mirror state

The world ended last weekend. What, you didn’t notice?

And it was all down to a bunch of Cambridge-based gamers utterly failing to pass US Congress Bills in time.

Background

So as you may know, for the past 18 months or so I’ve been taking part in Megagames – crazy war games meets live action roleplay meets boardgames meets model UN. They’re seven hours of sheer mayhem.

Until last weekend, all the megagames I’ve attended have been put on by Megagame Makers, a group of gamers based in London or Leeds who put on mostly historical war-themed games. But since the absolute firework that was Watch The Skies (here’s the video, here’s the second video, and here’s my blog on it), they have taken off around the world. From New York, to Sydney, to somewhere in Canada I’d never heard of. And naturally, other UK cities have put them on too.

This Megagame was put on by a couple of Cambridge game designers, following the success of their local replay of Watch The Skies. It was called Mirror State, and it centred around a US Presidential Election. And an apocalpytic cataclysm that we wouldn’t discover til mid-game (if we were lucky).

Still wrapped up in the excitement of my role at the last Watch The Skies, I paid the extra money to get first dibs on a Press Role – originally I asked for the liberal media, Global News Corporation (GNC), but last minute changed my mind and got the Republican media, Patriot Broadcasting.

Patriot News new slogan ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 11:23
“Providing the news… As far as we’ve been told…”

You can read the media recap here, and we’ve been promised a video too. Or you can read my account of the madness…

Getting going

I turned up at the church hall in Cambridge that was playing the part of several corporate HQs, several secret bases for government agencies, the US Capitol, and of course our two press offices. I ran in, switched outfit to my lucky press outfit (also known as my lucky business dress) and got stuck in greeting people and generally making a (hopefully) good first impression that would see many scoops land on my desk later that day.

The room was well fit out. To my delight, there were three giant screens with scrolling news feeds. Rather than print or Twitter, the debate at the last megagame, the game design team had created a bespoke platform, with a headline and 300 characters of story. The text was a bit small, but I wasn’t worried about news making it to the people.

I’d brought three different devices with me – my laptop, phone and tablet, and I would post new stories from all three before the day was done. I found my enemy archrival and quickly sized him up. He had a laptop. He would be weighed down by it all day. Technology was on my side.

Little did I know that the Antagonist players, who were controlling the pace and the nature of the game’s dilemmas, had selected him to be their oblivious “traitor” who they were feeding fake news to, and throughout the game he seemed to pluck incredible stories from thin air. Upon discovering this I was torn – he printed more lies, but he also printed more.

Showtime

My first story had been the previous evening – some fluff piece about the GNC editor leaving under suspicious circumstances and the new guy not being up to the job. Well, start as you mean to go on…

Frantically still logging into the game engine, I tried to get stories. Much of the vernacular wasn’t familiar to me – I picked up the meaning of bipartisan after several uses of it, and eventually I straightened out the differences between FBI, CIA and NSA in my head, but it was only after the game I realised Grand Old Party (GOP) meant Republican. So much for being American at heart.

The Democrats had been selected to be in power at the start of the game (booo!), and the Election would be taking place at lunch time. The order of the morning was pretty clear – screw whatever disaster was awaiting us later in the day, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as the Dems getting a second term. I proceeded to dig up as much dirt on the Democrats as possible, and make things up when I couldn’t find things out.

The first half hour or so was spent rushing around to all the different “committees”, made up of various numbers of politicians. My friend Tim (also on the Republican team as Tennessee) was on the Armed Services committee, so they were a regular port of call:

21st century will be an America century! ~ Patriot Broadcasting  ~ 10:25
Sustaining military going forward, keep US as world leader – Tennessee, armed services committee

And of course I wasn’t going to let up on my foes competitors:

Ethics committee expresses concerns about the timing of GNC’s editor’s resignation ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 10:33
Unsure whether the timing signifies anything major

Dirt was pretty hard to dig up on the Democrats, if I’m honest. All committees seemed intent on forming bipartisan policies and being all buddy-buddy. But I was in luck. I asked the President for a selfie:

President “too busy for press” ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 10:39
The president was recently too busy to attend a brief press photoshoot, citing his busy schedule. Speaker of the house says that if the President were taking long extravagant holidays on the public dollar, that would be unacceptable and the Ethics committee should look into it.

