If there is anything on the planet more invigorating, more purely and perfectly thrilling than watching five little blonde bitches throw up mimosas on TV, I don’t know what it is.
Reality TV has been a part of my life as soon as I could ask “Mummy, what’s teen pregnancy?” So, like, age four. But despite my lifelong fascination with the hideous knee-high fur boots on Jersey Shore and the disgust spread across thick accents on 90 Day Fiancé, I know that reality TV is “not good for society.” The shows are often exploitative, paying their contestants nothing and taking advantage of their faults, bad luck, and bodies for audience laughter. They embrace harmful stereotypes and rarely say anything other than how we as humans are ready to debase ourselves for any kind of attention. And America’s Next Top Model literally featured blackface multiple times. Multiple!
I remind myself of these things, but when a streaming service presents to me yet another troupe of airbrushed, skinny women, promising the most dramatic season ever, I crawl back to reality TV like a spider stalks its web-wrapped prey. Or maybe I’m the prey.
I just can’t look away, is my point. I can’t defend reality TV, but I can’t stop watching these Barbie doll people cry, their ugly sobs translating to red-faced confessionals and Instagram captions for me to screenshot, read, and send to all my friends. It’s fucked up. But it’s delicious to become an animal in this way, making desperation into a spectacle to celebrate over vodka cranberry.
I won’t apologise, then, for making this despicable list of video games that will entertain you just as much as the corniest reality TV star. Each entry in this list has a particular type of reality TV fan in mind — the Selling Sunset angels, the hawkish Survivor viewers, the Real Housewives freaks, you’ll all find yourselves here. This is my safe space for garbage TV, but these games are good enough to revisit well after a set closes down for malpractice.
If you like Selling Sunset…
…you’re going to love the free itch.io game Weasel Real Estate. Weasel Real Estate is just like Selling Sunset, Netflix’s show about different mouths full of identical dental veneers selling McMansions in Los Angeles. Genuinely, Selling Sunset is just a show about people in itsy-bitsy skirts selling multi-million dollar bachelor pads with beach views. The main draw of the show is conniving real estate agent and sole antagonist Christine Quinn, who recently hid under a table to fend off anti-fur protesters and is pivoting to crypto real estate, whatever that means. She is the Joker.
In Weasel Real Estate, you play a weasel wearing a suit (a metaphor for Selling Sunsets brokers the Oppenheim twins) and whack moles in a gridded garden before they sabotage your house for sale. It’s a premise just as simple as Selling Sunset, but cudgeling moles repeatedly will hypnotize you just as easily as Quinn’s wrinkle-free forehead.
If you’re stuck on Love Island…
…have sex with an omnipotent cat girl or something in the dating sim and horror game Sucker for Love: First Date. But while Sucker for Love unabashedly explores the scary side of wanting, the dating show Love Island presents itself as a force for global good. It started in the United Kingdom in 2015 and has expanded to countries like Australia, the U.S., Norway, and Poland in the years since, carrying the weight of the world on the guilelessness of its horny contestants and how small their bathing suits are.
But under the platinum highlights, Love Island is equally grotesque. It pumps its contestants full of alcohol and gets them to perform gratuitous “challenges” like pole dancing and kissing with tongue. These challenges are mostly designed for all the straight women to get mad at all the straight men and then everyone cries.
If you’ve always wanted to cry on an island that slowly obliterates your sense of self and sexy singledom, Sucker for Love will trap you in your bedroom with attractive horrors, including a Cthulhu with a Brazilian butt lift named Ln’eta. The game is funny, well-animated, and examines the infernal lengths humans will go to for something as inconsequential as a smooch, like going on Love Island.
Survivor asks contestants to push their bodies to the limit…
…point and laugh at them while playing Don’t Starve on your couch. The rugged competition franchise Survivor, which has the tagline “outwit, outplay, outlast,” and first reached the U.S. in 2000, was one of the first reality TV shows I watched as an impressionable baby. But after 42 seasons of strangers wilfully locking themselves away from society, living off rations, and slowly turning against each other in the name of a couple thousand dollars, I have learned nothing about outwitting or outlasting and a lot about depravity.
