Promotional material for Smoking Gun. Seven white pills lay in a grid, among them a security camera. Overlaid are the words 'Smoking Gun' with a glitchy font
Image credit: Guy J Sanders

Smoking Gun

Project description

Smoking Gun is a thriller for a remote audience in a world of disinformation. It is played via a free bespoke app for iPhone/ Android.

Over 5 days, players receive information on their phones - company accounts, UUID records, medical research reports - as well as newspaper articles and images. Players have a half hour window per day where message with a small group of other people who are playing, to compare theories and work together on deducing what is going on. At the end of the 5 days each group has to decide whether they go to the press with what you’ve found out.

The bespoke app logs anonymised data on which documents each player accesses and for how long. The chat transcript can also be analysed to see how each player and each group used and shared data in their deliberations.


Commissioning aims

Smoking Gun is a collaboration with Data Stories at the University of Southampton, developed with the support of the STARTS Residencies Project as part of the STARTS initiative of the European Commission.

Data Stories aims to explore how people engage with data. They work on solutions that help make data more relevant, more interactive, and more easily shared. They look at novel frameworks and technologies for bringing data to people through art, games, and storytelling. The project examines the impact that varying levels of localisation, topicalisation, participation, and shareability have on the engagement of the general public with factual evidence.

The goals of the collaboration were to explore how to use narrative and game mechanics to change the way the public engages with data. Can it encourage people to engage with types of data with which they might not otherwise engage? Can it encourage them to engage more thoroughly and rigorously than they would have otherwise?



Smoking Gun Tom Blount, Dan Barnard, Laura Koesten & Elena Simperl (2020) Interactions, 27 (5), p.14


“Analysing Player Behaviour in Anonymised Online Durational Performance: a case study of Fast Familiar’s Smoking Gun” Dan Barnard & Joe McAlister
Zip-Scene Conference on Immersive Storytelling, Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, Budapest, Hungary, October 2021

“Simplicity and Complexity in Interactive Digital Performance” Dan Barnard
Association for Research in Digital Interactive Narratives, December 2020

“Combining Research and Creative Practice in Interactive Digital Performance” Dan Barnard
University of Skövde, invited talk, December 2020

“Smoking Gun: A collaborative data game experience.” Dan Barnard & Tom Blount
Data Stories Symposium, Kings College London, November 2020

“Inviting Interaction: fanSHEN, technology and interactive performance” Dan Barnard
Digital and Interactive Storytelling Lab, University of Westminster, February 2020

Cast and creative team

CREATED BY Dan Barnard, Rachel Briscoe & Joe McAlister | DATA ADVISOR Dr Tom Blount | CAST Dan Barnard, Rachel Donovan, Richard Fenn, Paul Fryer, Sophie Galustian, Dan Jones, Natasha Pring, Syeda Rahimunnessa, Tom Sanigar

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