The terrible truth about conspiracy theories is that they’re fun. Making and sharing connections offers a sense of control so potent we might willingly blind ourselves to the provenance of the information in question – a tendency amplified by online recommendation algorithms, which point us towards ideas we already sympathise with. This is the gloomy message of Conspiracy!, an extremely timely text game in which you fabricate a plot to steal a US election.
Created in December, as Donald Trump and his followers doubled down on claims of voting fraud, the game casts you as an aide to an ousted Republican president who is refusing to concede. To make your employer’s case, you must assemble evidence for a conspiracy that folds in every deep state fairytale from human sacrifice to the ruinous effects of 5G internet. Play is about simple but satisfying comparison and deduction. You comb through a small stash of newspaper excerpts, podcasts, forum posts and classified emails, assigning dates to a series of captioned Polaroids. Get five dates correct, and the game locks them in while handing you fresh materials for your investigation.
In addition to exploring the mechanics of conspiracy theories, the game is a portrayal of fanaticism across the political spectrum. Besides drawling southern reactionaries, it harbours a few unflattering portrayals of sneering lefty intellectuals. It’s a short walk from such even-handedness to the kind of both-sides rhetoric that conflates BLM protesters with neo-Nazis. Conspiracy! never goes that far, but over the course of just two hours it doesn’t have much space for nuance, and it’s over-reliant on stereotypes.
It plays like a detective game such as the wonderful Paradise Killer, but it treats the player as a glorified factchecker, rubber-stamping a web of tall tales. You’re not involved in sourcing the evidence, only organising it, and if, as members of QAnon claim, everything means something, the game allows for only one interpretation. This is obvious from the outset, of course – Conspiracy!’s most insidious revelation is that joining the dots can feel enjoyable even when you know you’re being used.
• Conspiracy! is available now; £3.50