Faceminer is a management sim about data harvesting and AI surveillance


Set in 1999, Faceminer is an eerie-looking narrative-driven sim about managing your own AI-driven surveillance empire.


Just as Hynospace Outlaw imagined a dystopian world of online surveillance in the dot-com bubble era, so the upcoming Faceminer creates a late-1990s word of machine learning and mass data harvesting.

Developed by London-based indie studio Wristwork, Faceminer is a narrative-driven sim about managing your own “AI surveillance empire.”

The announcement trailer (below) sets an eerie tone, but it sounds as though there’ll be a hint of satire involved, as the game requires you to navigate bureaucracy, office gossip, tech problems, and “crooked carbon offsetting schemes.”

What caught our eye is the story of how Faceminer came about; the developer says it sprang from “a research project examining the ecological impact of planetary-scale cloud computing, particularly when used for training AI models.”

“The game is an exploration of how the simulation game format can be used to simplify a complex topic that covers surveillance, AI, and the deployment of physical infrastructure at extreme scales,” the game’s press release reads. “The digital landscapes where these technologies are constructed, and the virtual clouds from which they are deployed, often obscure their connection to the physical realities of raw computational power. Faceminer is an attempt to make these connections feel tangible.”

It’s an intriguing premise, and begs all sorts of questions that will likely be answered in the finished game – most obviously, who’s buying all the data you’re harvesting, and what are they using it for? Targeted advertising, or something (even) more sinister?

The environmental impact of cloud computing has been the subject of academic study in recent years; large language models like ChatGPT, for example, require a huge amount of energy.  A game that can illustrate this reality in a digestible, darkly enjoyable way could be a useful thing.

Faceminer is due for release in early 2024 for PC, Mac and Linux via Steam and itch.io; there’s also a demo scheduled for launch in October.

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