Totalitarian regimes is something George Orwell wrote about quite frequently. What happens when a government knows so much information about every individual that privacy no longer exists? What happens when this information leads people to take actions, even lead lives, that they did not want to take, for fear of potential governmental reprisals? Can anyone in that system experience true freedom, both physically and mentally?
These are the questions that Orwell, by Osmotic Studios, asks each and every one of us, and they pull it off masterfully. In this game, you create a character, who has recently been conscripted by the government of The Nation, to start working with their new program, Orwell. In its simplest form, you are given a character in a suspicious location, and try to build a profile around them, using their Facebook feed, dating profile, cell phone calls and text messages, in order find what makes them tick. Could they be involved in a crime? Will they commit one soon? Are they a threat to the population, or the government itself?
The game’s mechanics, while being simple, manage to be incredibly engaging and help facilitate the story’s progression. The music and sound are perfect for the setting, allowing you to get into the groove of diving through a myriad of peoples’ information comfortably, but with a twinge of urgency and dread. As you parse through data and character interactions, you will find information about each potential target. You can choose which information to add to their profile, and which to ignore. Sometimes you will find two pieces of data that are directly conflicting with each other, requiring you to choose one based on your investigative skills, or attachment to the character. These choices cannot be taken back, and the best part is, they directly affect the story-line you’re playing through.
Based on your choices, some characters will experience wildly different story outcomes. Is this person innocent? Will you have them arrested? Will your actions directly lead to their death? The power is quite literally at your fingertips.
Aside from direct story interactions, what Orwell does best is make you think. Really, honestly, think. What does freedom mean to you? What does it look like? Would you be satisfied living in a society that could have a program like Orwell? Ask yourself these questions, examine your true thoughts behind a surveillance system like this, consider the implications and ramifications. If you’re living in the US, consider how a program like this would affect your most basic freedoms, namely your 1st and 4th Amendment rights.
And then consider that the NSA has been gathering information from public sites like this for years. Does that make you feel better, or worse?
I am always amazed when games like Orwell, with such a simple game concept, and low price point on Steam, have been designed to make the player question government, their reality, and themselves. Without hyperbole, if I had the option, I would make everyone I know play through this game in its entirety. I believe it to be that important to each individual, and our collective conscience. Thought just might save us from ourselves.
Orwell: Hales of Bay rating
Jonathan - 9 out of 10
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!