Bleeper, a game about helping censor broadcasts to make a dictator look good, manages to be delightfully silly and utterly terrifying at the same time.
Darmania is under a dictatorship, but it doesn’t really want the rest of the world to know that. It presents itself as a democratic utopia, and for that image to stick, it needs to get a little creative with the footage and interviews that are done about it. This is where you come in, as you, and your big red censor button, are all that stands between the truth and the people who desperately need it.
Played with a single button (of which the developers made a very cool, real world red button. And a cute cactus!), Bleeper has you working for the government to censor news broadcasts and interviews that might cast your dictator in a negative light. As such, you have to listen to some recordings a few times, then selectively bleep out the parts that would make your country and its leadership look bad in any way. It seems like a simple task, but knowing just what to cut out of a conversation to make a cruel dictator look good soon ramps up in challenge.
This challenge becomes progressively difficult as the morality of your situation settles in. Some of these conversations are quite silly, disarming the player with their humor, but it’s still powerfully chilling to be cutting out this information. The actual conversations are often playful and funny, but eventually that seems to make things all the more bitter as you internalize what you’re doing.
Bleeper takes the time to play back what you’ve censored so you can see your work in action, and despite some of the game’s playful nature, it is sickening to hear it, live. I sat back re-watched the broadcast, listening as the truth was drowned under a deafening tone, and felt a little upset. This burial of the truth isn’t subtle in the slightest, but what dictator has to be? It may be presented with humor, but under this sheen are the lies many must live with. It’s that skewing of truth to suit the criminals in power – that sense that we’re taking part in it, even laughing at the idea, that made me feel a strong guilt.
People are suffering under dictators. There are people suffering under those who would have the media cloud reality for them. It speaks to the power of a lie, even if it’s so bold-faced it seems like no one should believe it. It speaks to how those lies help keep vile monsters in control, and gives you a sense of what it feels like to help push those lies. Its humor allows it to creep along, almost unnoticed, until you see what you’ve willingly become. “We’re just cutting out a few sentences from a goofy interview. We’re not terrible.” Yet, in Bleeper, you soon see how these acts, despite how harmless they seem, snowball into actions that ruin lives.
Bleeper appears to be a tongue-in-cheek game about pretending at censorship, but presents a frightening image of what it is like to help this kind of regime with our indifference. It appears playful, and yet, through making the player a willing participant in censorship to help the power-hungry, it reminds us of our duty to fight against this clouding of the truth, and to stand up to those who wish to crush the weak and marginalized for their own ends. We feel the guilt in taking part in these vile acts, and in so doing, hopefully see that we must do our own part to stop this.
Bleeper feels all too real in these frightening times for so many, and in calling us to action to stop the politicians who wish to harm and steal, and to examine how our own actions further their ends, it was our Best in Show for the 2018 Sweden Game Conference.