In 2048, Wikipedia was taken down by a series of spurious copyright claims. Within a year, a successor to the world’s largest crowdsourced collection of knowledge was replaced by Omnipedia, a more centralized online encyclopedia that relies on a select community of human and artificial intelligence contributors, with the backing of Chinese technology conglomerate Zhupao. On September 30th, 2049, Zhupao founder Xu Shaoyong’s helicopter was shot down by a missle fired from one of the airport’s security drones, killing the world’s wealthiest person, along with everyone else aboard. This is the central mystery of Neurocracy, a political thriller that plays out across edits to an online wiki from the future.
Neurocracy is a single-player, interactive narrative game created by Playthroughline, released serially on the Omnipedia.app website. The first chapter of the story (covering Omnipedia updates from September 28, 2049 – October 1, 2049) is freely available, with nine additional chapters released weekly for paid subscribers, with each week’s installment covering a single day of wiki edits and additions expanding the sci-fi universe’s footprint.
And while the assassination of Xu Shaoyong is the primary narrative skein to untangle, there are a number of fascinating side plots buried within the ever-expanding web of Omnipedia entries. Who was really responsible for the murder on season two of Are You For Real, a dating elimination show with a Turing test twist? Who is Adira, and what is their connection to the hacktivist collective Five of Swords? And why are peoples’ neural colloid implants glitching?
Wiki-Wrangling as Gameplay
Neurocracy‘s gameplay is deceptively simple. With every new episode, the Omnipedia Main Page is updated to highlight a featured article, along with a series of breaking news updates. Using these as a jumping off point, players can learn more about the world by hovering over tooltips, searching for key words or phrases in Omnipedia’s search bar, or clicking on in-line links within articles. Players can also dive deeper into individual articles by using Revision History navigation to see how articles have changed over time, with revisions conveniently highlighted.
By leveraging those features, players can dive into the central mysteries of the narrative, and try to assemble disparate pieces of evidence to figure out what really happened to Xu Shaoyong. Neurocracy is a game of theory-crafting, piecing together clues left behind in online breadcrumbs. Somewhat ironically, Neurocracy‘s gameplay is almost identical to the process of trying to piece together the events of an alternate reality game, after the fact.
Interested in piecing together the events of the Dungeons & Dragons ARG No Stone Unturned, leading up to the release of the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist module? Pore through the game’s wiki, and navigate through a series of pages to piece together the narrative. Interested in how a vampire dating site Tender led to a major Vampire: The Masquerade announcement? Another fan wiki will help guide you through the process. Parsing through wiki entries remains one of the primary way player communities track and document the often sprawling nature of alternate reality games: Neurocracy cuts through the middle-man and makes that navigational exercise a story in its own right.
It’s tempting to compare Neurocracy to other wiki-based storytelling projects like the SCP Foundation. But while the SCP foundation is an exercise in collective storytelling populated by largely stand-alone stories where multiple truths can coexist and contradict each other, Neurocracy is a more singular vision, unfolding in a non-traditional format.
Similarly, Neurocracy is also slightly distinct from alternate reality games, as the experience doesn’t even allow for the illusion of agency in gameplay. Players aren’t interacting with the story because they believe doing so might influence events. They’re interacting to try and piece together the narrative puzzle. That’s one of the reasons why the process of playing Neurocracy is so similar to that of consuming ARGs after they concluded: it’s ARGs, stripped of agency. This form of storytelling is often referred to under the umbrella term of ergodic literature, and focuses on the amount of effort taken to engage in the process of reading as its defining trait.
Neurocracy’s Platform as Unreliable Narrator
Since Neurocracy is a story told through wiki entries, there is no singular narrator to the story: it’s told through a series of encyclopedic entries, penned by anonymous human and AI editors. And yet, Omnipedia openly flaunts its biases on its own entry. The “Criticism” section of Omnipedia’s entry cites an article in the Guardian that accuses Omnipedia of being responsible for Wikipedia’s demise, calling it a “deliberate effort to destroy one of the greatest collaborative human achievements with spurious copyright claims only to replace it with a tightly curated mouthpiece for corporations and sponsors.” However, an editor removed references to a Mondiaal Nieuws piece accusing Omnipedia’s human editors of being linked to wealthy donors, painting often undisclosed backers in a favorable light.
As a platform, Omnipedia is transparent in disclosing the full revisionist history of their articles. But unless visitors delve into the platform’s revision history tool, they are only presented with the modified versions of truth. And unlike with Wikipedia, the sources of those edits are undisclosed and aren’t accompanied by notes or commentary to explain the changes, so readers are faced with a dangerous question: how much can they trust their only source of information?
The Revision History for the Global Secure Information Exchange System (G6) is a chilling example of this biased editing in action.
When the Global Secure Information Exchange System article was initially created on September 30th 2049, an entire section was dedicated to flagging controversy over the tool’s use for mass surveillance, behavior modification, and neurosurveillance. When a member of the Omnipedia team came in to edit the entry, a handful of tweaks transformed the section into a celebration of the tool’s technological capabilities, reframing criticism as a sales feature.
By being remarkably transparent in its lack of transparency, Neurocracy asks players to directly confront their assumptions of what they trust, and why. When the only documented truth on record is subject to change, what do you trust? Do references from reputable sources help influence those answers, even if the links themselves aren’t clickable? Are references to negative press enough to reassure you about a source’s fairness, or are they obscuring more serious concerns by creating a false sense of balanced reporting? In raising these questions, Neurocracy is a lesson in media literacy you might not have realized you needed.
A Team Experienced in Non-Traditional Storytelling
Navigating these weighty issues is a tall ask. Luckily, Playthroughline enlisted a collection of science fiction writers experienced in non-traditional storytelling methods to deliver. Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle trilogy (starting with Infomocracy) explores global micro-democracies, while her work at Realm leverages writer’s room models of storytelling to produce scifi audio fiction like Orphan Black: The Next Chapter, Ninth Step Station, and Machina. Leigh Alexander transitioned from a career in games journalism (writing one of my personal favorite pieces) into a career in game design on projects like the emotional survival game Neo Cab, as well as short fiction like Online Reunion, a story about virtual pets. In addition to his work as a SFF author of books like Numbercaste (covering the dystopia of a quantified world), Yudhanjaya Wijeratne is the co-founder of factchecking website Watchdog Sri Lanka.
The third episode of Neurocracy is slated to go live on July 28th, with a new episode going live every Wednesday. While the game will be playable as a single-player experience at any time, it’s best experienced as a serial narrative, as gameplay is so heavily rooted in speculation and theory-crafting. Players are encouraged to join the game’s Discord server to share findings and swap theories, although the game is still highly accessible to the solo solver.
For out-of-game context around Neurocracy, check out Neurocracy.site, in addition to the game’s successfully funded Kickstarter campaign. To explore the game’s free introductory content, go to Omnipedia.app and pore over the first four days of Omnipedia’s public release. To access additional days, sign up for a season pass for £15.00.