Influence, Inc review – a mesmerising dive into the world of public manipulation

Remember when Boris Johnson revealed he likes to paint wine crates to resemble buses? Or, more recently, when he warned citizens off working from home lest they become distracted by cheese? Quirky, on-brand soundbites or a calculated ploy to bury less favourable search engine results about Brexit buses and cheese and wine lockdown parties? By the time you’ve finished Influence, Inc, a game in which you manage a “digital influence agency” to manipulate the public into everything from buying a particular brand of soft drink to voting in a despot, you’ll be left in little doubt.

You start out small, directing a team behind a series of fake social media accounts to make certain hashtags trend, or boost positive messages and downplay negatives for your modest roster of clients. Soon you gain access to new tools, such as the Viraliser, which can transform a staid press release into meme-worth content, or the Leaker, which allows you to share information directly with different media outlets.

Each day you take on new business while managing your limited resources to meet the demands of existing clients. You’re soon leaking information to sympathetic publications, pushing relevant hashtags, purchasing social media ads micro-targeted to different political persuasions, all while building a list of clients, some of whom might even have opposing objectives. As the game progresses, your choices become more consequential: will you work for the ruling party or the opposition in the upcoming elections? And your choices become more challenging: will you fabricate images and stories to heap scandal on your client’s political opponents?

Designed by Amanda Warner, who has collaborated on interactive projects for the WHO and the Gates Foundation, Influence, Inc feels like fiction, but it’s based on hard research and includes a bibliography of works such as Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century and The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani. Your work soon becomes overwhelming (the interface struggles to communicate the minutiae of your projects as they grow in complexity), but this is a mesmerising window into the murky world made famous by Cambridge Analytica, and inhabited by countless others all working for clandestine clients, towards clandestine ends.


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