In Content Warning, Role-Play as Influencers Dying to Go Viral

The list of things that influencers have done for attention is terrifying. Creators have eaten 10,000 calories in one sitting, glued their lips together and smashed gallons of milk on the floor in public. When Logan Paul recorded himself finding a dead body in a Japanese forest known for suicides, it caused a backlash across the internet.

The new video game Content Warning pushes that do-anything-for-fame premise to a madly meta extreme.

Players role-play as content creators venturing to abandoned factories and spectral ships to record murderous monsters. The objective: Get footage to upload to the fictional website SpookTube without being killed. Players earn “views” depending on how frightening their clips are, and will lose if they do not meet a quota within a few days.

“It’s inspired by influencer culture, the grind of creating content and beating the algorithms to get views,” said Petter Henriksson, one of the game’s designers and programmers. “The length people will go to go viral or die trying is really something.”

Content Warning has quickly become one of the year’s biggest horror games, a surprise hit from the Swedish studio Landfall, which is known for other silly, ragdoll-physics-based titles like Totally Accurate Battle Simulator. Released for the PC as part of the studio’s April Fools’ Day tradition, the game sold a million copies within two weeks.

Both Content Warning and the similarly successful Lethal Company benefit from proximity chat, which lets players communicate only when they are physically nearby within the game. But an added camera function elevates Content Warning, motivating players to make life-threatening decisions that they will later watch via a television in their communal home.

The footage is often joyous: a low-quality montage of the players giggling as they dodge doofy entities like giant snails, a robotic dog spraying machine-gun fire and a killer whisk.

“It’s actually a little triggering as a YouTuber — you’re over here being a slave to the algorithm at times,” said Marcos Cardenas, who posts gaming videos to nearly 1.4 million subscribers under the name Macro.

“You get more views in the SpookTube of the game if you do crazier and goofier stuff,” said Cardenas, 28, who has played for more than 30 hours.

By encouraging players to save clips to their computer, Content Warning has successfully incentivized uploads to social media.

As a result, the internet is ablaze with the game: There are scenes of players pretending to interview the sickly beasts as well as suggestions to further satirize influencer culture by adding fake brand deals and sponsorships. Players have even tried to speedrun the game, which is impossible to fully beat because quotas increase limitlessly.

The chief executive of Landfall, Wilhelm Nylund, said the studio chose to spoof YouTube instead of a buzzy platform like TikTok or Twitch because it holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers.

“I’ve spent a lot of my teenage years and now my 20s on the platform — I think that’s true for the majority of people who play our games,” Nylund said. “YouTube has been with me the whole journey of making games and one of the ways I originally found players to play them.”

Though it may take place in a future dystopia, the YouTube parody component makes the game feel strikingly present-day. There are other hypermodern aspects, like a cage creature that forces people to fill out a Captcha if they want to escape and a feature that mimics livestreams, complete with fake commenters reacting to the clips.

While Content Warning does not have an official story mode, there is subtle lore. The concept, which was created by Nylund, is that players live in a cloud society because the air in the “Old World” became dangerously polluted. They must wear diving suits to submerge themselves in the diseased olden world to get footage for pseudo-virality.

The theme is partly skewering overoptimistic solutions to climate catastrophe, Nylund said: “The whole idea that, ‘Oh well, it’s all fine, we can mess up the Earth and then just build our way out of it and continue on the same way as before.’”

The stakes in Content Warning are much lower. Getting zero views could make a real-life YouTuber irrelevant, but the game can simply be turned off after a bad round. “There’s a nice catharsis to it,” Cardenas said. “You’re not actually losing anything.”

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