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…

Buzfeed plane tracker

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.…

Spirit is a bone_ 8

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…


Kommissar is an adventure through the language of despotism

It’s about the language. It’s always about the language. Kommissar is a text adventure masquerading as a thriller—and that’s a good thing. You play as an officer in the Ministry of Truth. This is a plum job seeing as it went to you, a child of the elite, and not some pleb. Suffice it to say this is not an equal society. To the winner goes the spoils, and you are spoilt with spoils. One of those spoils is the power to issue warrants. And do you ever issue warrants, directing investigatory efforts and powers of detentions to various quadrants…


The Walls Have Ears is security theatre with a side of voyeurism

The Walls Have Ears is security theatre, but what isn’t? Body scanners at airports, metal detectors at sports stadia, fancy uniforms that imply nonexistent authority—it’s all a big show. The Walls Have Ears is about that show, but you’re a performer. More accurately, you’re a desk jockey at an unnamed intelligence agency listening to intercepted communications. The files are arrayed on your screen like flashcards: enigma, DEFCON, rail gun, military intelligence, top secret. You sit and listen to the messages. Hopefully there’s something incriminating in each one, something you can use to flag the interlocutor for further surveillance. You must…