As someone who uses social media incredibly frequently, living the vast majority of my life connected to the internet, episodic government surveillance dystopia video game Orwell really impressed me with its particular blend of plausible near futurism and moral decisions when cherry picking aspects of an online identity to represent the overall individual. It’s smart, exploratory, and I found myself walking away from the PAX Aus 2016 demo for the game craving more.
In Orwell, you play a contractor hired by a fictional near future government. While the government have high level access to public and private data communications, in an attempt to ensure impartiality they cannot directly view the data they collect. You are an employee tasked with sifting through the social media accounts, media articles, private messages and lives of suspects in a terrorist attack and parsing which information is pertinent to the case.
What I really like about Orwell as an exploratory experience is the fact that while you as the player have full context for data you interact with, those you are sending the information to only have the data packet itself as context. This leads to some interesting moments of having to work out where the dividing line lies between private venting about the government in an abstract sense and a genuine malice which could constitute a criminal motive for example.
The divide between the context of a statement or observation and its perception in a vacuum lead me to really think about what implications would be made if I shared each piece of relevant information I found. I had to be sure I didn’t use a bad day vent to a friend as key information in a terror attack investigation, or overlook something which could have stopped a further attack.
While Orwrell’s presentation is initially lacking, with 3D cutscenes coming off as slow, jittery and minimalist, the investigation system, social media screens and general gameplay environment where most of the game is played were consistently interesting to look at and engage with.
Three of Orwell’s six episodes are currently out and, after playing the demo for the game at PAX, I am definitely going to be checking out the full game to see where it leads. Expect a review in the future, I am really excited to see more as soon as I can.