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

Mike Powers
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.

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