In the Post-TV World, Is There Still a Place for Game Shows?

In the era of streaming services, the game show might seem like something that’s survived way past its expiry date.

As far as planet television is concerned, game shows are its dinosaurs — old and seemingly forgotten about yet still capable of drawing a huge audience. In this new era of streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus, though, the game show might seem like something that’s survived way past its expiry date. Let’s not forget that, almost without exception, game shows aren’t streamed online. They’re network properties.

Vox Pop

TV, far from being the quintessential human activity that it was in the seventies and eighties, now occupies an odd place in entertainment. The physical TV is still as important as ever, especially given the popularity of games consoles, but instead of sitting and watching whatever is being broadcast each evening, viewers tend to pay for their entertainment per channel, per broadcaster, and/or per distribution house. 

This means that TV is arguably more expensive and more restrictive than ever, as Netflix, Prime Video, and Paramount Plus all tend to have different shows and movies. Granted, the viewer has the choice of what qualifies as essential viewing but paying for additional products has a very cable-like feel. Somehow, TV has managed to go forwards whilst taking a step back. 

The Popular Science magazine notes that the quiz-style show has existed since Vox Pop, a 1930s airtime filler that became entertainment’s breakout radio program. Vox Pop mixed street interviews with short, humorous skits (like throwing eggs at a desk fan), suggesting that nothing much has changed in entertainment in a century.

Yet, there’s evidence that game shows are thriving in all this mess.

Zoom Quizzes

More recently, the growing necessity of the Zoom video software for homeworking gave the game show an unlikely shove into the present day. Quiz games that utilized the app helped bring people closer together, notes The Guardian, while the usual TV-based shows served as a salve for the psychological battle being fought between newsreaders and our weary brains. They helped people escape, in other words.

Of course, quiz shows have had to evolve in certain areas. As Zoom took quizzes online, casino websites such as Mr Green transplanted the entire game show format from the large screen to the small one, introducing Dreamcatcher and Crazy Time, two games in a similar vein to Wheel of Fortune. These live casino entertainments also attracted big names like Hasbro, which has its name on Monopoly Live. 

Technology aside, though, the magic of the nearly 100-year-old game show format is very simple. It’s fantasy fulfillment. Much the same as video games let us become a rally driver or a soldier in space, game shows let us glimpse a world in which we’re winners and, by extension, rich and successful. That might sound like a gloomy appraisal of our futures but the kind of sudden wealth handed out by game shows doesn’t really exist in the real world. 

So, to answer the question in the title, there’s not just a place for game shows, many of us rely on them as distractions from reality and as a window into a different world altogether.