To play the game, please visit http://naked-on-pluto.net
Note: For privacy reasons, the player playing the game in the screenshots is fictive. Facebook friends, likes, interests, etc. have been replaced with ‘undefined!’.
“ Share your way to a better world ”
Welcome to Elastic Versailles revision 14. You look fantastic today! Elastic Versailles is here for your convenience, tailored to your needs, offering you the best in entertainment the galaxy has to offer.
Win coins in our illustrious casinos, spend coins in our luxurious and exclusive shopping facilities, play games with our friendly bots, socialize with old and new friends, and share your way to a better world!
Naked on Pluto is a Multiplayer Text Adventure using Facebook, integrating a player’s personal data and that of his “friends” as elements in a thrilling interactive fiction. The game playfully explores the nature of social networks from within, questioning the way these interfaces shape our friendships, the way social relations have become a commodity through targeted advertising based on the phenomenal quantities of information we supply these databases with, literally exposing ourselves.
The game’s satiric sci-fi atmosphere is created solely through the use of textual descriptions. The mix of personal data and fiction combined with the use of text is a direct appeal to the players imagination, and those who allow themselves to be immersed in this strange and destabilising world, are treated to a somewhat bizarre but magnificent journey.
The development of the game is combined with an investigation on how exposed we are on social networks, how our data is being used and what this ‘second life’ in databases means to us. This research is documented on the project’s blog, http://pluto.kuri.mu, where you can find posts on the projects progress, background research and the Plutonian Striptease series, over a dozen of interviews with experts, owners, users, fans and haters of social media, mapping the different views on this topic.
To start playing, you simply log in using your Facebook account. When you enter the game, you find yourself on Pluto, naked as a jaybird, in a city under the rule of Elastic Versailles, a corrupted Artificial Intelligence. After buying yourself some clothes (a cowboy hat, divers helmet…), you’re ready to start exploring the city.
Versailles is a capital of convenience, a non-stop, 24/7 zone of endless pleasure. You can stroll through the palace gardens, go clubbing or meet up with one of the marketing bots, there to make sure you are aware of the things you want to buy. There isn’t a dull moment, with plenty of visitors to talk to, some of whom you might know personally, although it’s sometimes hard to tell if it’s a friend or a bot you’re dealing with. Don’t worry if you accidentally find yourself in a somewhat less polished area of the city, everything is under control, just make sure you go back to the entertainment facilities instantly.
Versailles’ Cleaners keep the city tidy, putting all that has been misplaced back where it belongs, giving the city it’s elastic appearance. No matter what happens, everything slowly returns to it’s original state. Why would anyone possibly want to change things, when everything has been so excellently tailored to match their every desire? But as you progress through the game, you find out something big has happened, and as you slowly peel away the façade, you discover the true nature of Versailles…
A lot is being written about social media, and users are often well informed about the downside of sharing information via platforms owned by companies, who are owned by share holders looking for a good return on their investment. But knowing that you are actively participating in a finely tuned multi-billion dollar advertisement delivery service is not the same as experiencing it. That’s how the idea for a game came about. Online games are getting more and more popular and game mechanics are being applied everywhere in an attempt to trigger the same eager enthusiasm to participate in something, as gamers experience during gameplay. Globally, we spent 3 billion hours on online gaming, Jane McGonigal suggests using the positive emotions experienced within games by the player for the benefit of all. In her talk during TED, Februari 2010, she made a strong case for using the ‘superpowers of gamers’ to solve real world problems, and to play games that matter. Our goal is not to solve any privacy issues, but simply to make them more tangible.
Experiencing how your information, out of context and in the hands of other people than your friends, can turn your life upside down, and having to ‘beat the system’ is incomparable to reading an article on privacy issues and social media. The game actively engages you in the story, together with other players, and you discover first hand what’s behind the façade of this ‘brave new world’.
Power to the people?
“The power of democracy in these systems is that when you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place, so what we view our role as is giving people that power,” (Marc Zuckerberg in an interview with Diane Sawyer, ABC World News, 21-07-2010)
Facebook is not democratic, as numerous reports of bans, censorship and disabled accounts have demonstrated1. Any content or information can be removed if Facebook believes it violates their terms. It is not a public space, and even though it claims to be largely self regulatory, it is unclear how this self regulation functions, as it involves automated processes Facebook doesn’t give any information about.
