While scrolling around the Electronic Literature Organization’s website, I came across a fairly interesting game titled “12 Labors of the Internet User” (or “Les 12 Travaux de l’Internaute,” if you’re using the original name). It’s a flash game playable on Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Opera if you’ve got it, and was put together by a team of seven people back in 2008. This somewhat dated game works off the basic assumption that using the internet is often very much like facing off against mythical beasts as Hercules did in the myth about his 12 trials. Each of his trials are likened to a trial a common person would face while exploring the internet and is explained through a short flash game. It’s almost surreal to play a game that puts popup ads on the same level of fighting a hydra, but there it is. And it’s a pretty interesting game at that.
Initially, 12 Labors feels very much like an alternate-reality version of the Hercules myth where instead of a demigod hero, he’s the IT guy who is having a rough day. The more you play the flash games though, the more it comes across that the creative team put a tremendous amount of effort behind the metaphor holding this piece together. For example, one level has the player searching through the “Underworld” to find a missing page, linking it to Hercules’ fight with Cerberus in Hades. Eventually, the game requires you to use the Wayback Machine in order to find the webpage you need to complete the level. Not only does this highlight the permanence of the internet by showing a player how even that which is deleted lives on in archives but it also makes use of very clever game design in incorporating this outside source. It’s this kind of creativity that really makes this game something interesting.
However, the part of this game that intrigued me the most, which I don’t think was intentional, was seeing how relatively outdated some of the “trials” were. As stated before, there is a level where popup ads must be defeated in order to win the level. Each time you get rid of one, two more come up in its place. The level requires you to turn off your browser’s popup blocker, retrieve a password, and then enable your in-game popup blocker. It’s a convoluted puzzle and it works well but as I played all I could think was, “When was the last time I saw any kind of popup ad?” Similarly, in another level, the game pits you against banner ads and you must adjust sound options on the page in order to eliminate them. But, again, I couldn’t think of the last time a banner ad bugged me? After all, Adblock removes all of those for me. I feel like you can hardly consider something an issue when an extremely common solution like Adblock exists.
To give another example, the Cattle of Geryon level has you tracking down a malicious bully by using information on a fake MySpace page. This was baffling on a number of levels. First of all, and likely the most obvious, why would you ever try to track someone down on MySpace? Who has MySpace anymore? And, even if you do have one in 2017, why would you bother tracking down someone who’s bugging you? Almost every website that has social features includes some variation of a block function so why not block the person and move on?
This game even highlights different safety concerns in the digital age. The Mares of Diomedes level has a player trying to protect their computer from using cookies, which I understand to a point. Giving the internet too much access to your information is dangerous. But then, in the Cerymian Hind level, the game is played using input taken from your computer’s webcam and, while that is some amazing programming, there is no way I’m letting anything but Skype use my webcam! And even then I keep a piece of duct tape over the thing until I’m good and ready to turn it on. That’s way too creepy.
The point I’m trying to get around to is that when this game was first made in 2008 it made a lot of good points about the steep learning curve that digital literacy involves. Getting online and truly knowing what you’re doing with the Internet is tough. Not everyone can do it. However, as it has aged, it’s become something of a cultural artifact that hearkens back to days when an Internet users biggest problems were identity theft and viruses, not getting doxxed or spied on through your webcam and mic. It places a pin on a timeline that can help people studying the Internet better connect the dots between “then” and “now” and reminds us of how the digital world has evolved so much in just under a decade.