Recent events around Facebook, data and the all-seeing eye of the Internet seems to have pushed us ever closer to the world envisioned by George Orwell in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Internet can make people feel anonymous, hidden, and invincible while the truth is likely the opposite. Everything you do, say and visit creates a digital footprint that is almost impossible to erase. It should be a scary thought that someone, somewhere is seeing exactly what you are doing or can follow your Internet breadcrumb trail should they wish. The video game Orwell takes a deep look at what data means and what it might be like to be the person observing someone’s every digital thought and move.
Orwell: Ignorance is Strength is the second game in developer Osmotic Studios‘ Orwell series. The first game, Orwell: Keeping an Eye On You, puts players in the seat of trying to unwind a conspiracy, finding murders, and pursuing private documents, listening in on phone calls and squarely asks you “Are you comfortable with this?”. It is a fascinating game and if you want to read a full review you can visit Bits & Pieces for that.
The second game, Orwell: Ignorance is Strength, has a different take on data and asks the player to consider what would happen if the information about you was weaponised. Without spoiling the game, Ignorance is Strength sees you taking control of the Orwell system once again, but this time you try to uncover what is happening at a website speaking out against the government.
To do this, you will drag and drop information from websites, social media, laptops, and phone calls into a profile of each person. The Orwell system lets you know what data you can add to a profile. Blue statements are for general lines of text, while yellow highlight is for conflicting statements. You can easily only read these sections, but to get the most out of the game you should read as much or as little as you feel you can, should or want. The game is about far more than simply clicking on highlighted text and hoovering them up like a hungry hippo.
This is because the agent you are working with can only see the information you add to a person’s profile. Do they need to know that a person is good at cards? Is that relevant to the case? It is for you to decide. Every decision you make causes the day to progress by 10 minutes. You can’t go around picking up every little detail because if you do you might miss something important. What is happening is time sensitive, so you need to filter through to only the most relevant and useful information. The game forces you into difficult, thought-provoking, and impossible situations constantly.
This all starts with an opening questionnaire which is a statement of intent for the game. Your answers will dictate how you play the game as they answer questions about you as a person. Much like the rest of the game, you are going to learn something about yourself.
Whereas the first game was a commentary on the data we put on the internet, the second focuses more on what people will do with that information. You will consider the ethics of who should have access to medical documents, immigration information and other confidential data. There will be decisions you don’t want to make as you try ‘to do what is right’, whatever that is. Neither of the Orwell games are something that you mindlessly play, they won’t let you. Each episode is gripping, tense and forces you take an introspective look at your personal politics, values, and morals.
This is no truer than with the game’s story. Orwell: Ignorance is Strength’s revolves around an immigrant and how he perceives the country he left and the one he lives in now. While the story isn’t as strong as the first game it’s an intriguing tale of freedom of speech, politics, data and how each can be used against you. This game also continues to do an amazing job fleshing out the world of Orwell. It expands on what we knew about other nations and characters which makes the two games feel like one.
The music throughout Orwell is light and barely noticeable. It enshrouds you in this world and knows when to pick up and when to soften. This brings a real intensity to situations and sells the near future of Orwell. The voice acting is slightly more questionable. It is perfectly fine, but a little cheesy sounding at times. However, it in no way detracts from the experience you will have with Orwell. Although, it could have been stronger.
While you won’t always understand or predict the ramifications of your actions, you will always see their result. An innocuous piece of data might be taken in a way you never expected and cause something you never wanted to happen. This is the whole point and message Orwell is sending, and while it doesn’t beam this into your brain as effectively as the first, it still does a fantastic job of making you feel like you shaping this world.
If you have played the first Orwell game, then you are going to get more out of the second. Both narratives take place at the same time. You will read the same news articles, but through a different lens. Instead of trying to understand a bombing, you are trying to root out a threat to an entire country. Depending on your choices through Orwell: Keeping an Eye On You, you will see specific scenarios in Ignorance is Strength. This is a fantastic idea and it makes the entire world feel connected and real. Hopefully, future Orwell games build on this same framework.
With the current landscape of politics and media, the message that Orwell is sending has never been more important. Social media sites encourage you to put more and more information about yourself onto the internet. Companies then collect and analyse this data for various purposes. The recent Facebook controversy with Cambridge Analytica is an example of how data can influence global politics..
Few games dare to make a statement or give the player the opportunity to consider real life. Both Orwell games do a fantastic job of this. There is never a point where they are shoving an ‘agenda’ down your throat. Instead, they give players a chance to explore a ‘what if’ scenario and understand the cause and effect of each situation. You will question every Tweet that might be taken out of context, and how this might be used against you. Players will reach their own conclusion about Orwell dictated by their personal politics.
Orwell: Ignorance is Strength takes place across three distinct chapters which are themselves days. Whereas the first game had five chapters to flesh out and really let you get to know people, the second game feel slightly more rushed. However, this could be intentional. Since it’s commentary on making rash judgements, weaponising fake news and never having the full picture, the pace could be intentional. However, this does still make the game feel slightly weaker than the first instalment.
Should you buy it?
Considering that Orwell is merely about reading, and then dragging and dropping information, it’s one of the most intense experiences you will have playing a game. You are going to think about Orwell’s implications about fake news, data, and social media long after finishing the game. For the best experience, you need to play both games in order. It’s an eye-opening experience that might make you reconsider your use of social media and cause you to carefully select the news you read. I highly recommend it.