Okay, so the second half of that was thanks to some very leading questions. I dug around a bit more, asked the President about his recent holidays, accidentally spoke to one of the Antagonists (in disguise as Nevada), and eventually dropped it when…

Could Earth be at threat from diseases from outer space? ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 10:54
In the run up to the election, all parties are talking about the space program. But a new joint venture by NASA and the CDC implies that the government is worried about the possibility of alien bacteria making its way to earth’s citizens

In a themed around a disaster, everyone (or at least every news player) wants to be the one to break the story, even accidentally. So you take two bits of information, shove them together, and ask someone just enough to be able to post it. And to be fair, we have no proof that the final showdown wasn’t related to this!

Democrat vetoes own bill ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 11:14
Full oversight of NSA, CIA, etc proposed by Democrats, then quickly vetoed on budget grounds. Shows lack of forethought by the party.

At last! Something actually negative about the Dems! But I don’t think I helped the Republicans that much with what ensued next…

The Hacking Scandal

I wish I could say I wasn’t proud of what I did.

Mr Liberal Media (real name Sam, though I endeavoured not to remember that – it’s not a good thing to humanise those you mean to destroy defeat) left his computer unlocked and unguarded for a few minutes, presumably while gathering a scoop. So I moseyed on over to give him a fright – bent over the PC just enough to spook him that I’d been messing around with his stories.

So I guess I deserved this.

Patriot News found hacking into GNC computer ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 11:25
A reporter from Patriot News has been found hacking into a GNC computer. More on this shocking story as it develops.

But that wasn’t enough. GNC had been ahead of my all morning in the media ratings. I wasn’t impressed. I had to do something… Luckily Tim Tennessee had accidentally paid me $20 million as part of his Presidential campaign (it was supposed to be $2mil). I plowed most of it into hacking the GNC through the Control Team.

Corruption and bribery within GNC ~ Global News Corporation ~ 11:46
It is with a sense of duty we must report unethical journalistic practices within GNC. We are sad to have to inform our loyal viewers and readers of this but it really does go to the highest level.

On reflection, it may have been a bit obvious it was me.

Corruption and bribery within GNC ~ Global News Corporation ~ 11:53
It is with a sense of duty we must report unethical journalistic practices within GNC. We are sad to have to inform our loyal viewers and readers of this but it really does go to the highest level.

Corruption and bribery within GNC – Further Evidence Of Patriot News Hack ~ Global News Corporation ~ 11:57
It is with a sense of duty we must report unethical journalistic practices within GNC. We are sad to have to inform our loyal viewers and readers of this but it really does go to the highest level.

Patriot News hacks GNC again  ~ Global News Corporation ~ 12:00
You might have noticed the story that was just posted, and I want it to be very clear, GNC has maintained the highest standards of ethics. She was not able to bring a single source as evidence despite accessing our records. This wasn’t journalism, it was trolling.

This lead to the second most terrifying roleplaying experience of my life. Two suits with sunglasses asked to speak with me privately. I was led into a small room. I was told to sit down. I was asked “do you know why we have asked to speak with you?”. It was the FBI, and it felt like every time I’d been asked to come into the headteachers office put together, only worse.

“Have you ever been in the GNC office?” I made up some rubbish about joint Christmas parties. “Have you ever touched a GNC computer?” Well, I literally couldn’t say no. They were the FBI – they had CCTV and insider knowledge and stuff! I also fabricated some “junior reporter” who had been fired. “Are you sure she’s not you?” asked Mrs FBI, and it took every ounce of courage to say no. I could confidently answer their two last questions though: I had never hacked GNC, and I had never posted news to their newsfeed. Control had done it for me. Mwahah!

Still, I plowed the rest of my money for the day into more… positive activities.

Pissing people off

NASA holding Government hostage ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 11:29
“We can just turn off GPS satellites”, threatened NASA. They also spoke they could “launch monkeys into space and spin them around”, implying they weren’t taking it seriously

There is NO asteroid ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 11:41
Says NASA. And “it was only Europe anyway” says chief NASA dude

Journalism is a pretty thankless task. On several occasions I overheard something ill-advised being said: occasionally seriously, occasionally semi-out-of-character. Nevertheless, the press never sleeps.

I think by the end of the day, multiple people were somewhat annoyed with their press coverage (all in-character annoyance, I’m hoping). After all, there’s no such thing as poor publicity.

Government austerity measures showing ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 13:39
Recent bills have been presented on scraps of paper and even postit notes, it has come to light

Don’t be alarmed, apparently. ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 14:02
Tension in the middle east – Iran may have access to a nuclear bomb. Don’t be alarmed.

