According to Reuters, around half of those who voted for Donald Trump, the losing candidate in the recent US presidential election, believe that he is the victim of a complicated plot to deny him his rightful second term. Engendered by extreme partisanship and propagated by social media, the power of the conspiracy theory is, seemingly, at a historic high. A grim moment for democracy, then, but a serendipitous one for Tim Sheinman, the Brighton-based creator of Conspiracy!, a video game in which you must untangle the threads of sedition that run from the US deep state to the country’s highest seat of power.
The aim of the game, which features the voice of Jon Ronson, a journalist who has spent a career profiling the kinds of people who believe the kinds of outlandish theories put forward here, is disarmingly simple. You are presented with 20 Polaroid photographs, each one describing an event seemingly unrelated to the others: a flock of geese dropping dead from the sky; a fatal car accident involving a US senator; a curiously successful chain of mattress companies.
Your task is to label each image with the date on which it was taken, chosen from a short list of options. Successfully matching the date to the image involves sifting through newspaper clippings, listening to audio recordings and, unless you know off-hand, say, the date of Taylor Swift’s birthday, cross-referencing information with Google search results. Once you’ve correctly dated five of the images, you’re presented with a clutch of new clues.
Despite the rudimentary presentation and simplistic goal, this satirical game quickly draws you into its web of intrigue as you see how these seemingly unrelated events connect to reveal – if you’re a willing believer – a tangled plot to defraud democracy. Conspiracy! shows, with keen effectiveness, how the natural human urge to spot patterns and turn events into coherent stories fuels internet sleuths, and how a well-intentioned search for truth can topple a person into a pit of destructive paranoia.