“I want to encourage and foster discussions about the future of technology,” says multidisciplinary designer Diana Ganea on the driving force behind her critically-engaged and future-facing practice. Combining digital aesthetics with a speculative approach, the LCC graduate explores the societal consequences of technologies both emerging and existent. Turning this investigative lens on social credit systems like those implemented in parts of China, Diana’s latest project LifeCredit asks questions about the authoritarian potential of data-driven economic systems.
Working with 3D animations and virtual environments, it’s the more unorthodox side of the digital space that interests Diana the most. “Movies have cemented set expectations for CGI to be seductive, impressive and really beautiful imagery. But I find that a lot of independent creators today are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible or expected in the digital representation,” she muses. Imperfect work – work that draws attention to its status as a construction – intrigues Diana, making her wonder: “Is CGI with obvious faults and imperfections fascinating because it shows the reality of us humans – that we are faulty?”
This question informs Diana’s practice greatly, underpinning projects in terms of both the themes they tackle and the visuals they employ to do so. “Machines and systems are incredibly imperfect because they are manmade. In the work I make, I want to highlight that imperfection,” she says, adding: “I think this sort of unconventional digital imagery speaks more about the age we live in and therefore it holds my interest.”
LifeCredit is a dystopian game inspired by – and loosely based on – China’s social credit system. Enabled by a sprawling surveillance apparatus that gathers huge amounts of data on that nation’s people, this social credit systems scores and ranks citizens based on their actions, determining rewards and punishments accordingly. Announced in 2014 and currently only implemented in parts of the country, the system is expected to be enforced on a nation-wide scale in 2020.
Moving away from China and beyond the scope of governments, Diana was also intrigued by the potential of similar systems to be adopted by private companies. Reflecting on the invasive and slippery data gathering practices of companies like Google or Amazon, she couldn’t help but wonder: "What will be the future use of this data? What would happen if we were subject to a social scoring system here? Will we be able to maintain the rights and freedoms we enjoy today?”
A merger of Diana’s reflections on both systems, LifeCredit imagines the UK in the year 2050 where social credit systems run as private institutions with the power to dictate – in this case – job allocation. As Diana tells It’s Nice That: “A discussion of political structures and social systems in China and the UK are beyond the scope of this project. But it is possible to imagine that – even within a democratic society such as the UK – a social credit score could exist. It is possible to envisage a somewhat different set up compared to China, a setup where several companies operate different types and levels of scores in a competitive market.”
Adopting the role of an office worker, LifeCredit asks players to navigate the now-labyrinthine process of changing their allocated job. “To do that you need to go through a social credit review,” Diana explains. “This project gives the players a chance to experiencing an instance of unwillingly being subject to social scoring.”
Influenced by choose-your-own-adventure gameplay, LifeCredit’s key interactions centre on a questionnaire which exists in the world as part of the credit review. But while the answers’ given responses initially appear to drive the narrative, they are actually ineffectual to the game’s overall arch. Instead, players often minute and unintentional actions are the real determining factor of the worker’s fate. “It’s supposed to seem like questionnaire allows you to change the outcome of the story,” she explains of this decision. “But it never changes anything significant and that’s the whole point of the game.” The realisation is a frustrating one that comes only after multiple, drawn-out plays, each intensifying already present feelings of exasperation and entrapment as any attempt to change the worker’s situation begins to feel futile.
For Diana, heightened emotions like these are a key dynamic in any game. “Game as a medium is a useful tool to induce an emotional response from an audience which also enables us to explore a nuanced view of the future,” she muses. “When we immerse ourselves in a game, our emotions feel amplified. This vivid experience allows us to really enter the closed-off world of the game.”
Helping to bring this incredible game to fruition was a diverse group of coders, sound designers, graphic designers and voice actors. Throughout the entire process this team – Javier, Federico Pozuelo, Liam Maclean, Blaite Han, Simone Ferraro, Aron Levi, Dom Valentino and Colleen Prendergast – was instrumental in shaping the game from both a technical and conceptual standpoint. Reflecting on this vast collaborative endeavour, Diana’s take away is this: “It’s so important to work with others when world-building because it ensures that what you make is multifaceted and not just one person’s perspective.”