It’s for the best, then, that I stick to the solo survival game Don’t Starve, where you play a scientist sealed in a strange sepia world by a demon. Collecting 2D tangles of grass and brooding by the fire alone might not teach you anything, either, but at least you’ll suffer peacefully, away from curious eyes like mine.
Catfish can be disturbing…
…and now your life can be, too, with Dialtown: Phone Dating Sim. MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show is about pity and frustration — why did that guy believe he was dating Katy Perry for six years? Why does that girl keep harassing people online when her loved ones beg her to stop? It’s difficult to understand every reason someone might fall for or become a catfish, but Dialtown, the bizarre visual novel about dating people with phones for heads, asks you nicely to stop thinking so hard about lame shit like love and humanity. Somewhere in its collaged edges and “ur mum” jokes, you’ll learn to accept chaos.
You might be inspired by MasterChef USA…
…but Overcooked will determine if you’ve got what it takes. I’m personally not a huge fan of the cooking competition MasterChef because British Toucan Sam, otherwise known as chef and series judge Gordon Ramsay, terrifies me. But maybe you like watching amateur cooks get berated for their lamb shanks, and that’s OK. As I said earlier, this is a reality TV safe space.
If you like MasterChef, the cooperative cooking game Overcooked will allow you to achieve your final evolution — a raccoon with a chef hat that burns boiling water, somehow. When playing with friends or lovers, you can simultaneously inhabit the role of bumbling tween MasterChef and very disappointed, screeching judge with a modest décolleté. Successfully managing a kitchen in Overcooked takes a strong sense of timing and communication, but falling short in either of those aspects could bring out the worst in you, much like how a shoddy vinaigrette can easily destroy Toucan Ramsay.
The Bachelor has ruined my life…
…and defiled my Wii with The Bachelor: The Video game (one word). Let me be clear, every time I watch a season of something from the prolific Bachelor franchise, I horrify myself. The competitive marriage show and its diehard fans, the self-proclaimed Bachelor Nation, embodies the most boring, restrictive qualities of white, ascetic Middle America, and it visibly ruins people’s psyches as they compete to marry someone whose name is probably Chris or Lauren. It’s a drawn-out, poorly formatted show that catapults despicable people to fame, but I watch it because I am no better than a brainless earthworm. Sorry!
The Bachelor released its own video game for Nintendo Wii and DS in 2010 — it’s actually just one of a few franchises on this list with a middling proprietary game, but I chose to single out The Bachelor because I need to emphasise its failures in order to release its hold on my life.
The Video game requires you to complete a series of mini-games (which stand in for the series’ competitive group dates) that will remind you of the good Flash Player days in order to marry Jason Mesnick, the first Bachelor, or another hunky real man turned into a marshmallow by 2010 graphics. It sucks. I want Lana Del Rey to put a hex on The Bachelor’s network ABC so that I can regrow a brain.
Everything is fine until the Pinot Grig’ starts flowing on The Real Housewives of New York City…
…that’s basically the plot of Outlast. Every Real Housewives series, whether it takes place in New York City, Atlanta, or the bottom of a suburban dad’s luxury fishbowl, is really just about watching MILFs who hate each other drink too much and throw things. In every way possible, it reminds me of the incredible survival horror Outlast, which has you play as a cowering, weak journalist trying to escape the repulsive residents of the deteriorating Mount Massive Asylum.
In real life, I am the spineless journalist and the alcoholic MILFs of New York City are my captors. The only difference between me and Outlast’s protagonist is that I would never want to escape.
I happily live in the madness of on-screen divorce, silver bikinis, and the fact that we humans are so completely stupid. I hope reading through this list and playing some of the games helps you embrace that a bit more. It’s the least I can do.