TV shlock. They almost all hate it, but they also know that “it works” for the mass TV audience. As YouTube production studios like Maker scale up and get bought by media giants–remember that Disney picked up Maker Studios practically while Game_Jam was unraveling–the “institutional wisdom” they acquire leads to productions that try and look like conventional TV.

Conventional TV–the “Real Housewives” franchise, countless cookie cutter talk shows that might as well be informercials, rote procedurals, and formulaic sitcoms–all suck. That’s part of the reason that YouTube is so popular: it’s not TV.

Hell, the high-pitch that Game_Jam evolved to “Iron Chef for videogames” isn’t even all that bad. (Confession: I could spend the next twelve hours watching Chopped and I would not even be mad.) It was the sexist questions the “Pepsi consultant” put to the participants in order to drum up some fake drama that lead to the game makers heroically walking off the set.

If only we could all heroically walk off the set of fake reality. I thought that’s what millennials were doing when they embraced the often super-cheesy personalities of YouTube. It seems, however, that Old Media dinosaurs haven’t gotten the memo that the world has moved on.

Perhaps we’ll be lucky and we’ll look back on Game_Jam as being the death knell for “reality.” As a natural born pessimist, however, I suspect that change will be hard to come by.

Image: Benjamin Stone/Creative Commons


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