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Influencers Are Trying to Go Viral by Playing ‘Content Warning’—a Game About Going Viral

Influencers Are Trying to Go Viral by Playing ‘Content Warning’—a Game About Going Viral

Ben disappeared somewhere in the pitch black of the Old World. A handful of streamers gathered to investigate its monster-filled caverns and hallways, only to find their friend had gone missing. “Did Ben die?” one wondered aloud, just before another spotted him with relief in his voice. “I’m not even kidding, it took me,” Ben starts to say. “It carried me a mile underground.” One of his companions interrupts: “Wai-wai-wait, shut up, shut the fuck up, shut up! Tell that story on camera now.”

“Oh, OK OK,” Ben replies, getting into position. Someone shines a flashlight on him. The light hits a gelatinous monster behind him. It yanks him away, again, before he even can finish his sentence. Luckily, his kidnapping is all on camera this time, and content creator videogamedunkey has a potential viral hit on his hands—both in the game, Content Warning, and on his real-life YouTube channel.

In the week since its release, Content Warning—a co-op horror game about trying to film monsters (and survive) to get views on a faux YouTube—has been a runaway hit for developer Landfall Games. In the first 24 hours after it hit Steam, more than 6 million players downloaded it.

Built by a tiny team of five developers in just six weeks, Content Warning has quickly become gaming’s latest trending topic by being a send-up of the very players it was made for: game streamers aiming to go viral and the fans who love to watch them. A perfect meta commentary on how far some influencers will go for a win. Across YouTube and Twitch, where the game’s fans are most visible, everyone just knew what to do: film, film, film.

The team behind Content Warning sensed they had something special the first time they recorded a video of their expedition and watched it together. “It was instantly hilarious,” says developer Zorro Svärdendahl. It’s not that they’d done anything special—in fact, they’d mostly filmed each other walking behind trees and playing peek-a-boo—but the bones were there. They just had to make the game’s videos punchier.

In the game, players have three days to capture footage good enough to rack up views online, but every time they enter the game’s Old World they’re at risk. Monsters tend to appear suddenly out of the dark, sometimes with jarring screams.

A finished video, which surviving team members gather to watch at the end, typically has a The Blair Witch-ian found footage quality to it—shakey shots taken while running, a lot of screaming, and above all people barking things like “Get this on film.” The game’s goofy aesthetic for its SpookTubers, who have figures similar to arm-waving inflatables and faces that players create by typing emoticons, makes the whole thing all the more entertaining.

Content Warning is part of a long tradition at Landfall Games, which releases a small, silly game every year on April Fools’ Day. One year, it was a “horse-drifting-romance-roadtrip-battle-royale”; for another, it was a parody of battle royale. This year’s title is about the many players who have seamlessly adapted to being influencers. There’s a huge social element at work, where people are role-playing with their friends in the game. Sometimes it’s a YouTuber-type. Sometimes it’s as a news reporter trying to do a very tumultuous interview. People get creative.

A ‘House of the Dragon’ Star Made a Video Game to Grieve His Father

A ‘House of the Dragon’ Star Made a Video Game to Grieve His Father

A decade ago, Abubakar Salim lost his father. That grief lives within him. An actor by trade, with credits in Raised by Wolves and House of the Dragon’s upcoming season, he searched for years for the right medium to work through the hurt. A film. A TV show. Nothing did it justice—until he tried to make a video game. “If you’re really depicting grief in a truthful and honest way, it is so open and chaotic that actually, you can kind of gamify it,” he says.

Salim is the CEO and creative director of Surgent Studios, the developer behind the upcoming Metroidvania game Tales of Kenzera: Zau. The game, set to launch April 23, follows a young shaman, Zau, who has made a deal with the god of death to bring his father back to life in exchange for three great spirits. Its story is a reflection of coping with loss—even its premise is built on bargaining, a common stage for someone dealing with death. The button-mashing, the mask-switching—these are all, Salim says, representative of the madness people can experience.

Games about grief reflect those feelings in many ways. Platformer Gris turns the stages of grief into literal ones as its heroine silently navigates a world that uses color and music to express emotion. What Remains of Edith Finch explores the death of a family by sifting through their things, alongside vignettes dedicated to those lost.

Kenzera has its own methods. Throughout the game, Zau takes time to pause and talk about his feelings. That’s the result of Salim and the game’s developers trying to figure out how the character would be able to restore his health. The solution wound up being quite literal: creating a space where Zau simply sits under a tree and reflects.

Each biome in the game’s world is a reflection of the journey through that anguish. Salim, who grew up playing games with his dad, reflects on something his father used to tell him as a child: “When you’re born, you’re alone, and when you die, you’re alone.” Kenzera’s developers infused that idea into the Woodlands setting, which is meant to evoke a sense of the questioning: “Will I be remembered? Will I be forgotten?”

