The most provocative and psychologically astute novel of the season is a game for your iPad. Device 6 by Simogo represents a strange new breed of media: part novella, part puzzle game, part interactive audio-visual installation, and part social criticism. It is the kind of project we did not know we were missing until after it arrived on the scene.
A synopsis of Device 6 cannot do the experience justice, and much of its value derives from not knowing too much about the process or content before playing. Essentially, the game is structured as a written story you scroll through on the iPad, following a woman named Anna who awakens on a seemingly deserted island. Multimedia elements are inserted frequently, and input from the player is required to proceed through chapters. This input typically takes the form of entering some kind of code or password hidden surreptitiously within the “pages” of the chapter itself. From a game systems perspective, Device 6 is a rare gem of a puzzle game that provides players with enough information to arrive at solutions without undue frustration or the need to look up walkthroughs online, while at the same time is spare and opaque enough that when one does finish a puzzle, it feels like a remarkable intellectual achievement. Embedded in this mechanic is the true brilliance of Device 6, the conceptual underpinning that makes it an exciting and surprisingly subversive work: Device 6 imbues us with a sense of mastery and control as a means of quietly presenting the argument that we are, in fact, slaves to our devices.
In a time when “Do you still read physical books?” is a commonly overheard question, this notion could not be more prescient. There is an increasing expectation to be able to interact with media through click, touch, and even voice command, and the developers at Simogo seem to be suggesting that this growing symbiosis with the digital world is generating a false sense of agency. Within the game’s story, Anna is trapped on an island filled with anachronistic hardware such as tape players, gramophones, and animatronic robots. Meanwhile, we navigate via our culture’s most vaulted piece of technological modernity, the iPad. We swipe and press our way through the narrative with detached bemusement, but Device 6 is not satisfied with this arrangement. Throughout its duration, and with decreasing subtlety, the game suggests that just because we are holding the device, we are not necessarily holding the power. After all, who is really in control of this story: the player, the fictional Anna being “played”, the game developers themselves, or something altogether more sinister and nebulous? Device 6 explores the relationship between player and played on multiple levels — again, to go into too much depth would be to spoil much of what makes the game special.
This is not to say that Device 6 takes a ludditic stance against technology, interactivity, or gaming. Quite the contrary: as a product it stands as the inevitable conflagration of old and new media. Rather, the game challenges the implicit notion that human achievement — as exemplified by technological development — is the sole measure of human progress. We cannot fully rule our devices because the human experience is not limited to fantasies of domination; we project ideas of relatedness, submission, and destiny into the things we supposedly control. This is how Device 6 is able to sew the seeds of paranoia so effectively. The suggestion that the game might somehow be playing us is already at the precipice of our consciousness. We are primed to think this way because ultimately the idea of unilateral control rings false on a deeply human level; it is an illusion.
If all this sounds needlessly mysterious it is only because I hope you, the reader, will seek out and experience Device 6 for yourself. It is a uniquely modern artwork that deserves your time and attention. Assuming, of course, that you have an iPad.