30-year-old American Edward Snowden, a contract employee at the National Security Agency, is the whistleblower behind significant revelations that surfaced in June 2013 about the US government's top secret, extensive domestic surveillance programmes. Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii in May 2013, and supplied confidential US government documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
First it was Snowden, the movie - now you can play the video game
New computer game lets players do what the US government can't - control Edward Snowden
Fleeing through the dark corridors of NSA Headquarters, snatching up green USB sticks while a secret agent chases your heels...This is the gripping story of Edward Snowden - or at least the video game version.
Currently available as a free download for both Android phones and computers, Snowden Run 3D is a satirical game produced by Belgian computer scientist Michele Rocco Smeets. Originally intended as an entry for Ludum Dare, a contest that challenges creators to code a playable game within 48 hours, Snowden Run 3D was developed by Smeets in less than 30 hours. It is an “endless runner” game, with a constantly moving playable character, and is similar to popular mobile favourites Temple Run and Subway Surfers. It was originally released to the public on 19 July.
In the game, players control Snowden as he runs through three different locations: the NSA Headquarters, Hong Kong and Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport. Snowden can be controlled with finger swipes (or mouse movements, in the computer version) to jump and slide his way through various obstacles in the environment, picking up USB sticks and laptops along the way. If Snowden collides with any of the obstacles, he runs the risk of losing the game and being sent to Guantanamo Bay by an NSA agent constantly running a few steps behind him.
There are also a few power-up items in the game, including an option to call Russian President Vladmir Putin – referred to affectionately as “Uncle Putin”. If the player calls Putin, a USSR hydrogen bomb will temporarily clear all obstacles from Snowden’s path.
The game, which features an aggressive soundtrack with songs by Peruvian-American rapper Immortal Technique, has a lot of bugs, but Smeets told the South China Morning Post in an e-mail exchange that player response had been positive so far.
“I wrote this game so fast that there was no time to playtest it myself,” Smeets said. “As a result there are parts in the game where even I have not got past yet… [But] I was very surprised to see that my girlfriend and some buddies were actually having fun playing [it], and were constantly trying to get to the next level”.
Smeets first thought to create Snowden Run 3D when he saw games on the Google Play Android store which were quickly-made modifications of existing titles, with the main character re-named Edward Snowden in order to capitalise on the whistle-blower’s sudden fame. Inspired to create his own product, Smeets first planned to design a game similar to Nintendo classic Super Mario Bros. before speculating that an endless runner would be more appropriate.
“Since Snowden is a man on the run, I thought it would be very fitting to see him in a Temple Run clone,” Smeets said. “And finally, I thought Snowden would be very bored in the Moscow Airport transit zone and thought that if he had an Android phone it would be funny if he now could play his own game.”
On the game’s website, Smeets insists that the project is satirical in nature and is not designed to offer any commentary on Snowden’s actions.
“The game does not point a finger to either the US agencies and companies involved in the data collection scandal nor Mr Snowden,” a statement on the site reads. “It attempts to remain neutral as far as a parody can be unbiased. There is absolutely no political motivation behind this game nor am I affiliated with any government agencies or Mr Snowden.”
Smeets hinted that he has plans to continue improving the game, and that large companies have even expressed interest in purchasing the rights from him. Currently, Smeets has plans to release a version of the game for Apple devices.
Snowden Run 3D is not the first media creation inspired by the actions of Edward Snowden. On June 25, a group of filmmakers released a short film entitled Verax that is based on the whistle-blower’s saga when he was stationed in Hong Kong.