Stories that Salim’s father told him heavily influenced the game, as did Bantu culture, which he says was done as a form of celebration rather than an effort to educate people. In recent years, games like God of War and Hades have brought new familiarity to Norse and Greek mythology. A game like Kenzera could do something similar for the culture of southern Africa. “It’s to inspire people to see these stories and lean into these stories,” Salim says.

Although Kenzera’s combat has evolved over time, it is influenced by Dambe, a form of Nigerian boxing. Zau swaps between masks to switch up his fighting style—sun and moon masks that represent life and death. In Bantu culture, Salim explains, the two balance each other. “That’s really where the inspiration for these two masks came from,” he says. The sun mask is heat, flame-heavy by nature, while the moon mask has an icier look and feel. Both masks are beautiful and infused with energy, an ode to how other cultures handle death. “Especially within African cultures, [death] is almost celebrated in a way,” he says. “It’s a passing into the new.”

The Small Company at the Center of ‘Gamergate 2.0’

The Small Company at the Center of ‘Gamergate 2.0’

“There are marginalized devs who work on these games, and they want to put that stuff in their games,” Belair says, adding that it’s strange that players feel like characters of color, for example, need to have their presence justified in any way.

“I’m a huge Uncharted fan,” Belair says.”’Why is Nathan Drake white?’ is not a thing we have to justify. He just is.”

Online, other devs at studios Sweet Baby works with have come to their defense. In a thread on X, a writer from Insomniac Games confirmed that, as consultants, Sweet Baby offers ideas, feedback, and writing. “But none of that gets into the game unless THE CORE DEV TEAM AGREES WITH IT,” the writer, who has since locked their account, posted. “Sweet Baby is not, nor is any consulting group, coming in to wreck games. They’re helping smooth out plots and deepen characters. They ease the burden on the core narrative team.”

The thread’s top response? “Get out of our hobby and take them with you.”

The harassment campaign against Sweet Baby comes as the game industry undergoes a period of immense contraction. Some 8,000 gaming industry employees have reportedly already lost their jobs in 2024. Nearly one-third of developers were impacted by layoffs last year, and there’s a growing movement within the industry for workers to unionize to protect the jobs that remain. The collective loss of talent the game industry is undergoing will inevitably have an impact on the quality of video games to come.

Yet, on the Sweet Baby Inc Detected Discord, where users often decry what they see as a decline in video game quality, there’s little care for the tumultuous year the industry has had. “I feel nothing for these developers who lost their jobs,” wrote one user.

For Sweet Baby cofounder David Bédard, that dissonance is jarring. “They love games but hate the people who make them,” he says. “They won’t get games if there’s no more people making them.”

This is true outside Sweet Baby’s ranks, too. Last year, a poll conducted by the organizers of the Game Developers Conference found that more than 75 percent of game devs surveyed believe harassment from players is a “serious” or “very serious” problem.

All this amounts to Sweet Baby becoming a scapegoat for anything players hate in games, especially as it relates to diversity and inclusion . Before, Bédard says, “they had nobody to point a finger at.”

“What they’re telling us is we’re the reason all these games are flopping. Some of these games are the most nominated or [award]-winning games from last year,” Bédard adds.

However Sweet Baby Inc Detected tries to paint the company it’s rallying against, Belair says the two have more in common than they think. “I don’t want tokenization either,” she says. “I don’t want forced diversity either.” Part of Sweet Baby’s job is to make characters more authentic and dynamic within their worlds—strong characters, she says, in the sense of how well they’re written and realized.

Frankly, Belair says, there are positive and interesting conversations to be had. “But they can’t start from this place,” she continues. “You can’t convince the conspiracy theorists. You can’t convince people who are hateful. You can’t change those minds necessarily. But at the very least, we can give other people a place to speak about what they believe, speak about their values, and to rise above it.”

Sweet Baby’s founders say that as far as the company’s business is concerned, the harassment campaign so far has been unsuccessful in interrupting their work. Their clients are supportive, says Belair, because many game studios are familiar with online abuse. Sweet Baby has been hesitant to directly address which characters or storylines it’s worked on, because Belair worries that could lead to harassment of other developers on those projects.

“You shouldn’t be sending this kind of hate to anybody,” Belair says. “If you didn’t like something, that’s just fine. Deal with it. Don’t buy another [game] if you don’t want to, but you don’t need to launch a whole campaign about it.”

‘Palworld’: How ‘Pokémon With Guns’ Became an Overnight Hit

‘Palworld’: How ‘Pokémon With Guns’ Became an Overnight Hit

In the grass ahead lurks a cotton-ball puff of a creature with stubby appendages, round, yellow eyes, and a macaroni-noodle smile. Appropriately named Lamball, it is one of many island creatures that can become your pal, with the right touch: smashing it over the head with a big wooden stick (to weaken it, of course), then trapping it in a Pal Sphere, a colorful ball that will act as the creature’s new home.

