Innocent Passage is a game about processes of adaptation and cascading failure in global supply chains. Its creation was inspired by the global logistics crisis that developed during late-March 2021 when the Ever Given container ship ran aground in the Suez Canal causing severe disruption to international supply chains. Minimalist in design, the game presents its player with a world map marked with commercial ports, as well as US and other naval bases. These are connected by tendrils denoting shipping channels along which pass numerous commercial and military vessels.
The player’s role in the game is very simple. With the click of the mouse, they create an ‘incident’. This starts as a pale, translucent red blot on the game’s yellow and black map. As ships run into the incident, however, it grows in size. Its red becomes darker and more opaque. Eventually, it grows so large that it solidifies and becomes a permanent blockage. At this point, the ships reroute attempting to circumvent the incident by creating new paths to their destination. As they do so, however, they also create new incidents into which more ships then collide. This quickly cascades until shipping between certain areas of the map is completely shut down.
I found playing Innocent Passage to be an enjoyable and quite meditative experience. The game’s sound design mixes a background track of waves crashing on a shore with procedurally generated synthesiser squeals and blips that are created each time an incident emerges, or a boat runs into it. There is no overall goal or scoring system, so the player is left to their own devices within the sandbox that the game’s creator, Colestia, has produced. Personally, I enjoy seeing how large of a cascade I can produce using only a single mouse click, but how a player decides to interact with the simulation is largely up to them.
Innocent Passage isn’t as explicitly political as some of Colestia’s earlier games such as A Bewitching Revolution and They Came from a Communist Planet. While those games asked the player to occupy the role of a revolutionary agent seeking to overthrow capitalism, the political potential of Innocent Passage lies in how it makes complex and opaque global systems visible to its players. What becomes apparent in the game, therefore, as it did in the Ever Given incident upon which it is based, is the fragility of global systems that can often feel indomitable. Thus, while Innocent Passage is clearly a simplification of only a single branch of the logistical apparatuses through which global capitalism operates, it nevertheless grants its players a sense of how organised efforts could begin to assert power and win collective democratic control of that system.
Playing the game, I couldn’t help but think that strikes and protests targeting and obstructing the operation of weak points within networks of global supply could have an impact that far exceeded their scale and geographical specificity. Of course, any such actions would require the long and difficult construction of international movements of solidarity that would have to overcome violent repression by those working in the interests of capital (see Vincent Bevins’ The Jakarta Method, for a history of the murderous, US-led eradication of left wing global opposition movements during the twentieth century). Games such as Innocent Passage aren’t going to change the world, but they can allow us to think about that world and how it might be changed through our collective efforts.
Platforms: Windows and Mac OS (HTLM5)
Release Date: 17 January 2022
Genres: Simulation, War
The featured image of the Ever Given is from wikicommons.com. All other images are screenshots taken by the author.