If you’re not entrenched in the dizzying, Labyrinth-like world of YouTube personalities, Tuber Simulator may just seem like a fun little distraction for your phone. (It’s free, by the way. Just saying.) But if you’re a content creator — particularly one who carefully monitors the number of subscribers they have in hopes of one day scraping together a living wage — this game might make you a little uncomfortable.
And it’s supposed to.
While PewDiePie needs no introduction, his game development company might. The team is called Outerminds, and the concept they came up with is fairly simple: you’re a budding YouTube star who must produce as many videos as possible in order to generate more views, which will allow you to purchase new items. As you proceed to each new level, your chosen handle rises up the list of actual YouTubers who exist in real life. It’s fun to see your own name among such a star-studded lineup, but the road to achievements is presented as far less savory than their perfectly edited vlogs make it seem.
None of this comes as news to the YouTube community at large. Many, many popular content creators have bravely opened up regarding their struggles with mental health in the wake of their popularity, including BFvsGF, Chris Oflyng, Michael Buckley, and the SHAYTARDS — just to name a few. The pressure is real folks, and it’s important to remember that real people are affected by it. I sincerely hope that anyone looking to enter into this tumultuous platform remembers that there are many resources at their disposal.
The siren call of a massive YouTube following can lure you in and consume every part of you, which is precisely what Tuber Simulator does.
Look, it’s undeniably a fun game. You get to personalize your room with neat little gadgets and even a few pets, randomly generate a ton of absurd-sounding videos, and rake in a ton of pixelated cash. But when I began logging in every morning, eagerly clicking away to gather my earnings from the night before over a cup of coffee, an unsettling realization came over me. PewDiePie seems to be hinting at something far more sinister than a casual gaming experience: no matter how desperately we try to achieve a level of notoriety on the internet, it’s still finite. None of this was ever meant to last, because none of this is actually real.
“For too long, one man has sat at the top of the YouTube throne. But now you have the chance to take him out.”
It’s no coincidence that Tuber Simulator’s trailer opens as any thriller might, except this time, you’re the killer. Like the hotly anticipated survival horror Hello, Neighbor where you break into a house in your neighborhood attempting to root out what dark secret its resident is hiding, PewDiePie invites you into his YouTube domain to do the same. What carefully guarded creation skills will you learn? How much are you willing to change about yourself to entice more subscribers? When the man himself jerks into view upon discovering your progress, are you prepared to retaliate?
Even when I power the game down and close the app, the digital representation of me continues to work — streaming for the community until I return again to create more videos. That version of me is constantly smiling, cheerfully clicking away at the computer. Sure, we can buy a new one, surround ourselves with fancier and more expensive items, and rack up more subscribers than we know what to do with, and yet we never leave that chair. We can never even open any of the windows we purchase. Did you notice there’s also no door to escape through?
I’ve been wondering lately whether this is how PewDiePie feels sometimes. That Tuber Simulator intentionally strands us on an island of our own making to teach us a lesson. Do we, the players, truly yearn for that kind of life ruled entirely by content and endless public scrutiny? Is it worth the cost of our own mental health?
For all we toil in that tiny, pixelated room, I find it particularly odd that we’re never privy to any hateful comments. Presumably, our audience is as placid and cheerful as we are, consuming our videos without any positive or negative comment — and isn’t that a little terrifying, too? Many of the titles are randomly generated precisely to illicit some kind of reaction from the audience. “Plants that look like D***” and “Sexism Causes Gaming” abound, the latter of which I’m sure didn’t pass under the radar of even a fictional YouTube community.
So … where is everyone? Who are we even creating for? PewDiePie seems to be suggesting we’re all stuck in an endless cycle deeply reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno, where the ninth circle of hell is being forced to watch advertisements.
Its real strength lies in what the game doesn’t outright say. I can only speculate as to whether this is a silent cry for help — not just from PewDiePie, but the Outerminds team and others like them — or whether this was simply a form of stress release. We can’t possibly know what it’s like to exist as the Scion of YouTube while overseeing an empire of nearly 50 million subscribers, but Tuber Simulator offers a small peek into that world.
And it’s definitely a nightmare.