I sat down this morning to write this post about The Curfew, an online game full of smart commentary and also a South by Southwest Interactive Award finalist in the entertainment category. I had every intention of doing some research and a neat little write-up.

And then the game sucked me in.

The basic premise is this: Who can you trust? You’re a character in futuristic England — 2027, to be exact — and you’ve got some very important information that could help take down the authoritarian government, The Shepherd Party. A timeline will explain to you how a nuclear device was found before it detonated, then all the events thereafter that led to the collapse in economy and this government’s takeover. The Shepherd Party controls your life and monitors its success with cameras on the streets and in public places to make sure citizens behave just the way the government wants them to. Citizens, that is, and sub-citizens, which are youth who have not yet achieved enough points to become full citizens and are placed under a curfew every evening. The Party also engages in quite a bit of fear-mongering. You find yourself with this unknown but important information and inside a safe house with four other people. You have to gain their trust.

What makes this game so unique is the way in which you can interact with it. When you arrive at the home page, you can choose to learn more about the characters and the objective by watching a series of YouTube videos created in the same style as the game itself. As you play, your experience toggles back and forth between a comic-book/video game graphic animation (the game is written by comic book author Kieron Gillen) and a series of interactions with videos featuring real actors. As you interact with these settings and characters, you’re placed into a bit of a “choose your own adventure” kind of scenario. You’re given options so that you can pick what you want to say in these exchanges. But choose carefully. You want to gain trust, not lose it. At the same time, you need to figure out who you can trust to help you with your mission to gain freedom from the government.

From a media standpoint, The Curfew is obviously very interesting. From an intellectual standpoint, it’s also very smart. There’s the word play, for one thing. Think of the implications of following the Shepherd Party. What do you make of the phone service, bCom? There’s the social commentary (I enjoyed the announcements and posters in Tasty Tasty Burger, where you can purchase a Happy Happy Happy Meal — but only if you’re in the appropriate citizenship line). The political commentary reminded me at once of Orwell’s 1984 with the cameras set in the alleys and in public places, the government monitoring all activity. And while the game was released over the summer of 2010, its mission to gain freedom and liberties is a shade of the ideals behind what we’re seeing now with the unrest in Egypt. Indeed, at the core of this game is really a lesson about liberty and human rights.

The Curfew requires some thought, so it’s as intellectually stimulating as it is fun. You’ll find yourself really struggling to walk away from it. Luckily, your game will automatically be saved after each character’s flashback, so when you do finally have to walk away, you’ll be willing and able to come back.

Image Source: Wikipedia