Hello, and welcome to our new series which picks out interesting things that we’d love someone to make a game about.
This isn’t a chance for us to pretend we’re game designers, more an opportunity to celebrate the range of subjects games can tackle and the sorts of things that seem filled with glorious gamey promise.
Check out our ‘Someone should make a game about’ archive for all our pieces so far.
Have you seen Selling Sunset yet? You must. Its appearance on Netflix – a whole series of the thing ready to go – is already the high-water mark of my cultural life on this planet.
Selling Sunset is one of those property shows in which rich people buy houses at extraordinary prices and somehow the rest of us are so swept away in the characters and the plotlines that we all cheer as the market goes up and up and up and the divide between rich and poor starts to yawn like one of those undersea canyons where there’s nothing at the bottom but a species of fish that’s born without eyes or a jaw, which has never known daylight, but which has still managed to ingest a couple of discarded Vitamin Water bottles for its trouble.
Yes, it’s all of that. But it’s also put together by the creators of The Hills, so it’s a masterpiece of constructed reality. You know this cognitive jig by now: it’s all fake, but it feels kind of real, so maybe in amidst the fakeness there’s something secretly real, right?
Selling Sunset takes this form and it makes it shine. Early on, one of the estate agents arrived back in LA and LAX – which is an absolute burg – is delivered in golden shards of sunlight as if the red-eye from New York has just touched down on Mount Olympus. This tells you all you need to know about how reality is being constructed here. And yet, a few episodes later a major new character is introduced. His name is Joey, or Justine, or Johnny – one of the Js. Jordan? Jayden? Anyway, he has a beard and he wears cardigans so he’s clearly geek-rich. He is looking to move into a 40 million dollar place in the Hills. And he knows one of the agents. They went to school together. Is there a flicker of something there? They can’t agree on a house, if memory serves, but they do go to dinner, which in Selling Sunset means going for drinks, which means watching as a drink is poured, watching the exchange of non sequiturs, and then cutting to a lingering, sensuous shot of the establishment’s name and street entrance. Everything seems set: Jordan, Joey, Jayden, is going to be a real character here. A force in the Selling Sunset world. He’s been established. We know him. We both envy him and feel slightly sorry for him. We want to know what his deal is!
And then he disappears. Nothing more from him for the rest of the series. Genius.
This is the peculiar genius, I would argue, of constructed reality. It is the way it draws you in and keeps you credulous. The construction is so front-loaded. Nobody talks like this, nobody does these things, nobody starts each conversation by catching up, handily, on what happened the last time everyone present got together, which after all was generally the night before, at Area, the hottest bar in LA. So the construction of it is almost overwhelming, the artifice is almost too much to stand.
But then Jordan or Jayden pops in and then disappears forever. And voila, you have formlessness of a kind that genuinely feels like the formlessness of real life – the very thing that literature has been struggling with since Cervantes.
This is rich territory. Rich in a way that games, with their dance between designer and player, are absolutely suited to capitalise on. It reminds me a bit of last week’s thought from Chris Tapsell: what if games had moments where they stepped beyond logic, just for a few dizzying minutes? And it reminds me of Moby Dick, where a character named Bulkington is introduced with great force and a sense of consequence in an early chapter and then absolutely disappears for the rest of the book.
Except Bulkington doesn’t disappear, because the reader remembers him, and the scholar discovers that Bulkington is a splinter of an earlier draft that has been left in the finished text. Bulkington, like Jordan or Johnny or Joey, is the ghost rattling around in the machine – the ghost of formlessness who both comments on the artifice all around in art while also helping the whole thing to transcend that artifice. Well played, Selling Sunset. Roll on Season 2.