A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Telling Lies is a downloadable live-action adventure/simulation game for Windows PCs. The storyline centers itself around voyeurism, privacy issues, and Internet security. Video clips contain infrequent but strong profanity (words like “f--k,” “s--t,” and goddamn”) and suggestive content in the form of revealing clothes on female characters, racy conversations, and implied masturbation. One character is also described as a sex worker. Videos include violence as characters shoot guns, commit acts of terrorism, are violently arrested by police, and even commit suicide. The game's complex moral themes are best suited to an adult audience since they're explored through mature, often difficult conversations about marriage, infidelity, and unplanned pregnancy and through dialog revolving around concepts like loyalty, self-sacrifice, and patriotism.
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What's it about?
TELLING LIES is a non-linear adventure story told through a collection of live-action video clips. As a female character of unknown identity (she could be a private citizen, a spy, or some kind of government agent), players search through a flash drive full of private video calls collected by the National Security Agency. Players watch these files which detail only one side of a call and have to match them together in hopes of piecing together full conversations and identifying the players in a terrorist conspiracy. Video clips can be sped up, stopped, and scrubbed back and forth so players can scan them for clues. Players can then highlight (and perform searches on) specific terms within the captions to collect additional information on them, track search history, and take notes on their findings.
Is it any good?
This second offering by veteran game designer Sam Barlow (creator of Her Story) is exceptionally well designed, written and acted. Telling Lies has the emotional weight of a film or TV show drama, and while it pays nostalgic homage to the FMV (Full Motion Video) games of the 1980s, its themes regarding online communication and government surveillance couldn't be more contemporary. Your job, as the game's anonymous protagonist, is to watch a series of video files, effectively spying on private citizens' video chat in hopes of uncovering a terrorist plot. Depending on your feelings about voyeurism, this can be thrilling or highly uncomfortable. It's definitely compelling watching people reveal their most private selves, but knowing you're not the intended recipient of these revelations is unsettling, and looking for ways to use these people's words against them is even more troubling.
Telling Lies brilliantly illustrates the moral gray area of government surveillance by putting you in the dubious position of invading people's private lives in the name of National Security. Questions regarding activism, duty, and political and corporate corruption are at the forefront here, and none of them comes with an easy answer. The live-action video really ups the emotional ante, because the dialog is surprisingly well-written, and is carried off perfectly by Logan Marshall-Green (The O.C., Law & Order,) Kerry Bishe (Scrubs, Halt and Catch Fire) and Alexandra Shipp (the X-Men franchise). And with a veritable mountain of video to sift through, and so many interesting possibilities to find, this is one interactive story that plays like a top-notch page-turner--you can't put it down until it's done. All told, Telling Lies is an object lesson in good interactive design and thriller-style storytelling. But its adult themes and presentation make it a game you buy for yourself, not your kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Internet security. Do your kids know how to protect their online messages from prying eyes?
What's more important to you -- privacy or national security? Are there pros and cons to NSA surveillance?
How could data collection could be used to violate a person's civil rights? Is there a limit to an individual citizen's right to privacy?
For kids who love making tough moral choices
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