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Science Fiction, Espionage

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If Paul Verhoeven was in on the meme…, September 3, 2023
by manonamora
Related reviews: goncharov

Goncharov 2073 is a fairly short stylistic linear piece with one small choice, set in a not-so-far and not-so-implausible future, in which Goncharov is a movie written by an AI, rather than the illusive and very human Matteo JWHJ0715. At the movie premiere, you and a group of activists will try to derail the event as a protest. Will you truly succeed?

Following Kon - not their real name - you oversea the smooth running of a project started months prior. Due to the significance of the event, the first ever screening of an AI generated movie, it is of the upmost importance things go the way they should. One small mistake and it will mean the end of the team. Things often go haywire on sabotage missions, and it is never when you think it might…

While the entry might seem to follow tropes of sabotage missions, delivering the tension at every turn, having the blasé handler, or things not going quite as planned, it is not much of the story or the meme that is most noteworthy, but the messages behind it. It should not be this surprising, with the author’s other games often having quite a bit to say or critique about the state of things.

In the past years, there have been increasing talk about Artificial Intelligence and its use in different industry. Recently (as of this review), it has been found that Entertainment Companies have been looking into rendering the likeness of background actors and using AIs to render them in the final project (without needing them on set). The use of AI software to render text or visuals is becoming more common, even going as a replacement for employees. It feels a bit hard to remove this topical aspect from the story of this game: an AI has written this movie, an AI is controlling the likeness of a (probably) dead Martin Scorcese…

The onus is not really put on the AI here - it is just a tool (and not a reliable or great one at that, if the comments about the movie are to be trusted*). The game takes a hit at the companies behind it, the ones using the tool, the ones actually profiting in this endeavour. *or that could just be making fun of the meme, whose lore is often contradictory.

In-game, the rules around AI use regarding using the likeness of someone cannot be done without their consent, a fair system… if it wasn’t an op-out one. The rules don’t seem to apply to people who died before the system was put in place - ruling impending - which explains the presence of a holographic Martin Scorcese at the premiere. Still, you have a sense that regardless of the legality of the tool, those company would try to find a way to use it anyway…

The criticism goes even clearer with the reveal of the activists’ manifesto: the technological advancement is not the problem, capital endeavours are - butchering, making almost a mockery of creativity with their generated “work”.

On the other hand, the game does not shy away from critiquing the actions of the activist group, showing that the sabotage of the premiere would not only shed more light on the movie, but ensuring its popularity at the box office - people who might not have cared about would come in flock out of spite. Activism is hard: there is no one way of doing things, actions can backfire, and you could be going against organism so large your actions might not even make waves or get you quite a bit of retaliation. Replaying the game to see the different option of that choice may hammer on this aspect…

With its title reminiscing of the Blade Runner sequel title, or its dark and gritty UI (a bit à-la Metal Gear Solid - very very cool), and the messages above, the game gave me vibes of Paul Verhoeven movies.

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