It all starts with a lost phone found on the sidewalk. Cryptic messages start coming in, very quickly pulling you into a world of lies, manipulation, and paranoia. This is the adventure the recent Mr. Robot mobile game (Mr. Robot 1.51exfiltrati0n to be technically correct) wants to take the player on.
Based off of the popular hacker/psycho-drama Mr. Robot, the game constantly challenges players’ notion of what is real. By using the familiar world of texting, the Mr. Robot game plays on the fears and paranoia that many people have during everyday communication.
Oxenfree developer Night School Studio – and publisher Telltale Games – do a perfect job of capturing the paranoid mood of the TV show (which tells the story of a group of hackers trying to overthrow a massive corporation). The game features several characters and events from the television show, which may be a barrier of entry for those unfamiliar with the show. However most of the game involves new people who the player must manipulate in order to complete objectives.
After finding the phone of Darlene — one of the main characters of the television show — the player must navigate this murky world of underground hackers. The primary way the player will do this is by engaging in something called “social engineering.”
Social engineering is basically people-hacking, and it’s something the game forces the player into almost right away. In an attempt to get information from characters, the player will have to lie about their identity, carefully read character’s responses, and even blackmail. Already, the game is programming the player to distrust people.
Every other person in the game is a potential source of information but also a potential risk, given the illegal nature of the player’s activities. And this is where the game really uses texting and everyday communication to create paranoia.
The game’s fake operating system, which has everything from a contacts list to a settings button, becomes extremely real to the player. The game is completely text-based and takes place over the course of a real week, which means the game plays on its own time and not the player’s.
This can be frustrating, but whenever the player receives a new message randomly throughout the day it’s impossible not to want to respond right away. We’re programmed to respond this way by our lives in the real world.
The Mr. Robot game also feeds into the constant need to check for messages and the anticipation that comes with waiting for another person to finish typing. The game’s OS uses the standard ellipses that indicate when someone else is typing to build anticipation. However, the anticipation turns into paranoia and fear when the person on the other side could discover the player’s lies and contact the police.
Trust and distrust become central ideas in the game. Can you trust the person your blackmailing? Can you rely on their weakness and belief in the lie and identity your projecting? It’s heavy stuff that the TV show tackles as well, but the game always insinuates it and never throws it in the player’s face.
The Mr. Robot game does a great job of calling attention to the ways that people can manipulate their own identity in everyday communication. By forcing players to lie to other people in a familiar text-based environment, the people at Nigh School Studio challenge players to question their own behavior.
Paranoia and fear only increases with every interaction. Playing the Mr. Robot game is like walking across a tightrope while balancing a hundred spinning plates. The player has to constantly switch between different threads of conversation and different identities. This becomes even more confusing when texts and phone calls from the real world start to interrupt the game.
Changing from the paranoid, distrustful mindset the game has programmed the player to adopt in order to talk with friends over text is a unnerving. It’s unlike any other gaming experience – other than maybe VR. The game does such a good job of immersing the player that real-world interactions start to seem fake.
Like the show itself, the Mr. Robot game likes to play with the line between reality and illusion. The game constantly challenges players on a personal level. In some ways, this is the most challenging game this year. It’s unafraid to force players into uncomfortable situations. More than that, it turns the camera back on the player and forces them to face the lies and fears they encounter everyday but may not acknowledge.