Do Not Feed The Monkeys

Ah, just what dystopian videogames need: acid humor

It’s no surprise that videogames are increasingly interested in matters of surveillance. After all, these days we can all feel like distant observers of each other’s lives, peeking in from the fringes provided by social media. There’s plenty of fiction from the 20th century that predicted our current circumstance: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Brazil (1985), A Scanner Darkly (1977), and so on. Perhaps the only surprise is how willingly we submit our personal lives to the machines that are made to watch us. Last year, videogames got serious on the subject, with harrowing thrillers like Replica, Orwell, Inside, and Watch_Dogs 2,…


A videogame about surveillance that’s designed to be hacked

The popularity of hacking fantasies today has more in common with a legend like Robin Hood than what might be immediately apparent. In both cases, one of society’s underdogs has found a way to cheat the systems upheld by authorities and turn them on their head—either through stealing money or hacking into computers. The technology and techniques have changed over the years but not the underlying desire. It’s only one strand of evidence that suggests cheating is an integral part of the human condition. This is something that Damien, the disabled dad and husband behind Sheffield-based game studio Ninja in A…


Beholder will turn you into the eyes and ears of a dystopian state

Most dystopian media places you in the shoes and mindset of the individual realizing the horrors of their world, from 1984‘s (1949) Winston to The Hunger Games‘s Katniss. Even in the videogames that feature protagonists working for the governmental power such as Papers Please (2013), the tone is one of rebellion and struggle against the society’s hardships. You may have to invade privacy and abide by Arstotzka’s rules in Papers, Please, but your suffering family and the consequences of disobeying are always guiding your actions. Beholder takes the opposite approach. You’re not the victim, but rather the eyes and ears of…


Orwell will have you play as the surveillance state for once

You might not be surprised to find out that Osmotic Studios’s narrative exploration game Orwell is firmly linked to George Orwell’s 1984 (1949). Orwell takes place in a dystopian world not unlike that of 1984; Orwell’s world is called The Nation—and security is the highest concern of the government. A series of terrorist attacks sparked a secret (and totally creepy) security program called, well, Orwell. And guess what? You get to control it. You’re Big Brother. The whole game takes place on a desktop—think Her Story (2015) or Cibele (2015). Orwell compiles information from websites, messengers, and public records; it’s up…


Inside dares you to escape

Sign up to receive each week’s Playlist e-mail here! Also check out our full, interactive Playlist section. Inside (PC, Xbox One) BY PLAYDEAD Playdead appears to have taken some lessons from Limbo and the many emulators that came after it. Focusing on atmosphere and a mounting sense of dread, Inside is a journey into the grayness of the human condition under surveillance. You are a boy, you are hunted, you are observed, you are sacrificed, again and again. While more mechanically forgiving than its predecessor, Inside is cruel to its players in a way few other games have ever dared to…


Want to weed through a suspect’s phone? There’s a game for that

A few days ago, a terrorist attack devastated a major city. Officials don’t have a body count for you but it’s bad. Do you really need to know the exact number? Would that change anything for you? Anyhow, officials now want to find out how this happened and prevent future attacks. That is the opening premise of Replica, and from that fact pattern alone you can almost sense callous indifference to civil liberties coming around the bend. And so it is: the game challenges you to piece together a story by rummaging through someone else’s cellphone. There may be some…


Interactive map lets you see the FBI planes circling our homes

In an analysis of over 200 federal aircraft using the flight tracking website Flightradar24, Buzzfeed has put together a visual compendium of where and when government planes have been flying over US soil. The results, concentrated overwhelmingly over urban areas, spanned across flights from August to December of 2015, providing a glimpse into what the government gets up to when we’re not looking. Buzzfeed makes the helpful choice to display this terrifying data using an interactive graph with flashing colors. Weirdly, once you stop thinking about the meaning behind the map and start dragging and dropping it, it becomes a…


“Tracing You” uses web data to get closer than you’d like

The digital footprint is supposed to be an ominous concept. It’s supposed to be a reminder of all the digital breadcrumbs digital Hansels and Gretels leave in their wakes. But in practice, the digital footprint is too squishy a concept to truly resonate. How do you quantify all the little pieces of yourself given away with every click and pageview? They obviously add up, but in the moment they don’t feel like much. These pieces do feel meaningful to the companies on the other end of each transaction, however, and that asymmetry puts the individual web user at a disadvantage.…


Facial recognition lends itself to creepy digital portraits

You shouldn’t have to carry ID when you go to grab a coffee. Coffee is not a controlled substance, though it sure is wonderful (and possibly addictive). That does not stop nominally just societies from demanding that their citizens identify themselves while out and about. Inevitably, the burden of these policies is unevenly shouldered by different groups. This problem could easily solved by no longer demanding that citizens identify themselves at every turn. There are, however, two problems with such a proposal. First: Good luck getting municipal politicians and police forces to agree. Second: The elimination of identification requirements means…