Does that sound familiar? It’s the same formula (minus the battery) the creators of Pokémon built an empire on. It’s no surprise, then, that people have been calling Palworld “Pokémon with guns” pretty much since it was announced in 2021. On January 19, the game launched on Steam Early Access and Xbox Game Pass. In just a few days, the game has quite literally achieved overnight success for little-known developer Pocket Pair: 5 million copies sold, according to its creators, since its release. It’s a chart-topper on Steam, with more than 1.5 million concurrent players as of this writing, as well as on Twitch, racking up more than 340,000 viewers on PalWorld streams since its launch. It’s been so popular that the game’s servers have been struggling to keep up.

Despite the nickname, Palworld is more open-world survival game than a traditional creature collector. One where you’re better off if you eat your cute little friends when no other food is readily available. You’ll need to build a base camp, start fires to keep warm and, eventually, equip your pals with guns to stay alive. The premise has been so outlandish for some that, ahead of the game’s launch, Pocket Pair felt the need to confirm “it is not a scam and will definitely be released.”

If you’re wondering why it’s so popular, you’re not alone. On Reddit, users have offered a variety of explanations pointing to a perfect storm: the allure of a survival game like Rust, paired with the cute pet-like nature of Pokémon; the desire from traditional Pokémon players for more open-world games; the utterly bizarre nature of Palworld itself. “You know when you’re scrolling on a website and you see an absolutely insane ad for a game and it’s like “C[L]ICK HERE TO PLAY NOW!!l” and you know it’s a scam,” wrote one user. “Well this game is like those ads, but real. It’s absolutely nuts.”

The game’s success is not without complications. On X, users continue to share photos of Palworld characters who bear striking similarities to various pokémon. In an interview with Automaton, Pocket Pair CEO Takuro Mizobe said the company takes its games “very seriously, and we have absolutely no intention of infringing upon the intellectual property of other companies.” (Nintendo, which publishes the Pokémon video games, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on this story.)

That hasn’t stopped players from modding Pokémon into the game, giving pickaxes to Pikachus and putting a bow and arrow in the hands of Ash Ketchum. It’s not exactly Petilil with a pistol, but it’s pretty close, and it brings the darkly funny allure of Palworld to the fore.

Brazilian Gamers Aren’t Waiting for Hollywood. They’re Building Their Own Cons

Brazilian Gamers Aren’t Waiting for Hollywood. They’re Building Their Own Cons

In 2022, I interviewed journalist Mariana Ayrez, who opened my eyes to the relevance of Perifacon. She reiterated that “while other events promote pop culture and bring together artists and the public, they have a lot of incentive from private business players. Meanwhile, Perifacon delivers geek culture, love, and fun to all involved independent of their budget. Their main goal is accessibility.”

Delgado believes that while Perifacon calls attention to social inequality, it also promotes artists from those marginalized communities and showcases their products to a public that wants them and can’t get them in any other way. Favela influence is everywhere in Brazilian art, culture, and sports.

“The favela is the powerhouse that people already know. However, brands and enterprises are still after the same profile of people that already have access to everything. We know this because of the lack of support to unfavored areas,” Ayrez explains.

Meanwhile, for the young people growing up in the favelas, the convention is an event to look forward to. “Perifacon is everything that the 12-year-old Eduardo dreamed of being part of, as he grew up being bullied for liking ‘weird’ things,” says Marques.

“My experiences outside the hood with people from other social classes showed me how prejudice operates in a systematic way, he says. “The simple fact that I come from the favela and I like comics fascinated the rich kids. My experiences as a nerd were marked by a series of contradictions, stereotypes, and conflicting images. However, at the same time, it is an honor to be able to affirm myself as a hood nerd even with those setbacks.”

Delgado and her colleagues have plans to keep Perifacon going, and to expand access to tech and gaming in the future to the communities that need it the most. “My dream is to take Perifacon to other Brazilian states and that we’ll be invited by the local authorities to work toward it. I’d take Perifacon to any place in Brazil.”

Meanwhile, Ayrez expects the event will grow to the point that the brands and private sector actors will compete to see who can support it. “I hope that they keep this amazing work that discovers talents in each edition, that brings joy to many people who for many reasons can’t go to the mainstream events.”

Ramos cites the work of Hong Kong philosopher Yuk Hui and his concept of technodiversity as one way of thinking about what the team wants to do with Perifacon. “I think that Perifacon is part of a movement of a non-colonized innovation that, in the future, may become part of the overall cultural industry,” she says. The convention will ultimately become a product on its own, but one that shows the world that “besides gaming and nerd culture, the favela has untapped talent in fashion, cuisine, and so on.”