Everyone's talking about deepfakes, but welcome to yet another minor manifestation of the internet's capacity for falsehood: Brexit Royale. This video game features various British politicians facing off against one another in classic royale style. Or at least it would, if it were real.
Brexit Royale is a creation of the PR agency Kairos Media. The game is apparently being developed by 'Wave Studios', but a quick glance at the company's website shows that not only was the domain registered just over a week ago, on 15 August 2019, but the email contact is a Kairos Media address, and the studio's postal address is shared with, you got it, Kairos Media.
Brexit Royale has a 'teaser' trailer, which begins with a load of unverifiable and un-sourceable quotes from outlets with names that sound vaguely legit ('GamingPlus' 'eSportsBuzz') but turn out to have little to no online presence or regularity of posting. In fact, if you check out the wayback machine you'll discover that all of these apparently legitimate brands are ultimately owned... by Kairos Media (via its subsidiary KYMA, of which more later.)
Some of the 'brands' quoted at the start of the Brexit Royale teaser, including Game-exe and GamerPlus
The teaser then consists entirely of clips of politicians speaking and the Brexit Royale logo (which looks like a two-minute photoshop job).
The 'game' has attracted the usual suspects, the Daily Mail running with a quote from Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones who said: "After the death of Jo Cox, to see a game promoting violence to MPs due to Brexit is sickening." One senses that when the paper went in search of further details it got taken for a complete ride. Here, for example, are the weapons that Wave Studios said would be in the game:
- Ballot boxes
- Big Ben figurine
- Blue passports
- Cocaine (to throw at Michael Gove)
- Crossbow that fires wheat
- UK flagpoles
- EU flagpoles
- Leave picket signs
- Remain picket signs
- Ration boxes
- Water cannons
The Daily Mail, almost unbelievably, reproduced this list alongside a large illustration of a blue passport. It's almost as if it liked the idea of clocking someone over the head with one. There are even more fantastical 'details' on offer, as well as a few dodgy-looking screenshots of what purports to be a character select screen:
"Players will be able to dress their character in a variety of skins, from different suits for the politicians all the way to a pig's head in a nod to ex-PM David Cameron.
In-game vehicles will include the Vote Leave's 'let's fund our NHS instead' Brexit bus, Jeremy Corbyn's bicycle and a zip-line for Boris Johnson."
By this point it should be obvious that Brexit Royale is a marketing team having a bit of a troll. Outside of the Mail and Star it's not even working especially well: the only folk who seem to be engaging with it on social is the team themselves.
After collating the above I phoned Kairos Media and spoke to PR Manager Jessica Williams. I put it to her that Brexit Royale was a fake, asked what the motivation was, and whether she could help me understand things better. Despite previously accepting my call, Ms Williams then claimed she had to dash into a meeting "literally now" and offered to call me back before disappearing.
The motivations behind this Brexit Royale stunt are unclear though, as a metaphor for the mess we're in, Brexiteers getting furious about something imaginary seems appropriate in some ways. Who knows: maybe it's just an innocent joke that got out of hand.
One possible reason behind Brexit Royale is the relaunch of the Kairos offshoot KYMA, which describes itself as follows: "Kyma Media sits under the Kairos Group. Kyma Media is a media company for the social generation." KYMA shares the same three co-founders as Kairos: Michael Craddock, Chris Parnell, and Luke Bristow. It's probably best known for that KFC Gaming stunt, and this Brexit Royale idea might impress the people it wants to impress.
I realised this because Kairos sent me the Brexit trailer as an mp4 with the filename '2019-08 KYMA REBRAND 02_1 (1).' Furthermore, as the company's currently under-construction website used to say: "Kyma (κύμα) is a Greek word meaning wave." Brexit Royale is apparently being developed by 'Wave Studios.'
When Jessica Williams from Kairos called me back, she began by admitting that "this is a hoax we've been playing on the tabloids." She went on to explain that Kairos is indeed "relaunching [KYMA] around these things." I was then asked to keep this secret until the 'reveal' next week: sorry folks.
Brexit Royale is not real. The point was apparently to show how reactionary tranditional media outlets can be. That may seem like a laudable aim in some respects, but it also essentially comes down to trying to fool journalists, readers, and in this case even an MP. And regardless of intentions, this bizarre hoax could go on to acquire the kind of afterlife that bendy bananas did.
So, just another day in games journalism. There's also something a little bit sad about how easily it's stoked the reaction it was going for. I don't think this is a great PR stunt but you can understand why it must have seemed attractive: everyone's so pissed-off about Brexit generally, no matter which side you're on, that the thought of mowing down our politicians in fields of wheat has an undeniable attraction. Regardless: file this one under not-so-deep fakes.
Thanks to Kimberley Snaith for additional research.
This story originally appeared on Kotaku UK.