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I Got a Software Developer Imprisoned for 25 Years

By Julian Benson on at

I'd got him. The hacker who had broken into the MI7 mainframes and deleted all our local data; he sells illegal software on the side and I'd got his name on an order confirmation that proved it. In hacking game Mainlining's dystopian future unregistered software development carries a 25 year prison sentence and I was going to make sure the judge made this criminal serve every last day of it.

First, though, I'd have to find out his real name.

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Mainlining is a game that puts you in the shoes of an MI7 investigator, a department set up to seek out enemies of the state through digital means. It's not often a game puts you so deeply in the heart of the police state and I'm surprised how much I enjoyed investigating civilians. (Note to self: I'd probably be a collaborator at the drop of a hat and fully deserve to be the first against the wall when the revolution came.)

In this future MI7 is legally allowed to investigate anyone and access any of their data. That doesn't mean investigations will be easy. The tools available to you in Mainlining are very hands on. For instance, to find out my target's identity I had to hack into a filesharing site and download files from its backend. This meant using an MS-DOS window to ping the site for its IP and then searching through its file listings for the information I needed.

I was only playing a demo of Mainlining, a teaser to prove the concept for a fuller game, but with a lot more information poured into the game's databases — more suspects, more websites, more files, more data — it could be a game that tasks you with actual investigation work, having you sift through reams of data for what is relevant to your case.

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Once I'd found my suspect's real name I had to locate them in the police database, set up an arrest location, and supply the necessary evidence for an arrest warrant.

This was a simple case, one to show off how a larger version of Mainlining will work, but I'd really recommend giving it a try, there's a demo over on Itch.io. The finished game, which is currently seeking funds on Kickstarter, would add more tools and systems to the core on show in the demo. You'll be able to access phone logs, track suspects geographical location, and use this to build a case. In some cases you'll want to take your time, trying to find enough evidence to get your suspect a longer prison sentence but other times if you take too long then they'll realise you're investigating and do a runner.

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I really enjoyed what was on show in the demo and, as the team refer to in its Kickstarter pitch, its fascinating seeing how a case can be put together with information available online in light of The Draft Investigatory Powers Bill that was discussed in Parliament last year. If the Snooper's Charter – as its detractors call it – passes into law then our security services will get access to a huge amount of our private information and they'll have the tools to sift through it for evidence of crimes.

You can read a lot more about Mainlining over on its Kickstarter page.