Game show contestants electrocuted others on France’s Game of Death; it was really a social experiment

A French game show asked contestants to electrocute fellow contestants when they answered questions incorrectly, and they did so as the audience chanted and demanded punishment. But the electrocution wasn’t real–the recipients are actors–and the show was actually created for a documentary that recreates Yale social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s 1960s experiments in obedience.

Of course, some TV news stations have 24 hours to fill so they are expressing fake outrage–my local Fox affiliate teased the story during American Idol by suggesting it was real; local news is so pathetic sometimes–but the TV show was ultimately a social experiment. In other words, no one was electrocuted.

Christophe Nick’s documentary Game of Death aired yesterday in France, and he told the French paper le Parisien, “Television is a power — we know that, but it remained theoretical. I asked myself, ‘Is it so strong that it can turn us into potential torturers?’” He also said, “People never would have obeyed if they didn’t have trust. They told themselves, ‘TV knows what it’s doing.’”

Time magazine reports that “Milgram found that 62.5% of his subjects could be encouraged, browbeaten or intimidated into seeing the test through to its conclusion by delivering scores of shocks of increasing intensity to the maximum of 450 volts. In Game of Death, 81% of contestants went all the way by administering more than 20 shocks up to a maximum of 460 volts. Only 16 of the 80 subjects recruited for the fake game show refused the verbal prodding from the host — and pressure from the audience to keep dishing out the torture like a good sport — though most expressed misgivings or tried to pull out before being convinced otherwise.”

Nick told the AP that the contestants “were convinced that they’d never succumb to this — and then they discovered they did it in spite of themselves. They were stupefied. … For many, it changed their lives,” he said, citing contestants who became more assertive at work or came out to their families as gay after participating.

Game of Death: France’s Shocking TV Experiment [Time]
French polemic over fake game show electrocutions [AP]

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.