I have a confession to make. I have spent the last few days hacking other people. It started innocently enough with a simple request. Soon, these requests became more complex. Now I find myself in an endless abyss that I cannot escape from. A guy threatens me. A mysterious group may or may not be after me. To top it off, I think maybe I ruined someone’s childhood. Have I gone too far? Is someone there to pick me up? I shouldn’t have picked up that phone.
As my phone screen darkens and the credits roll, I am brought back to reality. Fortunately, it was just a game, even though it felt real. This is what it feels like to play Mr. Robot: 1.51exfiltration, a mobile game quietly released last week by Night School Studio (known for the recent adventure game Without beef) and published by Telltale Games.
Set during the first season of the TV show Mr. Robot, the game is played using the show’s fictitious E-Corp messaging app. In the show, E-Corp is one of the largest companies in the world with divisions spanning the tech, banking and credit industries. Determined to overthrow the pervasive influence of this conglomerate, a group of hackers known as fsociety aims to destroy the company.
a study in the art of social engineering
Through 1.51exfiltration, you play a role in making it happen through the text messages you send to fsociety members and to e-corp members. At some point, you might find yourself trying to find your way to access someone’s account. In another case, you might be forced to text words of encouragement for incompetent support staff to install something. In essence, the game attempts to be a study of the art of social engineering.
As with other mobile text games like Safety rope (2015), this game also takes place in real time. For a game designed to persuade people to do what you want them to do, the wait between texts can be excruciating. It only adds more tension to the experience as it attacks what we may have done countless times before (i.e. overthinking, over-analyzing, or creeping doubt that we don’t. should not have sent this text). 1.51exfiltration also has nuances of Emily is away (2015) with delayed character response, typing indicators, and seeing your chosen response animated and typed (and sometimes rephrased and corrected in the middle of the sentence). These little details help hide the fact that your answer is chosen from the pre-scripted options.
A behind the scenes video recently explained the origins of the game. With Sam Esmail, the creator of Mr. Robot, wanting to extend this universe to a more interactive medium, the Night School Studio team successfully launched the idea of a game played entirely by SMS. Adam Hines, co-founder of Night School Studio, explained in the same video how the writing of the game was “a lot of trying to predict what players would like to do, what they want to push and pull, and how they want the experience of the plot … [that is] 100 percent gun.
When the game ended and I said goodbye to my primary contact, what this character said reminded me. It was his life while I was just “on vacation”. Yet despite being showered with paranoia and uncertainty around every turn, the game world has dragged me along. Now I didn’t want to leave.