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Mercurio on Journalism

July 10th, 2011 by

I had a week off. Deal with it. There were goblins, and hot chicks, and hot goblin chicks that all had to be dealt with. So I gather that, while I was away on my romp, people have remembered that it is possible to hack anything with a circuit board, and that tabloids are staffed by people employed to ruin the lives of others. Is that about right?

I hacked a phone once. Well, I say hacked, all I did was call it and record the voice of whoever it was that bothered to answer. From a single word, I extrapolated an entire passcode, used it to break into the secure records of the world’s biggest bank, and transfer millions into one of my many secret and untraceable bank accounts. This was in the Introversion classic, Uplink. The same technique did also work in the real world, however.

On reflection, Uplink really missed a trick there. The game was so focused on being cyberpunk – fighting corporations as either a morally superior deck jockey or a techno-anarchist – that the missions reflected that side of hacking perhaps a little too much. Break into the national insurance database, hack the academic records mainframe, delete my wife’s face from her driver’s license so I can stab her to death for the life insurance, all very glamorous and expected. I suppose if they were making it now, every mission would be about breaking into a footballer’s phone to see which vacant, pointless, vapid, unacceptably beautiful piece of Z-list television totty he is sexting this week.

I consulted with a company that, for legal reasons, must remain nameless. They wanted to move away from their comfort zone and make a game with style, panache and other clichés of that kind, and they wanted me to help them do that. I suggested that they invent the journalism game. The premise was simple: your editor would pick a name from a hat – probably some form of celebrity – and it was your job to create a story about them.

It was a tycoon-style game mixed with RPG elements. If you wanted to, you could dig into their past, go looking for proper, meaningful skeletons. Perhaps Sylvester Van Black, noted Hollywood action star, has been fiddling his taxes, or is the mastermind behind a child-fighting ring. Do the proper leg work, kick the right trees, and you might just find enough evidence to write that up, make a difference. Or you could go the other way, break into his house and hide in the guest bedroom’s decorative shrub until he tries to bed his jail bait housemaid and go for the sensationalist angle.

Your stories would ultimately have the power to sway the direction of your paper and even warp the minds of the readers, leading to your editor asking you to write puff pieces about men who would be willing to donate generously to the paper, or bury something that they would rather not got out. Of course you would always be free to say no, to maintain your integrity, but the people must have news.

The endgame would have broken with tradition a little, however, and I think this was where I lost the developers. I don’t blame them, they were looking at me with the tired eyes of men too hammered on Red Bull to form coherent thoughts any more. The final story would concern an alleged paedophile ring and its subsequent dismantling by a massive police task force. On the face of it, they are guilty as sin, and you could stop there. You could take your ill-researched but ostensibly factual piece to press, stick it below the glorious red banner on the front page and proclaim to the world that HIDEOUS PEDOS WILL BURN. No-one would blame you. Or you could dig deeper.

That task force was pretty sneaky, wasn’t it? You and your colleagues have paid off a lot of coppers over the game, hired a few detectives of your own and even organised stings in similar situations, and this is the first you’ve heard of it. That’s really rather hush hush, perhaps there’s something worth reporting on there. And through this investigation you would discover, horror of horrors, that perhaps these men aren’t as guilty as they appear. Perhaps someone has been feeding the police false information, maybe there is a conspiracy at work here.

Do you take the easy way out, or dig a little deeper and risk losing everything?

The developers weren’t too enamoured, but then they were asking me, a man whose only experience of journalism is beating a street urchin severely with a rolled up Financial Times, to advise them on this topic.

I don’t do journalism.

I do, however, sell my services to developers whenever the opportunity arises. If more of them listened to me, the games as art debate would have ended before it began, with me and my games victorious. I would have constructed a throne from them. It would have been majestic.

Bear that in mind, next time your are sending pictures of your malformed genitalia to whichever pony-tailed tracksuit you are romancing behind the off-license this week. She knows you don’t have a throne, and out-of-work journalist properly sold her your voicemail password just so she could check. Think on this.

Perhaps I will tell you of the goblins/chicks/goblin chicks next week.

Mercurio Silver is a grumpy misanthropic immortal with bold statements and a narcissistic need to force them on others. With his sharp tongue he shares his most recent realisations and thoughts right here on Midlife Gamer every Sunday.

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