"Battlefield, and actually a lot of modern-day military shooters, feed into the 'macho bullshit' mindset that is getting our men and boys into crime, into prison, and into their graves," Case says. "Beyond that, it also paints war as fun, and thus, desirable. Which is not an attitude we want once players of CoD [Call of Duty] or Battlefield turn voting age—wait, actually, they already have."
Case has had to take time while designing his game to consider, at length, the message that it conveys, then. He doesn't feel like he could, nor would he want to, make a game explicitly about Ferguson or Mike Brown. If he did, it would likely fall victim to the very subject it is about; how journalism can easily frame subjects to be negative or positive. "If anything," he says, "my game will take place in 2016, with a fictional case of Yet Another black teenager getting killed by a white cop making national headlines. Given current trends, this will probably still be relevant by then."
His plan is to tell human stories, first and foremost, and not turn people into resources. He also aims to be respectful and have the game be well-researched. Case also says that, while there will be playfulness and humor, he plans on pulling off a Kurt Vonnegut and "use this levity as a brief reprise to underscore the seriousness of the whole shindig."
It's all in the works right now, of course, but Case explained that a typical scenario in the game would involve you moving around a scene where cops and citizens are actively at odds with each other; say, a protest on the streets. Your job as a citizen journalist is to frame the story, and how you do that will affect how the people at that location, as well as the game's representation of our online world, will react to you.
"Take cop-friendly photos, and the cops could be more friendly towards you, and let you have access to areas you wouldn't have otherwise," Case said. "Or take extremist photos, and you will personally turn a peaceful protest into an all-out violent conflict."
The main mechanic, according to Case, is taking "interesting photos." If you do, your character will gain Twitter followers, which is the game's scoring mechanic. "It's silly and playful, but I think that helps underscore/contrast how fucked up things are," Case tells me. He's also looking to add a sense of "dread and decision" through these photographic choices you make by making you aware of how different parties will react to the stories you create. As you'd expect, there are always going to be those that are against you and others that cheer you on, but you'll have to weigh up the benefits of pleasing one group against pissing off another. Perhaps you'll feign support for the cops at first, just so you can get access to a restricted area that lets you frame them in a more negative light than you were able to before, and that ends up crippling the justifications they give for their actions.
Case's upcoming game is about a lot more than corruption, militarization, and justice. It encompasses many of the problems with our modern lives, reaching out so far that it even bumps against topics Case is touching on in his larger game, Nothing To Hide.
"In Nothing To Hide, I show a world ruined by surveillance. With this journalist game, I show a world with sousveillance, meaning a world where it's the citizens who have all the cameras. And while I think sousveillance is a great way for keeping people in power in check, keeping them accountable, we need to take care that sousveillance does not kill privacy too. It could create a mob justice mentality. Where anything you say or do can be used against you," Case says.
Nicky Case has a lot to prove. He's working against the stigma attached to video games as entertainment. His "side project" is also an attempt to offer a counterpoint to such blockbuster games as Watch_Dogs and Battlefield Hardline that, as he puts it, glance across criticism of the surveillance state, turn people into player points, and constantly glorify the violence that police and soldiers partake in.
These are all the pre-existing frameworks that he has to work around by drawing and designing with care and thought, so that his own frames carry his messages and dilemmas to the people who play with them. But his chosen subtitle for the game is a constant reminder of how his effort to address the issues that Ferguson raised could be twisted by others: "How you frame the story, will change the story."