Watching You Play: Can A Dystopian Video Game Help Us Better Appreciate The Value Of Privacy?

Mar 4 2014, 7:54pm CST | by

The biggest challenge for privacy advocates is getting people to appreciate why privacy matters even if you don’t have anything to hide. Those of us who feel strongly about the topic tend to lean on arguments Daniel Solove made in a seminal article back in 2011. But there’s other ways to explore the thesis that take us beyond privacy theory. Dystopian fiction is a powerful vehicle for considering the consequences of society placing too much value on transparency and over-sharing. So are dystopian video games, as is evidenced by the demo of Nicky Case’sNothing to Hide: Any Anti-Stealth Game Where You Are Your Own Watchdog”—a crowd-funded and open sourced endeavor (both code and art).

“Nothing to Hide” takes place in a fictional setting underwritten by a tongue-in-cheek 2044 copyright held by PanoptiCorp. It is a nightmarish hellscape perhaps brought about by Silicon Valley’s most obnoxious dreams of social engineering coming true. The opening scenes thrust us into the life of Poppy Gardner, a despondent female teen protagonist who decides to run away from home to avoid saying or doing things that bring down her father’s “Popularity Metrics™.” Even though this is a blatant social media satire, you can’t help but feel uncomfortable watching the story unfold as a panicked response to an eerie “#DaddyDaughterMoment.” The tension doesn’t let up, either. Every step of the way is disquieting as you move the angst ridden Poppy through areas guarded by constant surveillance—places that literally will kill her as soon as she moves away from the camera’s ever watchful eye.

My colleague Andrew Phelps, Professor and Director of the RIT Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction, and Creativity (which I am an affiliate of), has incredibly high standards for games, and was duly impressed by “Nothing to Hide.” “This game is interesting for a couple of reasons,” Phelps said. “First, it focuses player attention and awareness on the uncomfortable sensation of being watched, tracked, and monitored. But even more interesting is that the process by which the game was made and released is a commentary on secrecy and private data. It’s interesting to see media content and the process of its production married together in both form and message.”

Alberto Camacho, an undergraduate game design major at RIT, heaped praise on the game’s formal features:

“The aesthetic is fantastic. It has a clean flat design with modern typography lining the walls, and makes excellent use of responsive environment animation that overlays walking without an eerie sensation of being watched. And, it was smart choice to build the game on technologies that allow it to be played on a computer’s web browser and downloaded across multiple platforms. Overall, I think Nicky is an extremely talented developer who has an interesting message to share.”

It is too early to tell whether playing “Nothing to Hide” will impact how people view privacy and look at any number of “Poppies” who feel like insecure outsiders in a world that increasingly wants to translate public confessions into oppressive data trails. But it is a nice change of pace to think about games as tools for heightening our awareness of surveillance problems, rather than functioning as platforms for spying and…well…spying.

Source: Forbes Business


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