Orwell is a PC game that sees you take on the role of an investigator tasked with implementing the nation’s ‘safety bill’, by tracking down dangerous extremists. The first part ‘keeping an eye on you’ was released in 2016, with the second ‘Ignorance is Strength’ being released this year.
The game is designed to feel as little like a game as possible, allowing you feel fully immersed as you dig through evidence looking for those responsible for a terrorist bombing. You’ll receive instructions from your handler, scroll through social media, look up newspaper stories, and listen to tapped phone conversations. All allowing you to begin to piece together what happened in a detective like fashion. You’ll soon be starting to to highlight people of interest for surveillance or even arrest, and begin uncovering information about not just your suspects but The Nation itself.
interface cleverly allows you to highlight information taken out of
context. You can deliberately use this as a short cut to highlight a
suspect, or accidentally end up chasing the wrong person. Either way
it shows you the limits of the phrase ‘if you aren’t guilty you have
nothing to fear’. As you delve further into the game you’re realise
that there is never a single ‘smoking gun’ left by a suspect. That
doesn’t mean however, that you can’t piece together a lot about them.
By cross referencing hacked emails with public forum posts and media
quotes, you can soon build up an eerily complete picture of someone’s
life, and reveal the complex plot threads woven by the writers. It
might make you think more about the way you use internet more so than
any real world article about online privacy.
The name itself, and the other scattered references to 1984, make the views of the game developers, Osmotic Studios, pretty clear. During development they read both fiction and real world accounts of surveillance, trying not just to alert people to it’s existence – but actually make them care about it. However, whilst you are playing, the game doesn’t preach at you like you might expect. Instead, as you play your role, you will uncover uncomfortable truths about the way surveillance works in a way that feels natural. Plenty of decisions will occupy a morally grey zone, forcing you make difficult decisions that will have far reaching consequences. It may even be possible to play through and think total surveillance in ‘the right hands’ is completely fine, though I suspect this would be rather difficult. Like Papers Please before it, this game excels in utilising gamings unique ability to make you feel responsible for fictional actions in a way that films and books struggle to manage.
A sequel was released in 2018, it introduced some interesting new features. Such as the ability to push stories favourable to the nation, or unfavourable to its detractors, via mainstream news sources and linked social media accounts. Unfortunately the game ends quite abruptly not long after this feature is introduced, and a whole feels a bit more straight forward than its predecessor. ■
Keeping an Eye on You
5/5 everyone should play this game
Orwell: Ignorance is Strength
3/5 if you really want more!