Smoking Gun

Who should you trust in the age of disinformation?

Smoking Gun
The Justice Syndicate promotional graphic
Smoking Gun promotional image (c) Guy J Sanders

A whistleblower contacts you, says they have information which the public should see. But they need your help getting it out there.

Over 6 days, you receive information on your phone - you solve puzzles and put clues together to figure out what is going on.

You message with a small group of other people who are playing - you compare theories and work together.

At the end of the week your group will have to decide whether you go to the newspapers with what you’ve found out.

As you’re drawn into a world of politics, corruption and surveillance, who can you trust?

One of the 'hottest front row seats' of lockdown

The Guardian

Featured in 'Top ten dramas to enjoy at home'

The Financial Times

Smoking Gun is a thriller for a locked-down audience in a world of disinformation. It is played via a free bespoke app for iPhone/Android. See FAQs below for more info.

Smoking Gun is a collaboration with Data Stories at the University of Southampton, developed with the support of the EU VERTIGO STARTS Project.

If you're interested in finding out more about the themes of Smoking Gun, we put together a list of organisations and resources here.


Check back soon...

Past outings:

14 - 18 November 2020, in association with The Centre for Investigative Journalism’s 4th Logan Symposium.

24 - 29 June 2020

27 May - 1 June 2020


What happens during Smoking Gun?

In this experience you will:

  • spend some time on your own, looking at evidence
  • be in a group with players you don’t know
  • communicate with other players via text message

You will be guided 10% of the time, 90% of the time you will navigate yourself.

How long does it take?

You can spend as much or as little time as you want. On average players spend around 30 mins a day looking at evidence (which arrives at 7am each day), and 30 mins chatting with their group.  On day 6, the final chat might run a little longer.

What If I miss a chat? Do I get kicked out?

Smoking Gun works on the power of teams. You won’t have to do everything yourself. If you miss a chat, that’s okay, you can look back over what your teammates said and join in again the following night. We recommend you book to play on a week where you have some time though.

Do I have to be really good with technology?

No. The experience is contained within an app, which works a lot like WhatsApp. You will need internet access to look at the evidence and join the chat. Like Whatsapp, there’s also a desktop version of the app, so that you can look at evidence on a bigger screen and type using a keyboard, if you want.

Hmmmm. Sounds complicated. Can I just watch?

In a previous life, Smoking Gun’s creators made theatre shows - don’t expect that here.  Over five days you will need to use your best investigatory skills, share ideas with your team and work things out.

What if someone in my group says something that upsets or offends me?

We are committed to this being an accountable space. There isn’t a facilitator in any of the groups, but you can report comments that you find offensive to a moderator, who will take action.

Why can’t I play in a team with my mates?

This experience is designed for anonymous players who don’t have connections in the world outside the game. (We are in the process of making an experience for pre-existing groups, so watch this space if that’s what you’re after!)

Can I contact you whilst I am playing if I have an issue?

If you have any issues with the technology, please get in touch immediately so that we can help you.

In terms of the story, you’ll need to rely on your group’s collective intelligence…

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

Smoking Gun is developed with the support of the STARTS Residencies Project as part of the STARTS initiative of the European Commission.