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Snowden leaks spawn a different type of game, Top Secret

An email-based game on Kickstarter melds fiction with reality as players investigate the journalists involved in the leak of thousands of classified NSA documents. You can get the demo now.

No fancy graphics or car chases. Just good ol' text and decision-making in "Top Secret." James Long

Dear Michael,

Thank you for your application to join the NSA Signals Intelligence Directorate. We will review your request and make a decision shortly.

Do not discuss your application with anyone.

Kind regards,

Jennifer Hall,
NSA Careers Officer

That's the email that arrived in my inbox a few moments after I completed my application to join the NSA's Signals Intelligence Directorate.

Not really. But it is the email that arrived in my inbox after I began a demo of a new game now seeking funds on Kickstarter. Called Top Secret, the game is a branching narrative that changes based on your responses to a series of emails. If you ever read one of those "choose your own adventure" books as a kid, you know what a branching narrative is. It's basically a story in which your decisions about what to do at key points changes the course of the story.

In this case, the story is based on the leak of thousands of classified NSA documents in 2013 by former CIA employee Edward Snowden (there's no word on whether it will contain any references to alien encryption).

"You'll investigate the journalists involved in the Snowden leaks and the methods they used to cover their tracks," says the fundraising page's description of the game, and "uncover real messages sent by Snowden at the time."

The creator of the game, James Long, says emails will take varying amounts of time to be sent, which could add a nice tension to the game. For example, I'm still waiting to find out if I've been accepted by the NSA, so I'm kind of checking my email every couple of minutes.

"Playing by email adds new dimensions to traditional interactive fiction," Long says on the Kickstarter page. "A delayed response can mean a character is busy, disinterested, or cautious. A quick reply can signify impatience, anger, or excitement. Top Secret injects meaning into both the contents and timing of a message."

When you sign up for the game, you can also choose whether or not you want your messages coded using PGP, a type of encryption which stands for "pretty good privacy." I chose that option, so I'm excited to work out exactly how to decipher the messages as they come in.

Long has been a game developer for four years, so it seems like he has the chops to pull the game off. Plus the working demo is a good sign.

If you want to pledge to help him finish the game -- and play it once it's done -- it'll cost £5 (about US$8, AU$11). The game, which will also be available in a digital version that can be played offline (without the email component), is expected to deliver in May 2016.