All the media attention surrounding “hacking” these last few weeks have made me think. First up, it’s funny how Julian Assange of Wikileaks has been branded a “hacker”, suggesting that whistleblowing facilitated by the digital domain is somehow a crime (or should be). Whatever he did in the past hardly concerns the legality (or technicalities) of his methods.
Next up, I detest the “hacktivism” label that’s used to describe DDoS attacks whether they stem from botnets or actual activism such as Anonymous’ LOIC parties. Again, while it’s a clever turn of phrase, it suggests that congesting the internet is somehow an illicit act and not a feature of the system.
I’m not sure if I see how DDoS-ing a website is any different from a protest march. It commands attention, it disrupts business as usual and it forces some manner of response. Considering the London Metropolitan Police’s response to the student protests against cuts in higher education, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the powers that be has a might-makes-right approach to policing the internet (what a sad, confused article) too.
Game activism & Newsgaming
A few years back, while I was doing my BA, our lecturer talked about Newsgames. He showed us some examples, such as that game where you blow up terrorists in a middle-eastern town, only to find your “preventative aggression” spawning more and more terrorists.
I wasn’t very impressed with that game, mainly because I saw the model presented as little more than a rhetorical trick in game form. However, the concept is sound. A picture says more than a thousand words, but a loop can be infinite.
Game design strikes me as a great idea dissemination tool, potentially more direct and detailed than any pamphlet. Good systems can be stronger than arguments, as their reading is active interpretation. There’s no way to take them literally.
In a sense, Ian Bogost’s Cow Clicker is also an activist game, again so simple that it annoys me, but quite spot on all the same. Bogost underestimates the power of metaphor, but his point about shallow, compulsive systems is very valid.
System determines behaviour, but metaphor gives rise to experience. A system without symbols has little content unless you’re a hardcore system aesthete. Those systems fall into the trap of academia: They become excluding, relevant only to experts.
But, since we’re all experts in games, I’ll have a go at system-driven activism anyway. Imagine a game built around the now-infamous LOIC.
Participative Denial of Service Attacks
It could be really simple. Imagine a sorting game in the vein of Diner Dash or Galcon. The player is given a steady stream of resources, and a number of targets to spend them on. Or something like Pipe Dream, where you guide a flow towards a target.
Now imagine that the resources are TCP packets and the targets corporate networks. This could be reflected in the surface metaphor as well, with branded targets. The metaphor would dictate the overtness of the political action.
Any innocuous-looking match-three game on a games portal could be a concealed weapon, although I suppose portals have mechanisms in place to prevent this. At least I hope they do. Other games could be overt, with freedom fighters chucking molotovs at corporate headquarters.
You could even do multiplayer games. Each player swears allegiance to a number of brands (which will be intrinsically ironic, given the objective of the game) and then sets out to protect them from DoS attacks by expending a limited pool of resources as part of a team.
Each team’s politics would revolve around what brands to protect, with arguments about their real-world usefulness, benevolence, malice and coolness. The teams could also spend resources to mount attacks, with teams targeting each other based on their brands. Or there could be resources to win by attacking, meaning brands could be “innocent bystanders” in what’s really just a raid.
It would all be anti-corporate, of course, a sort of merry dance of destruction, a sort of anti-EVE Online. Or in a sense, it’d be like EVE Online partially overlapping the real world, groups of what’s essentially cyber-opportunists whose primary social mode is trolling, looking out for number one while casually participating in an internet-economics artillery battery.
Keep it simple
It doesn’t need to be hardcore either. Just make it Diner Dash or GalconFusion with team score, and a chat window on the side where players could discuss between rounds. That’s a start.