'We Become What We Behold’ Takes on the Media Feedback Loop

Nicky Case—the creator of 'Coming Out Simulator' and 'Parable of the Polygons'—turns their eye to media consumption.

Jan 17 2017, 11:00pm

I don't much like watching mainstream news, yet I always do. Being—and staying—informed is one thing, but being engulfed by a news cycle hyper-focused on fear is another. 

Nicky Case's We Become What We Behold is the amalgamation of that feedback loop, highlighting the idea that media framing has an impact on the societal narrative. A 2014 illustration by Case sparked the idea, with We Become What We Behold expanding on the ways in which media pursues part of the story.

Case created the game before the 2016 election, but it's more relevant than ever as we approach the inauguration. You could fairly say that the country is caught in a media loop wrought with distrust—influence from the president-elect has folks considering real news as "fake news" and "fake news" as real news. The loop continues: "We separated ourselves in political echo chambers, treating the outside with smug contempt," Case said in a post-mortem on We Become What We Behold.

We Become What We Behold is Case's representation of that. Acting as a photographer, you're to capture newsworthy moments in the game's world. First, it's a circle-headed guy with nice hat. Then everyone begins wearing hats. A wild-eyed square-headed figure comes in, yelling at circle-headed folks. Take a photo of this and one circle-headed figure starts acting afraid of squares. Squares write off circles. Eventually, everyone hates everyone.

Header and We Become What We Behold screen courtesy of Nicky Case

Of course, the real world isn't always so clear-cut. That's much of the point of the game—highlighting the oversimplifications that often lead to political or personal hostility. It is, admittedly, a simplification on the game's part that only depictions of hatred go viral.

"The feedback loop only rolls in one direction," Case said. "The gears have ratchet. If you take a picture of a circle person being angry at a square person, that gets viewers, making square people angry at circle people in return. But if you take a picture of circles and squares getting along, the audience doesn't care to watch that, so nothing changes."

We Become What We Behold's ending does not mince words: It's very violent. And it was a deliberate way to create empathy with the audience, Case said. After all, this is media—the game itself is a feedback loop within a feedback loop. "Stories create empathy," Case said. "That's what's missing from our politics—empathy."

The game's ending upset me. I scrambled to close the window as shots began to ring out. But in doing that, I missed the short scene Case added to We Become What We Behold's ending. It's a demonstration of unity. As in Nick Kaman's This Is Fine, We Become What We Behold is a mixture of fire and life.

There's a lot of work to be done.

We Become What We Behold is available for free on itch.io.