Edward Snowden

Credit (or Blame!) Video Games for Edward Snowden's Activism


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Glenn Greenwald's new book, No Place to Hide, detailing his meetings with Edward Snowden and what he has subsequently learned about the National Security Agency (NSA), is now on sale and racking up reviews and interviews. There is still much to learn about what the NSA is up to. In an interview with GQ, Greenwald is promising one major last story providing a "big missing piece." The interview is getting more attention for his critical comments about Hillary Clinton, calling the likely presidential candidate "banal, corrupted, drained of vibrancy and passion" and a "fucking hawk" and "like a neocon."

But much earlier in the interview, Michael Paterniti talks to Greenwald about one of the inspirations for Snowden's decision to collect all this secret information and disseminate it. Snowden apparently was inspired by protagonists in video games:

You mention in your book that Snowden's moral universe was first informed by video games.
In Hong Kong, Snowden told me that at the heart of most video games is an ordinary individual who sees some serious injustice, right? Like some person who's been kidnapped and you've got to rescue them, or some evil force that has obtained this weapon and you've got to deactivate it or kill them or whatever. And it's all about figuring out ways to empower yourself as an ordinary person, to take on powerful forces in a way that allows you to undermine them in pursuit of some public good. Even if it's really risky or dangerous. That moral narrative at the heart of video games was part of his preadolescence and formed part of his moral understanding of the world and one's obligation as an individual.

It's fun to imagine Snowden having to slay a series of role-playing game bosses and getting NSA PowerPoint slides as rewards.  It's also interesting to think that critics who invoke moral panics about the negative content in video games probably don't even think (or know (or care)) about how the biggest chunk of video game storytelling is about the player being the hero, not some prostitute-punching lowlife.

Then again, obsession with princesses aside, video game storytelling typically makes authority the bad guy to make sure the stakes are nice and high for the hero. There's an army between the hero and his goal, and often it's the corrupt guys in charge who are the ones capable of putting such an army together. Clinton, who apparently doesn't understand how America's whistleblower laws work and must just be pretending that Snowden is not a wanted man in the United States, thinks its "odd" that Snowden fled the country, has said very little one way or the other about her position on NSA surveillance. It doesn't seem likely that she shares the belief that Snowden is acting out the hero's journey from a video game. Though, given she has also been known to trash video games and wants to regulate them, her attitude toward him might not change anyway.

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  1. not some prostitute-punching lowlife

    You know you really shouldn’t talk about FoE like that. He’ll get angry, and you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

  2. Video Games are the rock and roll of thirty years ago. Parents use to lose their minds about death metal (and still do, to a degree) and other associated acts in claiming that they caused kids to “withdraw” from society (wtf does that even MEAN?).

    It’s the PMRC all over again, but instead of art known as music it’s about art known as video games.

    1. Video games are also the video games of 30 years ago. It’s funny to think back on what people were all worried about back then. Remember when Mortal Kombat 3 was disturbingly gory to the people who worried about that sort of thing?

      Now I have no interest at all in video games, so I’d just like to say that you are all a bunch of dorks and you are wasting your lives. I’m sure I’m wasting my life in some other way, so don’t take it personally.

      1. Wasn’t Myst the biggest selling game back then? The games=violence crowd seemed to overlook that one, every time.

        1. First CD-ROM I believe, and yes, biggest game of its time.

        2. err…

          Myst was about investigating a murder and had heroin use in it.

          1. Also Myst was 20 years ago not 30.

      2. Remember the moral panic over Death Race.

        You were a dot…that ran over other dots. And after you ran over a dot a tomb stone looking dot would take its place.

    2. It’s the PMRC all over again

      Without Al I knew Tipper’s idle hands would be out there causing trouble.

  3. What is with all the video game coverage lately? I know there is significant representation of youngish men with poor social skills among both video game enthusiasts and libertarians, but why do we get this all at once?

    1. The DC office finally replaced the hipster game table with a Nintendo.

      1. Shackford wouldn’t shutup about that one epic foosball comeback.

    2. Because it’s the theme of this month’s print edition.

      1. There’s a print edition?

        1. What is print?

          1. Its like pixels, only. . . thicker.

      2. Oh yeah. I guess my subscription ran out because I was too poor to donate in their big campaign last year.

    3. I’m just trying to get people to join my World of Warcraft guild.

      1. Alliance?

  4. I think the most critical aspect of the FPS games from Snowden’s youth is the fact that you can’t ask anyone for help.

    You either defeat the bad guys yourself, or you lose.

    The moral lesson of Quake II is “All other space marines suck, and you have to complete the mission all on your own.”

    1. Really?

      I just thought he was up there all by himself cuz that is how space marines roll.

      Maybe i am thinking of Doom…

      Wait a min are both of them space marines?

  5. It’s fun to imagine Snowden having to slay a series of role-playing game bosses and getting NSA PowerPoint slides as rewards.

    THIS. I want to play this game. Libertarians, make it happen!

    1. I’m a little surprised there’s never been an Atlas Shrugged game, where you have a map of the United States and its economic infrastructure, and you have to go around getting people to go Galt until the entire system collapses.

      “Colorado now has – zero – transportation points remaining.”

      “There are now – zero – electric light bulb plants remaining.”

      Sort of like Civilization, but in reverse.

      1. It’s odd – I generally like strategy games, which are often pretty statist in nature. Just got Europa Universalis IV, which might be the absolute paradigm of a statist game.

        It’s pretty awesome, though. The maps alone are incredible.

      2. That is clever as fuck. Probably hasn’t been made because of how tight-fisted Rand’s estate is with their I.P.

      3. That’s kind of like how I used to play SimCity, except instead of unraveling the economy with overregulation and bureaucratic meddling, I used Godzilla.

  6. oh look
    a video game thread.

    1. They made a Game of Thrones video game…

      If they made a thread on that i am pretty sure the world as we know it would end.

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