Which of These Edward Snowden Video Games Is for You?

There are so many directions to take a video game, and so many ways to approach the Snowden saga, that they can keep you busy until Glenn Greenwald and Kathryn Bigelow team up to make the whistleblower's feature-length biopic.

Aug 12 2013, 6:00pm
Why doesn't "Where In The World Is Edward Snowden" exist?

Edward Snowden’s story sounds great, except for all those weeks spent moldering in the Moscow airport and the fact that he’s probably never allowed to come home. Still, it’s got such an immediate appeal--Driven by his conscience on a globe-spanning escape from a government gone mad with its own power--that it’s no surprise that there are already faux-Snowden parody Twitter accounts, a short film and, perhaps notably, a suite of video games.

Parody Twitter accounts are really history’s first draft—even the subway shark has one–and that film is, in my opinion, straight up unwatchable. But there are so many directions to take a video game, and so many ways to approach the Snowden saga, that they can keep you busy until Glenn Greenwald and Katherine Bigelow team up to make the whistleblower's feature-length biopic.

It’s another plank in supporting the idea of video games-as-art, namely that video games are a unique lens through which to see and understand the world. And like all art that takes inspiration from current events—the Snowden film, for instance—the games walk a razor’s edge between exploiting the real people and events for a video game, and becoming dull lectures. Also, they're not very good games.

Eddy's Run: The PRISM Prison

The most immediately fun game is Eddy’s Run: The PRISM Prison, a side-scrolling Flash game created by the German developer Binji. The game itself is a pretty simple jump-and-throw-laptops at the federal agents, presented in faux 8-bit. The music is jaunty, and he game play is easy, even if the controls aren’t completely intuitive. I sent Snowden plummeting to his doom many many times when I was just trying to get screenshots.

But the developers behind Eddy’s Run also take the clearest editorial stance on the NSA programs and on Snowden’s actions. From the game’s “What Is It?” page:

First off, 'Eddy's run' is a deep thank you, a bow to Edward Snowden, the man who risked his live to reveal inhuman actions of a shocking large number of governments towards the citizens of the world by invading the privacy of millions of people.

After you lead Snowden straight into a federal agent or off a cliff, you're given the opportunity to sign various online petitions. They’re not exactly part of the gameplay, and there’s also an appeal to read news from non-mainstream sources and to share information about data collection via social networks, which is sort of ironic.

Recommended If You: Think Snowden should be thanked for his actions. Believe in the power of online petitions.

Snowden Run 3D

In spite of the similarity of their names, Snowden Run 3D doesn’t share Eddy’s Run’s politics. In fact, this endless runner, a true Temple Run-ripper, tries to keep the political reality thoroughly in the background: 

The game does not point a finger to either the US agencies and companies involved in the data-collection scandal nor Mr. Snowden, it attempts to remain neutral as far as a parody can be unbiased. There is absolutely no political motivation behind this game nor am I affiliated with any government agencies or Mr. Snowden.

I should say that my only experience with Temple Run was nasty, brutish and short. So I didn’t really expect to like this game as I downloaded it. Those expectations were not only met, but exceeded—this game sort of blows right now, but I say that with a big caveat: This is a phone game that I happened to play on a laptop. I have no idea how to swipe gracefully on my laptop.

Anyway, it’s already been released for Android and the iPhone version is forthcoming, which I’m sure will make game play much better, and presumably the graphics will look less shoddy, maybe even better, on the smaller screen.

But if you’re as Temple Run inept as I am, collecting USB drives instead of gold and being chased by an unspecified government agent instead of baboons doesn’t really enhance the experience greatly. But take this with a grain of salt—it might be a lot more fun around the first corner, I just never got there.

Recommended If You: Don't feel comfortable having an opinion about Snowden. Have wondered what Temple Run would look like if it was set in an office building.

Snowden Leaks: The Game

This one is a sidescroller, as well, though in my opinion it's shittier than Eddy's Run. The animation is sort of cool in the like Samurai Jack sense, and I do like how downloading the information takes a second.

Snowden Leaks probably has the least editorial take on the events. Snowden is described as a whistleblower, and yet he looks like a real deviant while he's downloading information. Your goal is to get the information by sneaking around and then tossing your USB drives out the window. Pretty straightforward. The music is pretty cool, but the game is sort of otherwise unremarkable.

Recommended if You: Feel ambivalently about Edward Snowden.

Data Dealer

Snowden isn’t a character in Data Dealer, which came out in May, back when Snowden was just some dude living in Hawaii, making bank. But the game, which won the "Games for Change" award for "Most Significant Impact", still explores the idea that one sacrifices privacy by being online. Per the game's developers:

In Data Dealer players take on the role of unscrupulous "data dealers", collect personal data all over the internet, and learn how to turn this information into cash. They run all kinds of companies and online ventures - from dating sites and mobile apps to search engines and their own social web. On the way to becoming the world's most powerful data tycoon, they obtain data from a variety of sources – whether legal or illegal - and ruthlessly sell it to insurance companies, human resources departments or governmental agencies. Their growing data empires have to be defended against hackers, complaining citizens, critical media and pesky privacy activists.

It’s probably the most pedagogic of these games, as the actual gameplay is all about the avenues of collecting information. You’re a “data-tycoon” who has to collect consumer information via customer loyalty cards, dubious nurses, dating websites, a Bernie Madoff-parody and eventually even your own social network, “Tracebook.” Then you sell that data to insurance companies and security agencies for profit, all while avoiding hackers and privacy advocates.

It’s sort of a managerial, Farmville-style of game, and I guess if you just click through fast enough you can avoid learning anything at all.

As I’ve spent more time playing Data Dealer than the others, I admit that I can see how this could get addicting. I really want to see where else this can go—I want to start my social network already!

Still, there are some downsides: I can pretty much just pay off privacy groups whenever they get pissed at me, so there might not be a way to actually lose this game. I guess if the privacy groups catch me when I'm running low cash, then I could lose? Is that the point? That there’s no incentive not to collect and sell data? If it is, it comes at the expense of the drama of game.

Anyway, I’m pretty into this one.

Recommended If You: Find fulfillment managing a business or farm. Relish getting flipped off. Hate losing or being chased.