HACKED: An Interactive Role-Playing “Investigation”

Immersive investigation into the Syrian Electronic Army

Following the success of our PaCCS Policy Briefing “Innovation Challenges in Cybersecurity”, which called for creative industries to help raise awareness of cyber threats, we would like to draw your attention to Conducttr‘s latest interactive news experience in which players become Al Jazeera journalists and investigate the cyberwar in Syria while collecting information, performing interviews and having to avoid simulated hacking attempts.

The experience, which is built entirely with Conducttr and Communicator platforms, was conceived and designed by Conducttr’s Creative Consultant Nataly Rios Goico and Al Jazeera journalist Juliana Ruhfus. Nataly is an experienced interactive storyteller and award-winning photographer with a degree in Systems Engineering and an MA in Digital Media. She said:

“When I design an interactive experience, it’s important to me that the mechanics tell a story as much as the narrative.”

Working with Al Jazeera, Conducttr developed Hacked: Syria’s Electronic Armies, a personalised and immersive news experience about cyber warfare in which players become an investigative reporter researching the Syrian Electronic Army. Players gain journalistic skills, cyber security knowledge, and an understanding of the electronic conflict in the middle east.

“Being a journalist is often about building relationships. So it made sense to have to contact simulated characters who might then try to hack you – you never know who you can trust.”

-Nataly Rios Goico-

Players are given 5 days to conduct a meaningful journalistic investigation and submit a news report. After being briefed by Al Jazeera journalist, Juliana Ruhfus, players have the chance to chat with various fictional and real characters – including some of the world’s leading hackers and hacktivists.

Conducttr explained that “all research collected throughout the game is gathered in a personal notebook that builds to hold a library of infamous malware & viruses, video interviews with real world experts and eye witnesses and a timeline of historical event.”

This way, players are able to discover first-hand a range of social engineering techniques and real-life hacking examples. Players can even run a Virus Scan at any time to prevent attacks and repair the device in case there is already a simulated infection. After running the scan, all the information about viruses caught is stored in the notebook, giving the details of the type of virus and the technique used to deliver it. It is important to highlight that all the simulated hacking attempts are base on real-life examples, and in many cases the original wording is used.

What is even more interesting about this interactive experience is the fact that all external links, websites, pictures and videos shared by characters are real. There is also a live news integration as the app pulls news about Syria from blogs and Twitter accounts and posts to an in-app live news feed.

When asked about the success behind this interactive experience, Nataly explained: 

“I remember that I’d worked late into the night to get the experience ready for a play test the next day. I felt like it was going to be a success but you never know until the first users play. Users always have a fresh view and can spot things you don’t see when you’re implementing the project, that’s why user testing is essential.”

To finish with, all the PaCCS team would like to wish Conducttr and Nataly the best of luck with this amazing interactive experience which, we are sure, will attract many online investigative reporters!

For more information about this fascinating interactive docu-drama, please click here