Pill: Meet me on the deep(er) net

hello protocol friends far and wide!

i’m building a small browser-based game about intimacy, trust, and establishing connection while being anonymous called “meet me on the deep net.” it’s an interactive story about a person crossing an ocean to meet a stranger, where a player can choose to be either seeking or offering connection. the protocol drama (if you will!) is inspired by the way secure rendezvous points are established in the tor relay network, which support anonymous hosting and visiting of websites.

since i pitched this idea, the direction that i want to take this during summer of protocols has shifted (as directions do :)). for one, i have a playable prototype! you can walk through the game here. (for the curious, code is here: github.) here are two screenshots:

(a few “big thoughts” i’m working through)

the aesthetics and interactions of the game find pleasure in the language of browser defaults. the game is rooted in the awe i have for the dance of request <> response that make anonymously accessing a website possible and my desire to (un)learn possibilities of what networks can be. i think a lot about a chapter from alexis shotwell’s book against purity: living ethically in compromised times called: “‘women don’t get aids, they just die from it: memory, classification, and the campaign to change the definition of aids’”. in the chapter, she argues for the importance of wrestling with how knowledge gets produced:

“What does it mean to think about those histories that are difficult to remember well—either because the present in some way requires erasing what happened in the past or because particular past events have become so taken-for-granted that it is hard to imagine that the world was once different.”
[…] “When classification becomes commonsensical it can become difficult to recall that they were created and, sometimes, contested. Attending to contestation reminds us that what happened in the past was not inevitable. And since the past persists and consists in the present, no particular future is inevitable either.”

i might replace “classification” here with a variety of other “big words” related to the internet, digital tools, and network communication. tor, as an open-source, privacy-centric tool that’s supported by volunteer-run servers around the world, is one such model (of many!) that’s changed & continues to change my understanding of what networks can be. it’s an imperfect and limited tool for contesting the inevitability of the web we have.

right now, i’m sketching out two different directions i’d like to explore further:

  • two-player mode: a version of the two game roles (seeking and offering connection, mirroring the “client” and the “server”) that can be played side-by-side in the same browser. this would let two people play the game together and find their way to each other through the elaborate process of connection.

    • it’d involve refactoring the game to be split between two windows, where each scene in the game only progresses when the necessary steps have been completed by each player. it may also involve restructuring the individual scenes a bit so that they align nicely.
    • what i like about the idea is that it lets each player see the ritual that the other player has to perform at each step to meet them, but i’m not sure if the two-player interaction undercuts the emotional resonance of the story. does the structure of this interaction (sitting side-by-side with another person who you presumably already know and who is literally right there next to you lol) make sense when the game story is centered around crossing a great distance to meet a stranger?
  • level two or an epilogue: a second part to the game, where a player can visit an onion site that i’ll self-host from a computer in my house. after manually performing part of the ritual to establish connection, the player is invited to let their browser perform that ritual to visit an onion site. on the site, there will be a landscape that the player can contribute to and leave behind a token or record of their long visit that’ll be saved on the site.

    • it’d involve setting up an onion site and a web server to persist the website state on the filesystem (which i haven’t done before!).
    • the “digital garden” is a pattern that pops up a lot in poetic web space – i like it! it’s sweet! but i do wonder if it’ll hit a “been there, done that” kind of note with folks and won’t be very engaging. i also am not sure what kind of “add to the landscape” gesture will feel meaningful if i end up going this route.

this next week, i’m planning to attend an informal game play session in brooklyn, ny. (come thru if you’re in the area!) i’ll get to watch people play (or not play) the game and get some irl feedback about what works / what doesn’t / what’s engaging / what isn’t. (i already spotted a few bugs today, oops lol)

anyway, all for now! thoughts / questions / links / feedback welcome.


this is such a beautiful game and idea!!!

  • i love the options to be in either/both roles and played it both. i found it very comforting and calm (maybe also bc of the music in pentatonic notes?), but as i played the “seeking for strangers” narrative first, i felt taken care of, a sense of reliance, and patience from the step-by-step aids. yes, it’s nice to trust! trusting a stranger who we “choose-to-trust”! nice that we will be friends on the pathway, even if temporarily.
  • i love the pun with “wave” - it almost feels like a learning process for this space/protocol(?) to encounter, to make effort, instead of only free-flowing… same as the reminder to wait and offer a connection while we could choose to look for one.
  • being between messengers is like offering attention to those with us there on the journey, as the path already records what happens in the past and in the future, for it’s the present. from the Shotwell quotes, the idea of inevitability definitely circles back for me with the “entanglement” and the “always-alreadys”, while here with inevitability i’m finding more tenderness in these trusted/chosen moments, trusted strangers and messengers to surf or to tunnel with. maybe being given clues and unique signatures JUST for us could make us feel assured, an act of care.
  • i was curious though how it’d feel to really witness/experience a version of having data/message sent and received with the relay, beyond being explained to? idk if this could be realized with the two-player version – if that means to have some liveness to it, and if that means to involve something like hosting socket servers (if that’s what’s needed…)?
  • sitting side by side to play is interesting to me! like adding a physical layer to it? it’s literally finding the next messenger, who’s the only person you’d know, meanwhile you wouldn’t know where they’ve come from, and neither would they know where you’re headed to next?
  • also love the level two/epilogue and a fan of visiting your self-hosted onion site as well as leaving traces there as contribution, whether it’ll be a garden or other forms of spaces to continue the journaling and whisper-like narrative… to me it could feel like, although they’re anonymous messengers/visitors, we’re reminded that the relays and networks could happen because of these real people/rendezvous points. reassured as they’ve always been here…

wonder how the game session went!