Despite international panic, space budget exceeds disease prevention still ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 14:38
From the national audit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budget : B$17.75 National Aeronautics and Space Administration budget : B$18.2

Election Fever!

After the illegally exciting morning, the election itself crept up on us. The candidates were my uni buddy Tennessee Tim, and the New York senator. Oh, New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town… but today I was Republican through and through.

With a bit of sneaky journalistic selective hearing, I managed to get this verified quote from the Democratic President from California:

“Governor of Tennessee has led his state very well” – President ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 12:31
“I wish him well if he wins”

Control told us to post our electoral predictions:

Dems expected to win election, but some key swing states too close to call! ~ Global News Corporation ~ 12:35
Dems have urged voters in key swing states to turn out to ensure that the razor tight marginals can be won and keep out a republican administration some have described as “dangerous”

Republicans predict victory in the polls ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 12:41
Patriot News stand behind them all the way. Good luck Tim!

And then all we could do was stand and watch the votes get counted.

It was the closest election I’ll probably see in my entire life. The Democrats were ahead for most of the way through, though the Republicans overtook for a bit. It seemed too close… too close… was it possible to tie? Then, with just one state left to declare…

Republicans win ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 12:49
Republicans take victory in the election with 268 votes

The Republicans took the (unrigged) election by just ONE vote.

A Game of Two Halves

It’s pretty much unanimously agreed that this Megagame had a very different vibe in the morning compared to the afternoon, almost like we were playing two different games. The morning was all politics and pretending to be polite, the afternoon was all disaster and pretending not to panic.

Zombies in Nepal? The Congo? Even Canada? ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 13:10
A variety of sources have suggested that there has been a serious outbreak of the rage virus in Nepal or Congo, or even Canada according to some Democratic sources close to the President. While many of these rumours may be unsubstantiated, it is generally accepted that something is going on in Nepal

Not twenty minutes after the election results, I finally managed to get word on the actual disaster of the day. While the GNC monkey reporter was focusing on a computer virus and stirring the Ethics committee up against me (SO unprofessional), I was the first to publish the words “rage virus” or “zombies”.

Even more amusingly, I got the breaking new from a Democratic senator, and I was so convinced he was messing with me that I didn’t publish for at least five minutes while I paid $2million of my hard-earned money to the Brand Perpetual corporation for a confirmation.

President – there is a rage virus ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 13:18
In a private press conference just before government was called to session, the President admitted two current disease outbreaks – cholera in Louisiana and rage virus in Nepal. The CDC is currently investigating

CDC – we have no idea of the scope of this ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 13:22
Citing poor government funding, the CDC has admitted that they have no idea if the rage virus will be preventing from coming to the USA, as cholera did – or indeed, whether it already has.

Conflicting Information

By the afternoon, my nemesis opponent and I had come to some sort of mutual agreement, that for the good of the world we would share information as soon as we heard it (and when our post was half-typed so we still got the scoop).

This led to confusing stories like this, where it’s pretty clear that someone got their wires crossed.

Lady Gaga attacked at New Jersey concert ~ Global News Corporation ~ 13:47
Lady Gaga was injured in an attack that showed all the signs of the Rage Virus, this is immediately after returning from Iran. There is concern she was deliberately infected by Iranians whilst in country.

Lady Gaga infected New Jersey crowd ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 13:50
Following a tour in Iran, Lady Gaga managed to infect several members of her audience during a stage dive

It all falls apart

With two hours left to go in the game, the rage virus was rampant on the shores of America. We discovered later that, in actual fact, by this time only half a dozen or so US states were virus free. But none of the senators appeared to know this, until…

California is collapsing!!! Declares state of emergency ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 14:16
Hospitals are full of dead people, DOD and FBI not responding… Is it the rage virus, on the shores of America?

Then everything started to unravel very quickly…

President upset about loss of southern California ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 14:23
Confident that once CDC funding comes through the situation will improve. Government are doing all they can.

Borders close ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 14:24
Borders are closed including ports and airports.

People First intend to coup US government, revealed as patient zero for US rage virus ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 14:35
People First, now numbering 30 million paying members, are plotting to overthrow the government, a source told us today. It has also come to light that the patient zero for introducing the rage virus to American shores was a People First member

World wide rioting, martial law useless ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 14:42 
Possibly worsens by providing weaponry when overwhelmed. Universal panic sets in.

The Perks of Megagaming

You’re the Senator for California. Your entire state has just become a no-go-zone. You’re pretty much literally out of a job, unless you want to represent the zombies to Congress. What do you do next?

