Thursday, May 1, 2014

Welcome to the Jam: Come on and Slam

At some point or another every one of us have watched some kind of reality television to some extent, or are at least familiar with the idea. Whether it is a game show or a slice of life show the premise is still basically the same: the show is about real people’s real reactions to situations. Of course anyone who has actually watched a fair amount of reality television knows that this isn't always the case. Many of these shows have sponsors that of course want to get the most out of the money they invested, and thus insist on changing and editing aspects of the show to make it, they believe, more appealing. This can quickly lead to some very not real aspects interjected into what is supposed to be reality television. The expectations and conventions of contemporary reality television can undermine and corrupt the aspect of genuineness that should be at the core of this genre. To help show this we will look at two similar reality based shows, one which choked itself with a corporate sponsorship and another that allowed reality back in reality television with great results.
            To begin with let us look at a failed show that burned and crashed spectacularly, Game Jam. For those who may not know a game jam is when some small time developers, usually called indie developers, come together and make games with limited time and resources. Originally the show was simply going to be a kind of documentary meant to show what it is actually like to make a game. However it quickly grew beyond itself and attracted some high level sponsors, Pepsi. Over time the focus of the show changed from its documentary base to a full blown competition between the teams, to better please the sponsors, The competition involved physical challenges and competitive gaming, which has nothing to do with the original purpose of the show, game designing. Once the game developers were flown out to the set and filming began things got even worse. Early into filming representatives from Pepsi barred any drink from the filming floor that wasn’t Mountain Dew or water, forced contestants to change their dress style, shouted at people for not holding Mountain Dew bottles properly on camera, and lectured everyone on how to smile properly when drinking it.  While this upset all of the contestants, and many others working on the production, it was only the tip of the iceberg to come. Namely the Pepsi representatives purposely trying to inflame minor arguments just for the sake of drama and asking blatantly sexist questions of the contestants and then cutting them off when they didn’t get the answer they wanted, a sexist and derogatory one.  After a long day of being treated horribly all of the contestants decided to band together and walk out on the production, thus ending the shortest and most expensive game jam ever (Rosen, 2014).
            The other show that we will be comparing Game Jam to is The Gauntlet season two. The Gauntlet is a video game competition show created and made by a long time web content producer Rooster Teeth. The second season of the show features four teams of competitor competing in an increasingly ridiculous series of video game related challenges to eventually declare a sole winner. One of the biggest differences between The Gauntlet Season Two and Game Jam is that The Gauntlet, even while having corporate sponsors, allowed much more freedom to is contestants to allow their stories to grow naturally. One of the creators of the show and one of its hosts Michael Burns, more popularly known as Burnie Burns, has said that they originally were going to try to have it be a bit more scripted but quickly abandoned that idea once they realized that it would hurt the show and that the contestant would make it interesting all on their own (Burns, Jones, Gustavo , and Free, 2014). This shows a fundamental difference between the two shows, Game Jam wanted to make a reality show while The Gauntlet wanted to make reality into a show.
            The biggest thing to take away from this comparison is that Pepsi is scummy and awful. The second biggest thing to take away is that the main reason Game Jam failed is not because of its content put but because its sponsors tried to make it fit within the expectations of what they believed a reality show is, product placement surround by pointless drama.  Through their product shoehorning, purposeful antagonizing, and sexism they choked any kind of natural growth of story and creativity. Thus betraying one of the core concepts of reality television: real people’s real reactions.  In contrast Rooster Teeth’s The Gauntlet allowed their competitions to unfold much more naturally and even poked fun at contemporary reality show conventions with purposely bad edits and wacky immunity items such as a pool, a large wrench, and a dog. This more open approach lead to a good show loved by many while Game Jam lead to nothing but anger and resentment.
            All in all Game Jam had great potential to show people what it is actually like to make games but it was snuffed out by corporate greed. Their belief that sticking dogmatically to reality show conventions would create the best product to bring them the greatest profit with the lowest risk is what crushed any kind genuineness and interest in the show. By looking at a similar show, The Gauntlet, we truly see that Game Jam was possible and could have been incredibly popular if these conventions were not adhered to. Sadly it is likely that because the Game Jam incident left such a bad taste in the mouth of everyone associated with it that a show like it will not be attempted again any time soon. But seriously, Pepsi as a company is pretty scummy.

Works Cited

Rosen, Jared. "How The Most Expensive Game Jam In History Crashed And Burned In A Single Day." Indie Statik. N.p., 31 Mar. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2014. <>.

Burns, Michael, Michael Jones, Sorola Gustavo , and Gavin Free, perf. "Rooster Teeth Podcast 266." Rooster Teeth Podcast. Rooster Teeth, 8 Apr 2014. web. 8 Apr 2014. <>.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting critique on two more 'particular' series of reality television, especially showing the dramatic hold companies have on series they've sponsored, and you offered a great example of advertisement that didn't exactly flow well with the series. It's assumed that reality television will never have a pure element of 'reality'; scripted series are crucial to the genre. However, when corporations overly dominate a series with their products, to the extent of harassing the cast members, as well as degrading them emotionally, it's clear that they are over stepping their boundaries.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.