The room was dark for all but the wired but weary glow of the computer screen. World news droned away, the week’s coming litany of nuclear brinkmanship, currency gambits, market analysis, and British singer idolatry now just commencing. Songbirds thrushed through the wee hours, claiming and challenging territory and mates in a twittering refrain unrestrained.
The Directorate was jammed, servers either crashed or taken down for much-needed maintenance. In the sudden stillness, the thin line separating level 15 and level 16 was now no more discernible than the gray gradation marking the distinction between ADD and OCD, a no man’s land patrolled by state-run Stasi and the subversive tunnelers and wall jumpers who would, in their day, occasionally and unpredictably split the drawn-out tedium of a cold war standoff with a 100 meter sprint to freedom, the crack of a pistol cleaving the air, a starter’s gun, or perhaps a sniper’s big moment, marking both time and space in a city divided.
But this was no safe house in Berlin. This was simply my own imagination, hallucinating coldcut cliches as if pondering the late-night platitudes that must have, on occasion, dribbled from the fountain pen of a Deighton, a Le Carre, or even a Grisham, straining to complete a chapter, a scene, a paragraph, a sentence of death to finish the writer’s craft, for a day…
The moment passed. Servers returned to their dutiful humming service, and I resumed play until level 16 was cleared. Then promptly turned off the lights and silenced the BBC. It was time for some rest. The day’s gameplay, as undemanding as it is, had been mildly amusing at times. I thought about it. Thought about games one could play over twitter. Was this something new, something inevitable, or something passing? Social media can be interesting for what they get people to do, and for what people do with them. I wanted to think that spymaster was a sign of things to come — a bit of structure, some rules, purpose, things to do with twitter besides the commonplace.
I started the game on friday with a friend who shall go nameless (to protect his identity as spymaster, and his reputation as well-adjusted and in control, viz internet habits, @gregarious) and it was not long before the game’s clock had restructured time into two, then two-and-a-half, then four (i think) minute increments. Button pressing was becoming hatch-like (think LOST, but without Kate) and with each level we were acquiring guns like rogue states on a couple cases of red bull. That evening we were at a friend’s (again, a spymaster lives by his word, so the identity of this particular individual deserves the obfuscating protection of a nom de guerre, @chrisheuer) and all those present were playing the game.
For a short number of hours, we grinned, gloated, and occasionally guzzled as the bullets and power cords flew, and the cloak of clandestine scheming was blown off by the bluster of binge espionage executed more like a night of un-choreographed karaoke, a characterokay with major and minor plot lines, strategic planning, game insights, and the occasional caterwaul of a hit gone wrong (or as one particularly skilled and singularly single-minded comrade disclaimed, after un/intentionally (?) laying a bead on none other than the directorate himself (read: the game’s own author), “I tried to assassinate him and it did not go well” @rycaut) which was followed by the whoop and wail of competing spymasters howling in pleasure and being generally un-German in their vocal displays of Schadenfreude. A wholly unprofessional and career-ending display, in other words, seen from London Central Branch.
On the day following, play continued at a more muted pace, the green button-pressing feeling distinctly LOST, though perhaps more tunnel than hatch, less light-at-the-end-of and more and-the-rowers-keep-a-rowing. Less Wonka, more wonkish. Which was about the time that the gunmetal gray of the skies overhead and the marking of five minute intervals became a steady metronomic monotony, a slog through a plodding Hungarian forest perhaps, a safehouse in the backwoods with naught for nourishment but a loaf and a cyanide capsule, lest the location of said safehouse be compromised and a deranged but pressed-for-time Peter Lorre batter down the door in the un-calculated and misguided misstep of mistaking mine for Rick’s, and Budapest for Casablanca. No Gin in this joint, no Play It Again Sam. No Ingrid.
No end in sight, in fact, or so it seemed, those drawn out tasks and failed missions, quick-bitten finger clicking, and gun-running in weapons with Soviet-era names like Yarygin PYa “Grach” Pistol (of which I possess 85) and Dragunov SVD (you’ll get there, level 12 i think, i honestly don’t recall). And then the phone rang. Or not the phone, but it’s equivalent. A DM tweeted. Our spyring was under attack. I was being followed. (A bit of confusion there on the protocols perhaps, but permitted, for being followed is a good thing.) I was supplied a name and dutifully executed the assassination. “It did not go well.” $22,000 the poorer and in critical condition (energy-level wise), I convalesced, as one does online, and refreshed. The plot had failed but thickened, and the master narrative now clicked: spyrings were organizing. Twitter was atwitter and notification naysayers notwithstanding, schemes were socializing.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. New spies are joining as the rings tighten and coil. Nets and networks are arming, steeling themselves for what should be a coming fit of tactics and take-downs. Mediated mayhem, social but in a decidedly anti-social way, surreptitious and secretive, the spoils of war a mere ruse for battered friendships and lost followers.
Or so I hope. And with that, I submit this dossier on playspymaster.com and return to work, and more marking the time and marking the targets.
And hey, I’m at level 18.