In a board game, you’re out of the game. In a video game, it’s counting down to restart. In a Megagame…

California declares Republic status ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 14:49
California declares Republic status

Regaining Control

Brand Xpedience receive rage virus sample ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 14:51
Ohio Tennessee and Maryland offices trying to develop cure

This point in the game ended up a little quiet for myself and my GNC subordinate compatriot. States were falling like flies, the corporations were trying to find a cure. I found myself in a strange way, for the first time as a Press player, for the first time in a Megagame, even, able to sit down, have a bite to eat, and relax…

Senators stockpiling money in bunkers and even trying to escape the planet ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 15:24
Senators stockpiling money in bunkers and even trying to escape the planet. A group of senators when asked about this changed the subject quickly…

Well it was nice while it lasted!

Just when you thought it was all over…

All military pulling back to safe zones ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 15:27
Across the country, all military is pulling out! Leaving just ragtag forces, it seems the armed forces are giving up on the majority of the country Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington are holing up in military bases. Advising that civilians make it there or be left outside…

Somehow I even ended up quoted in the rubbish other paper:

Despair at Congress, “Everyone has given the F*** up” ~ Global News Corporation ~ 15:30
Despair at Congress, “Everyone has given the F*** up”

I’d taken to stalking the President.

President starts crying in press interview ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 15:37
President starts crying in press interview

The game was up in about half an hour, and people were caring less and less whether the news heard anything confidential. I was sitting in the Oval Office when…

People First meet with President ~ Patriot Broadcating ~ 15:43
PF want to get the people out of danger. All military assets are compromised, but are sending planes to evacuate to Iran safe haven. President hesitant about relations with Iran in particular

Was this it? Were we wrong about the threat? Maybe there is no rage virus? Maybe People First is the entire culprit? Hell, we’re American – maybe it’s all terrorists in the Middle East?!?!

Did People First have something to do with the rage virus? ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 15:48
Due to their excellent relationship with Iran, which has remained rage free, suspicions are mounting that PF have engineered the situation to their advantage, to take control of the American People. Being the origin of the US virus, could they have had something to do with the original source?

End Game

Washington DC has fallen ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 15:50
Washington DC has fallen

President commits suicide ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 15:50
President commits suicide

I was sat in the Oval Office when it happened. Tennessee Tim was penning a resignation letter to his VP from Georgia, when in strolled a member of Control, calm as you like, and said, “Mr President, Washington has fallen.”

Tim looked at his letter. He looked at the Control. He looked back at his letter. He looked at his hand. He made his fingers into a barrel, cocked it, and shot himself through the head.

I do not want to see the end – Pres suicide note ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 15:55
The president’s suicide note has been revealed. He stated his remorse that he wasn’t able to help his people or maintain control. Security plotted against him, military no longer responding. “It appears there is no cure, and I do not want to see the end.”

The tone of the room was well summed up by the fools news team at GNC.

Obituary: Humanity 1,000,000 BC to 2017 ~ Global News Corporation ~ 15:51
The Capital of the worlds superpower has fallen, all nations are under siege and the government has fled. This seems like it is the end. We can look back on our time with pride, and a great deal of shame.

After that, it was every man for himself.

I’d rather die on earth than live on the moon ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 16:04
Michigan and Pennsylvania denounce anyone who supports moon base plan to save the Senate and abandon the American people

Zenmaster of California flees to Tehran on people first plane ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 16:05
He’s gone.

Moon base tie ~ Patriot Broadcasting ~ 16:09
Controversial moon base plans end in a tie in Senate. Gov would be sending themselves and their families rather than scientists. Scientists already there believe this would hamper their efforts

And with that unsatisfying announcement, Control called an end to the game.

Aftermath

As a Media Player, the live-stream of updates was a different feel to a printed version. The emphasis was on speed over accuracy, so we ended up with fast news, not factual news. Whether press is a player role or a control role is a subject of debate in my mind, and in this game it felt somewhat more like a control role, with little in-game benefit for fact-checking, journalistic style or roleplaying, aside from the personal satisfaction.

As a Megagame veteran (of about seven or eight games), there’s always the worry when trying a new game from an untested designer. Will it match up to your expectations? Will it be a challenge? Will it be fun?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Mirror State was one of the most gripping, exciting, terrifying and immersive games I’ve played. Aside from a couple of pacing issues, and a few logistical errors that are always going to haunt the first outing of any event, it was incredible.

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