Sony is announcing today that it will launch an original reality TV series on its PlayStation Network for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable game devices.

The show is an eight-episode series called The Tester and is about a bunch of gamers who compete to get a job as a game tester at Sony’s U.S. game division in San Diego, as well as a $5,000 signing bonus. It’s part of Sony’s push to create “original digital” content to make its games consoles more broadly appealing.

The series will air on the PlayStation Network from Feb. 18 to April 8. The show will feature a prestigious panel of judges, including comedian Hal Sparks and video game designer David Jaffe (of God of War and Twisted Metal fame). It is being produced in partnership with 51 Minds, the company behind reality TV shows Rock of Love and The Surreal Life.

The original programming is part of a growing catalog of entertainment offerings on the PlayStation Network, with the goal to create content you can’t get anywhere else, said Susan Panico, senior director of the PlayStation Network, in an interview.

“We wanted to take the strategy of providing original content from games to video,” said Panico. “We are honing in on the gamer lifestyle, which is something that people on our network can relate to.”

The PSN has more than 19,000 movies and TV shows, digital comics, games, and add-on game content available via broadband delivery to a PS 3 or PlayStation Portable handheld. There are more than 38 million registered accounts between the PlayStation Portable and PS 3 users.

In the show, 11 contestants will compete for the job by performing real-life events such as playing paintball, shooting giant slingshots, and becoming “human hamster balls.” Cast members range in age from 22 to 36 years old; the contestants include a student, a paramedic, and a used car salesman. The host of the show is Meredith Molinari, a model and host of multiple online music shows. Besides Jaffe and Sparks, judges include Brent Gocke, a manager of game testers at Sony; John Hight, director of product development for God of War; and Petro Piaseckyj, managing producer for international software at Sony.

Panico said the show is a cross of reality shows like Wipeout and The Apprentice. While testers don’t get paid that much, their job is to play games all day long, which is a dream for many gamers. And Panico said that being a tester is a great way to get your foot in the door for a career in video games. Jaffe, one of the most famous game developers, started out as a game tester.

Online, viewers can watch the show episodes inside the virtual theater of Sony’s Home virtual world on the PlayStation 3. Panico said the company is in talks to syndicate the show to other networks, so it’s possible it could wind up on TV. She said she hopes it does well enough to justify multiple seasons or spinoffs.

And in case you’re wondering, the testers aren’t all geeks or dorks, Panico said. She said people have preconceived notions about the nerdiness of game testing, but she said she finds game testers to be a fascinating and diverse bunch.