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The Canadian Government Made an Arctic Propaganda Video Game and I Keep Dying in It

When good propaganda goes bad.

by Justin Ling
Jul 29 2015, 9:30pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

There is good propaganda, and there is bad propaganda.

Good propaganda makes you feel nice about your country and—so long as you don't take it too seriously and begin invading Cuba or something—is pretty benign. In the past, good propaganda has informed women that they can, in fact, do it, and helped Americans win the war by eating corn.

Bad propaganda can trick you into doing bad things, like taking up smoking because a vagina-faced camel told you to, or convince you that the party whose logo is a swastika isn't actually a neo-Nazi organization.

Enter Heritage Canada's Journey into the Arctic.

Published early in July, it's a YouTube-based choose-your-own-adventure game that lets you explore Canada's arctic as an unassuming European explorer circa a-long-time-ago. And it's actually well produced and even a bit arty looking.

While generally falling into the "good propaganda/not strictly evil" column, it also plays into all sorts of wanted thematics for the governing Conservative Party, which has grabbed onto Arctic issues with sweaty palms and a big grin.

We got some insight to the governing Conservative Party's obsessive love for the nationalistic symbolism of the Arctic last year when the prime minister took the announcement of the lost Franklin Expedition ships all for himself.

With all this in mind, I set sail to freeze to death in the Northwest Passage.

Screenshots via videos

Well, this is sort of nice.

"You have been chosen to lead a mission to find the fabled Northwest Passage," says the narrator.

OK, so I've been sent to my death. That's pretty much what's happening, here. Good to know.

I can either sail to the Pacific or the Atlantic.

I choose the Pacific.

"After weeks of sailing, you attempt to sail past Cape Horn. Rounding the Horn is dangerous business and you discover first hand why it is known as a sailor's graveyard."

That would have been REALLY useful information beforehand. Like maybe you should have asked, "Do you want to sail to the Atlantic or to the sailor's graveyard?" because I would have chosen the former.

OK, fine. I'll sail the damn Atlantic.

Now I'm in Greenland.

In retrospect, why would anyone choose to sail down, past South America, and up through through the Pacific Ocean? That just seems foolhardy. Feel like Heritage Canada is just looking to rack up the body count, here.

I stop to pick up supplies in Greenland. I get food, clothing, livestock, and an interpreter. I do not really know why we need cows.

As I head to the Arctic, I see a channel in the distance. Since channels are always good news, I decide to take the channel.

Fuck.

"The increasing amount of ice makes for a dangerous sail."

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

"You must make a difficult decision: return home for safety, or stay the course."

Ah well. Forged ahead.

Obviously, I get stuck in the ice, and have the option of continuing to explore, or seek shelter.

I choose explore.

"You underestimated the power of ice."

I really don't think I did.

Either way, I'm very dead. But luckily, I have the option of going back and seeking shelter.

"Soon, Inuit"—I prepare my body for the cold reality of cultural stereotypes—"from a nearby community come over to meet you."

Obviously I'm going ask them to leave, as there's no way I'm sharing whatever it is that I'm looking for in the Northwest Passage.

And then we all got scurvy and died.

"Maybe the Inuit could have helped," the game tells me.

So we go back in time and the Inuit bring meat and invitation back to their community. They suggest we take dogsleds, but being the asshole European I am, I insist we take a European sled, even though I don't know what a European sled is.

And we die.

So we go by dogsled instead. Things go well. We have maps.

"Your mission is a great success," the over-excited narrator tells me. "You have contributed to a great legacy of Arctic discovery and helped to define one of our most valuable treasures: the great Canadian North."

OK, let's just stop right here and appreciate the fact that, yes, the Arctic is cool. But, much like people who won't stop talking about caves or scuba diving (no, I do not think that the ocean is "the next frontier," Chad) listening to all the yammering about how great the Arctic is eventually gets old.

For one, the Arctic is a friggin' difficult place to live. Food is ridiculously expensive and sometimes scarce. Northern communities are constantly asking for infrastructure spending that communities south of the 60th parallel regularly receive. Nunavut, which includes the Northwest Passage that I just died five times trying to get through, still doesn't have autonomy from the federal government like the other provinces and territories. Even the Northwest Territories, which the government made a big to-do about giving additional province-like powers to last year, still doesn't have the full power to approve or deny its own natural resource projects.

Never mind that the only reason we're now talking so much about the North is because the permanent ice is melting at an alarming rate.

Then there's the fact that much of the Canadian government's obsession with the North comes from an adamant belief that we must claim the Arctic before the Americans, Norwegians, Russians, or, heaven forbid, the Danish do. And while that might be a laudable goal, it's put us on an arms race with the Kremlin to militarize the North in such a way that doesn't actually seem beneficial for anyone. We just bought Israel's Iron Dome technology, created to stop a barrage of rockets from killing civilians, to put in the North for seemingly no reason whatsoever.

Which is why this skull-cap wearing, Steve Zissou–wannabe starts talking to me about the Arctic during Journey Into the Arctic's super-exclusive "bonus content." It's making me think that this good propaganda may have ventured into the bad realm.

"The North is growing every day! Canada's role in developing the North comes with a responsibility to protect and nurture."

I do not know who this man is.

In the end, this sort of propaganda is still fairly good. But the danger with good propaganda is that it makes you gloss over all the cruel realities of how much things suck. And maybe, rather than showing off the bell of a sunken cannibal ship, the prime minister should be explaining why half of children in the Arctic live in poverty.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter.

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