A team of graduate students is hoping an addictive free video game might hold the key to growing the ranks of net neutrality supporters in the ongoing battle to keep the internet free and open.
404Sight ("foresight," geddit?) is the culmination of a year and a half of work by a group of 12 students at the University of Utah, who created the PC game as their senior thesis project. Though it's a fast-paced and challenging, it also holds an underlying message about the need to stand up for net neutrality.
The parkour, runner-style game (think Mirror's Edge) can be played in first or third person and follows Ada (named after early computer pioneer Ada Lovelace), a woman who lives in a fully-digital realm. Ada and her friends begin to notice they're having trouble connecting to each other, which sets her off on a race to rescue her friends before their network is shut down.
Along the way, different objects and environments will slow Ada down or speed her up, like fast and slow lanes: a visual iteration of the actual fast and slow connection streams proposed by the FCC.
"Usually the message you hear with a game with a political statement is that it's kind of like an educational game, which still has a negative connotation," Tina Kalinger, one of the producers of the game, told me. "We're really happy to say that we think our game is fun first and foremost and also has a message."
The team told me they hope the game itself is fun enough to attract all kinds of players, not just people who are already passionate about net neutrality, to spread the word to those who maybe haven't been paying attention.
Choosing to incorporate net neutrality into the game was an easy decision for everyone involved, as the battle was really starting to heat up when they started the project at the beginning of last year. As developers, it was a cause particularly close to their hearts, Rachel Leiker, an artist on the team, said.
"The game development community would not be where it is right now without a free and open internet," Leiker said. "At our level, we're indie. We don't work for EA. We don't work for any other major studio. We rely a lot of YouTube and free content and connecting to other developers. Losing that would be absolutely devastating."
The full version of 404Sight will be available for free on Steam after 4 pm EST Thursday.