Al Jazeera English Tuesday launched a new, web-based game based on the mid-2015 documentary Syria's Electronic Armies, offering users a different look at the cyber war occurring during the country’s long-running conflict.
The game—#HACKED: Syria’s Electronic Armies—tasks users with connecting with hackers and activists featured in the documentary, gathering information for a report on Syrian cyber warfare that will be presented to world leaders. Users will be asked to decide whether or not to pay sources, go undercover online, and allow sources to remain anonymous. The game also puts users in the position of being exposed to cyber threats, including infected links and blackmail attempts, with the game’s hacks based on real-life cyber threats.
“[While] recreating the world of an investigative journalist is natural for me, navigating the rules and ethics of journalism in a game format requires an entirely new skill set,” said Juliana Ruhfus, the Al Jazeera senior correspondent who produced the original documentary, in a statement. “Every hack in the app is based on a real hack that has taken place. Texts from hackers have been taken from court documents. The social engineering we use to deceive you in the simulated hacks, how we’re creating an avatar that’s enticing you to click on something, is exactly what happened during Syria’s cyberwar.”
The intent of the game is to put users in the mind of an investigative journalist, where gathering the news is paired with insights into the consequences of cyber warfare, Ruhfus continued. The game combines original documentary footage and links to outside resources and asks the user to both protect themselves against cyber attacks while providing real-time updates on the Syrian conflict.
“The gamification and interactive elements of projects like #HACKED give the user the experience of being immersed in a news story. Having a specific task to complete often leads them to engage emotionally and intellectually with the topic, while they gain unique perspective on the news story we are presenting through an interactive experience.”