Welcome to Play This, a regular series in which we recommend one game a week that we think is worthy of your time and attention. Games are chosen for either their outstanding design, their narrative intrigue, their originality, their social importance or a combination of all of these and more.
Every game in the Play This series will have been designed independently, released in the past year and cost no more than $10.
Play This: Replica
Replica offers a canny take on the ubiquitous role that we invite smartphones to take in our daily lives and the extent to which we tether the many facets of our public and personal personas to technology. The places we visit, conversations we have, media we consume and intimate details of our relationships are often entrusted by us to devices that we are fully aware can be lost, stolen or otherwise accessed by outside parties, and yet we revel in this form of digitally-enhanced living.
Combined with the pivotal role that technology and information gathering plays in upholding public security, and the extent to which that can encroach on civil liberties, helps developer SOMI construct a scenario that elicits an uneasy familiarity and empathy. The premise is simple in its Orwellian undertones: search through the phone of a stranger to help the authorities uncover evidence of potential nefarious activity. Do so, and you’ll have proved that you and your family are regular, law-abiding citizens. Show yourself to be uncooperative or sympathetic to the phone’s owner (a 17-year-old schoolboy...) by attempting to contact his family and you could be marking yourself and your own family as persons of interest.
Replica’s ubiquity of theme, interface and tone, makes it immediately appealing but it’s the manner in which it asks us to meet it halfway that helps it burrow deeper into our psyche. Its stylised aesthetic requires imagination to conjure up imagery and fill in the gaps, while its overt use of the ordinary and the familiar invites us to make empathetic connections.
By tapping into our desire to puzzle solve and explore, Replica occupies a spot that simultaneously scratches an itch and needles our conscience. This is heightened both by multiple endings and subsequent play-throughs, which leverage foreknowledge of what’s to come by making challenges more difficult while capitalising on the efficiency and zeal with which we achieve our goals.
It’s this last trick that is Replica’s masterstroke, making us implicit in the tale it tells and so giving us something to ponder as we consider the notions of personal and social responsibility while basking in the worryingly warm glow of a questionable job well done.
For more on independent game design and game designers, get your copy of Independent By Design: Art & Stories of Indie Game Creation here: