What Uplink Really Made Me Think Of

I recently did a writeup of Introversion‘s Uplink, a minimalist and atmospheric hacker / puzzle game, for Eurogamer. Now in my head there are just certain things you don’t talk about in front of a mainstream audience.

A key element once you get past the early stages of Uplink is deleting logs – you bounce your connection from place to place before connecting to a target system, and a passive trace can follow this breadcrumb trail. What it means is you have this moment of tremendous excitement during a hack, where you’re playing chicken with the clock, before the disconnect and an immediate urge to delete the trail back.

Deleting logs is a simple matter, and thanks to the presence of a location called InterNIC is a bit of a gimme once you know what’s going on, but you still have to go in and manually do it every time. Even with InterNIC you’ve got to click on the admin section, enter a password, click through to the logs, and then start erasing them one-by-one.

All I could think about while doing this was porn. Like most people ever given the chance, I have watched porn and god willing I shall again. But what followed porn in the digital age, until the advent of Chrome’s incognito mode at least, was always a quick clear of your history.

This is just an automatic habit. After you watch porn, and especially if you have a girlfriend, it’s a crime not to clear your history. I’d go so far as to say that if you have ever been busted for porn on the basis of your internet history, it was deserved. Degenerate.

I don’t find Uplink especially sexually arousing, but after every single mission the routine of log-deleting conflates itself in my mind with the only other similar action I’ve ever performed. Uplink’s bounce (oo-err) logs are little more than strings of numbers, but as I make them vanish they appear, for a fleeting second, to have held a saucier designation.

In terms of how you interact with it, Uplink is not sophisticated. All you do is select things in menus, identify targets, and occasionally type something. But viewed from another angle this is an intuitive understanding of how even the most spectacular process is constructed from hundreds of mundane tasks. These hooks, the little similarities to everyday life, are what makes the world so convincing.

Uplink is more than half Hollywood fantasy, but not a little of the ‘reality’ comes from these parallels. You don’t really learn anything about hacking from Uplink. But it makes the case that the only naughty people that ever get caught are the careless ones.

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2 thoughts on “What Uplink Really Made Me Think Of

  1. I never thought about it that way, yet it is as you say. Making your way through the target system while working against the clock then immediately running to delete your logs (or change them, if you try to frame somebody anyway). Hell, I once almost got caught after hacking a bank because I forgot of the quick passive trace they have.
    So yes. Only careless ones are caught. 🙂

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