Many will know George Orwell as one of the great visionaries of the early 20th Century. He was a scathing social critic, journalist and author who predicted many aspects of the future with uncanny accuracy. Indeed it was Orwell who coined the phrase ‘Big Brother’ in his famous novella 1984, which predicted that a house with hundreds of cameras would be filled with twelve douchebags who would attempt to connive and entertain to avoid eviction. All right, maybe not, But Orwell was convinced that the possibility of a surveillance state was very real indeed, and in many ways this is exactly the world we live in over 60 years later. In the digital age we routinely sacrifice privacy for security in order to guard ourselves against the threats that our televisions assure us are so real they may as well be on our doorsteps. Illegal wars are waged on the basis of deliberately misleading information disseminated by corrupt media, and our privacy is slowly but surely being eroded to give the powers that be greater investigative authority to deal with perceived threats and stop crimes before they happen (incidentally thoughtcrime was another of Orwell’s concepts). The most saddening part is that we are complicit in this erosion, and when we wake up one morning to the cracking of whips and clanging of pickaxes as we slave away in the beryllium mines of the lizard people we largely have our own complacent nature to blame… Wait, where was I?
Freedom isn’t free
Orwell is a clever little title from Osmotic Studios, where it’s you who are put in the shoes of Big Brother. As an investigator it is your job to compile information on various persons of interest after a terrorist attack near a city monument. You are given unfettered access to online communications and databases and must mine the information superhighway for information pertinent to the case. Gameplay is rather simple; you traverse the web of information looking for Datachunks which you can then choose to upload to a program called Orwell. Orwell compiles information and builds profiles for target persons, and an adviser considers the data and chooses a course of action.
Meme game is on point
Looks like Ms Delacroix’s been h4cked
…when we wake up one morning to the cracking of whips and clanging of pickaxes as we slave away in the beryllium mines of the lizard people we largely have our own complacent nature to blame…
Careful what you say on the Internet kids…
The Datachunks you choose to upload (or choose to omit) have great implications for those you’re investigating, so it pays to be thorough lest you mislead the system. Orwell is unable to distinguish between sarcasm and genuineness either, so will take everything you upload literally. For example, when perusing someone’s Timeline (the game’s version of Facebook), a person might say something innocuous like: “Why are you torturing me?” In this case they are referring to someone dragging them out for a night on the town, but upload this Datachunk to Orwell and he’ll assume the person was indeed tortured and the perpetrator could be considered dangerous.
You are given a lot of freedom as to what you can access, as long as you can establish a link in Orwell. This includes the aforementioned Timelines as well as medical records, blogs, messages and phone calls and you can even sneak around a person’s computer if you can find its unique ID. From a philosophical standpoint it’s quite interesting to feel the prejudices and preconceptions you begin to form after sifting through strangers’ data. While you are supposed to be an unbiased outsider, you begin forming a narrative for these characters, and often go looking for data that reinforces your beliefs.
…it’s quite interesting to feel the prejudices and preconceptions you begin to form after sifting through strangers’ data. While you are supposed to be an unbiased outsider, you begin forming a narrative for these characters, and often go looking for data that reinforces your beliefs…
While choices do play a large part in the outcome and there are multiple endings and events that can occur throughout the game’s five episodes, you are still shuttled along a relatively linear path. It’s interesting to go as deep as you can and discover as much as possible about your targets, but I was slightly miffed that the game forces you to process certain specific Datachunks in order to proceed. While this was not an issue on my first playthrough, as I was processing as much as possible, it became annoying on subsequent playthroughs where I was deliberately trying to rig the outcomes by omitting as much important information as possible and providing as much misleading information as possible. I was keen for a Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? situation where you could completely bungle an investigation, but this isn’t truly the case here. Nevertheless there are plenty of great moments that make you feel like you are indeed inside the virtual lives of others as they spin their twisted webs, and when the revelations come and the fourth walls come down you’ll be sweating behind the keyboard like Sandra Bullock in The Net.
Looks like inspiration has been taken from the comment section of DYEGB writer Jordan Garcia’s opinion pieces
Orwell takes a simple concept of making you an agent of Big Brother and gives you a tangible virtual space in which to operate. It feels as empowering as it is invasive and morally ambiguous, and the fact that such a simple gameplay design can create so much richness is testament to some clever and savvy writing. While I would have loved to see some more butterfly effect aspects incorporated and more tangential storylines based on choices made, the story and characters are deep and interesting enough that you’ll find it hard to walk away from the Orwell without first trying to uncover the full picture.