Virtual reality whistleblowing: Snowden-inspired video game lets you spy & leak data

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Edward Snowden has made headlines since revealing the NSA's spying tactics, and now he's serving as inspiration for a new video game. The scenario takes players into a US agency where they can decide whether to spy on citizens or leak reports to the media.

The Australian developers of 'Need to Know – The Mass Surveillance Thriller Game' have launched a Kickstarter campaign which has so far raised AU$9,907 (US$7,012). The creators are asking for a total of AU$29,000 (US$20,527).

Based on the National Security Agency (NSA), the game takes players into the fictional 'US Department of Liberty,' where they will be forced to make tough decisions – just like Edward Snowden.

“You must spy on citizens, pick apart their private lives, and determine how dangerous they are. You can also resist these suffocating privacy invasions by aiding underground groups and leaking internal reports to the media. Or, you can just use all of that juicy classified information for your own, personal gain. Your call,” the Kickstarter campaign states.

Players' capabilities will be dictated by their clearance level, with the developers stating: “Impress your superiors, and they will promote you to a higher level, unlocking cooler (and creepier) powers, classified information, and prestige.”

“Early clearance levels only allow you to access a target’s metadata or browsing history. As you progress, you bore deeper into their lives, with geo-tracking, shopping patterns, and even drone surveillance,” they wrote on the Kickstarter page.

The decisions will become more difficult as players rise up in the ranks.

“As you ascend the ranks, you are forced to make increasingly unsettling decisions. Will you fuel your rise to power with searches, wiretaps, smear campaigns and abductions? Or will you covertly undermine the Department from the inside?” the Kickstarter page asks.

If you choose to “fight against the Department's Orwellian agenda,” you will be able to help suspects escape punishment and leak documents to the press. However, “principles come with danger,” according to the game's developers.

Based on the 2013 NSA leaks from Edward Snowden, the game has been given a nod of approval from the whistleblower himself.

Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia after leaking the classified NSA information, tweeted a link to the campaign, with the message “art imitates life.”

In true Kickstarter fashion, those financially contributing to the game will receive rewards, based on their “clearance levels” – or how much they give. A US$20.50 donation will get your name in the credits, while a US$3,600 will earn you a spot as the game's protagonist, with your name and portrait as the character.

The game is being developed by three designers from Monomyth Games, a company based in Adelaide, Australia.