Next to this non-transparent functioning of self-regulation, it is also very unclear how the rules set forth in the policies are enforced. Third party applications are for instance not allowed to store and distribute non-public profile information, but with more than 2,5 million websites (Februari 2011) integrated using Facebook Connect3, it is impossible to check. It is ridiculously simple to create an application, and even though applications have to ask permission to access non-public data, it’s not always clear how much data is really needed by the application to function, although in some cases it’s obviously asking too much. And in the end, after reading all the rules you have to follow as a user and developer, Facebook in it’s turn gives absolutely no guarantee for the safety of your information.
WE DO NOT GUARANTEE THAT FACEBOOK WILL BE SAFE OR SECURE. (Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, 15.3, February 2011).
The Open Web and the Mozilla Game On controversy
Mozilla Labs launched it’s first international Open Web Games competition last year: Game On 2010. The competition aims to show what game developers can do on top of the open Web technology stack. The competition encourages mash-ups using third-party API’s, so Naked on Pluto just had to be entered… the game is open source, based on 100% open technology and is a satirical mash-up making use of a third-party API. Unfortunately, after entering the competition the game got disqualified for unknown reasons.
Several attempts to find answers were met with silence. Only after a blog post and a small Twitter uproar about the mysterious disqualification, in the last week of the competition, Mozilla responded. The game was believed to not respect the player’s privacy. After an explanation on the satirical nature of the game, the fact that the game is about privacy issues, and a rehash of the privacy statement, Mozilla offered to reinstate the game in the competitions gallery. The competition was unfortunately finished by that time. Whether the game was too political for the competition, or the judges truly missed the satire and mistook Naked on Pluto for an attack on privacy will always remain a mystery.
Remote collaboration, sprints and geeky details
Naked on Pluto has been developed during a shared residency at NIMk, Baltan Laboraties and Piksel, between June and November 2010. There were parts of the project that required all three developers to be together physically, to stick their heads together for intense sessions of brainstorming, scriptwriting, game world design and concept development. The sprints provided the time, space and focus to accomplish this. Other parts of the project required more isolation and longer stretches of individual work, such as the implementation of the interface design, writing the server and client side code and writing the texts for the game. Those parts were done remotely, with a bug tracker, a wiki, and many video calls to sync actions.
During the development of the game, multiple playtests took place, in which usability of the interface, narrative, playability and immersiveness were tested. Baltan Laboratories kindly hosted a playtest with a group of Game Design students from the Technical University Eindhoven, which resulted in a lot of valuable feedback on interface and game mechanics, and a mountain of new bug reports. After that several one-on-one playtests took place, focussing more on the individual game experience and narrative.
Dave Griffiths (UK) was raised on an early education in weaving, bell ringing and 8bit computers, and is now dedicated to changing the world with free software, live animation and noise. He works as a self employed artist/programmer, mainly working with the FoAM art laboratory and performs as part of slub – a livecoding band. He creates installations, open source software and teaches workshops around the themes of games, music and the lisp programming language. Past work includes computer graphics for games, feature film special effects and machine vision research for Sony’s EyeToy group.
Marloes de Valk (NL) is a Dutch (software) artist. She studied Sound and Image at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague, specializing in abstract compositional computer games, HCI and crashing computers. Her work consists of audiovisual performances and installations, investigating machine theatre and narratives of digital processes. She has participated in exhibitions throughout Europe, teaches workshops, gives lectures and has published articles on Free/Libre/Open Source Software, free culture and art (a.o. in the Contemporary Music Review and Archive 2020. Sustainable archiving of born digital cultural content). She is editor of FLOSS + Art (OpenMute, 2008) as well as the Digital Artists’ Handbook (folly and GOTO10, 2008). She is a former member of artist collective GOTO10, and has helped develop the puredyne GNU/Linux distribution and make art festival. She is currently collaborating with Aymeric Mansoux and Dave Griffiths on a social gaming project.
Aymeric Mansoux (FR) is an artist, musician and media researcher.
In 2003, he founded GOTO10 with Thomas Vriet, a non profit organization and artist collective, with the goal to promote the use and support of free software in electronic music and media art creation. Aymeric has been active in the collective until 2010 and initiated several projects such as: ‘make art’, a yearly international no nonsense festival for software artists using and writing free software; ‘Puredyne’, a popular live GNU/Linux distribution for creative media and the ‘FLOSS+Art publication’, the first collection of essays on FLOSS and digital art production.
Since 2009, he is core tutor and co-supervisor of study for the networked media branch of the Media Design and Communication Master of the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam (NL). Aymeric is also an MPhil/PhD student at the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, researching online art and design communities, free culture licenses and resources, and distributed collaboration.