Electron Dance
30Mar/11Off

A Look At Wikileaks Stories

I previously wrote about Wikileaks Stories last year. Managed by Jonas Kyratzes (The Infinite Ocean, Nexus City) and Gnome of Gnome's Lair, it's aim is "to support Wikileaks and spread the revelatory information contained in its leaks through the interactive medium; to use the power of games to fight for democracy and freedom." Activism through gaming.

The project was launched in December 2010 and since then the site has acquired three games. I played each recently and here are my thoughts on them and the project as a whole. There are some spoilers here.

Leaky World

Released during the last week of 2010, Molleindustria's Leaky World shows both the polish and innovation you might expect from the indie pedigree that brought us Every Day I Dream The Same Dream, Queer Power (NSFW) and Ergon / Logos.

Leaky World seeks to explore Julian Assange's essay "Conspiracy as Governance" rather than Wikileaks itself, and Molleindustria labels it "A Playable Theory". It abstracts the idea of a political elite building a conspiratorial network into a strangely consuming game.

You are the global conspiracy, an ever-expanding line that seeks to link political nodes. But the more connections a node has, the more likely sensitive information will leak. When a leak occurs, you must act quickly to sever established links to distance the "global hegemony" from the damaging leak.

It's difficult to mesh message and mechanics together in a game but Leaky World makes a good fist of it. As the network grows, so do the frequency of leaks, which I took away as a positive message. A global conspiracy could not endure as the grander the conspiracy, the more it would bleed information. We will always find out the truth, another riff on the idea that every dictator falls.

Now it's not the kind of thing you're going to play a lot, and Leaky World doesn't do much to explore Wikileaks or those behind the leaks. But as a tool for spreading the word, it's clever and thought-provoking.

You Shall Know The Truth

Jonas Kyratzes' You Shall Know The Truth was released last month and, being a hybrid of a graphical adventure and a hidden object game, it's a lot more conventional than Leaky World. There is more focus on text as you might expect from the author of The Infinite Ocean which allows him to address the leaks explicitly, something problematic to explore without resorting to the written word.

Once again, you're the bad guy. You are a government agent sent in to a Wikileaks apartment to extract damning evidence on the organisation as well as removing as much Wikileaks material as you can lay your gloved, agenty hands on. You're up against a timer, which batters the experience into a rapid point-and-click fest. Some objects hide something, others nothing at all.

When you locate Wikileaks material, you're presented with a short summary of the sensitive information. The timer still runs down while you're reading, therefore to do "well" you might as well not read everything and just get back to the clicking like you're supposed to. And if you "succeed", you are faced with the surreal end game. When you think you're done, the cameras keep rolling as you find yourself funnelled through a world of anti-governmental slogans, culminating in a dramatic collapse of reality. Whilst I'm sure Kyratzes intended this to represent a world plunged into a truthless abyss, I took away a slightly different message, that knowing all this truth changes things and you cannot go back.

And, you know, if you stopped there, that would be all you would see. That's all I saw and assumed it's personal mission to tell me something about the Wikileaks cables was compromised.

You need to go back. You need to see the game as not failing due to poor design, but failing with intent. It's thwarting your concentration on purpose because it's not really about the leaks themselves, it's about what they have come to represent.

Wikileakers

Damian Connolly's Wikileakers was added this month and you couldn't get any more conventional than this. It's a small action game, a feelgood piece, casting you as Assange trying to get 251,287 cables out whilst avoiding metaphorical lasers and bombs. Interestingly, it's the only game of the set that casts you as hero.

The game isn't really that fun but some thought has been put into its Wikileaks skinning. Wikileakers has a few sly remarks up its digital sleeves. A small detail I might have missed through all that jumping around, for example, were the flags adorning the second set of lasers that turn up. And on failure, the game over screen is an indirect comment on the allegations of sexual misconduct.

Wikileaks Stories

The aim of Wikileaks Stories is not to convert - those who think Wikileaks are TEH EVIL are not going to fire up any of these games. No, it's job is promoting the cause, keeping it in the spotlight and highlighting information that the player might not have heard via the usual media channels.

The current set of games, to my surprise, didn't tell me too much about the revelations themselves. Both You Shall Know The Truth and Leaky World's one-liners played second fiddle to the gameplay which doesn't let you stop and look. So it's a little early to call whether Wikileaks Stories has been successful or not but, either way, it will stand as an interesting experiment. The three games above form an oddly incongruous collection.

As the window for topical games is rather narrow, I wonder whether the project has missed its moment. Wikileaks has disappeared from the headlines and no one talks about Julian Assange or Bradley Manning any more, although their situations are still very much unresolved.

The opposite viewpoint is more interesting. Perhaps this is the project's moment. Can it push Wikileaks back into public awareness just as the mainstream media are getting bored with Japanese nuclear reactors that refuse to explode? The project will need a few more games to make a serious dent in people's awareness and I expect we'll see it expand over the coming months.

Next: A conversation with Jonas Kyratzes on Wikileaks Stories.

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Comments (2) Trackbacks (2)
  1. It’s an interesting proposition, surely. Many games that can bring the player to a revelatory moment are lauded for their achievement. However, a game with a revelation meant to explicitly reference reality generally seems to get less recognition.

    I suppose it’s the knowledge that fact-driven moments are mostly generated by working backwards from a known/knowable event, versus working up to an entirely fictional one.

  2. I think factually grounded games don’t get the same airtime that fictional ones do simply because people think it’s going to be educational, i.e. reading between the lines: not fun.

    When I hear GTA San Andreas is great social commentary, I despair. GTA SA encourages you to have fun in a gameified gangsta paradise and the shallowness of its story was self-evident before I watched even one minute of The Wire. Afterwards, the whole premise was pretty laughable.

    I’m interested to see Gnome’s eventual Wikileaks Stories offering, because it’s a text adventure. That means, unlike the other games, you’ll have time to sit and consume the text it throws at you. But I hear Gnome is still struggling with Inform…