Physical Copies Of 1984 Are Sold Out, But You Can Play Orwell In The Meantime

Yes, you heard right. Signet Classics, the company that prints 1984 by George Orwell, has sold out of copies and are scrambling to print more. I’m sure I have no idea whatsoever why there’s such a sudden interest in the classic dystopian novel, but I would like to take this opportunity to examine the indie game Orwell, which I am sure in no way will remind you of our terrifying new reality.

After a bomb attack in the major city of Bonton, the Party has unleashed a new surveillance system called Orwell. You, the player, are an out of state investigator who was chosen for the job specifically because you are not a citizen of the Nation. By hiring foreign nationals, the Party can keep the operation of Orwell secret. You use the program to sift through public and private information about your suspects, and simply pass off relevant information to your Advisor, Symes. As Advisor, he examines the evidence you present and recommends action to the powers that be.

In theory, the Orwell program is a more efficient version of the NSA’s current spy program. The NSA gathers a huge amount of data on American citizens, but critics will point out that there is so much of it, it is difficult to weed out important information. It is just too much to sift through, and in the meantime actual threats can move faster than someone can find them. With Orwell, the player makes supposedly impartial judgment calls on what is relevant information for the state’s investigation and focuses purely on persons of interest.

The game unfolds over five episodes, and in each episode the stakes are raised higher and higher. What seemed like insignificant data in a previous episode suddenly becomes important. What you have passed off with good intentions can leave characters dead or arrested.

As the Investigator, it is your job to listen in on calls, read emails and texts, and even remotely control their devices and computers.
By cherry picking information, you weave a narrative for Symes, who has his own interpretations and biases that informs his decisions. Your interference can also raise the suspicions of the people you are monitoring, and drive them to extreme acts. I played the game three times. The first playthrough I played simply by passing off information I thought was relevant. I was doing my job to the best of my ability and doing my best to remain impartial. It was an absolute disaster. With blood on my hands, I replayed knowing who the bomber was and what characters I wished to spare pain and misery. It went far better when I thought critically about how information would look to Symes, and what I wanted him to think. Symes himself isn’t a terrible human being, nationalism and loyalty to the Party aside. He, like me, was trying to do his job to the best of his ability and protect lives. He felt empathetic at times and regretted a few of the choices he made.

The interpretation of truth is almost always subjective, and we cannot predict how other people will handle sensitive information. Even the suspects, secure in the knowledge that their communications are private, put up a front, lie, and kid themselves. The information they provide unwittingly is often irrelevant or untrue. They contradict themselves, and the player must resolve these contradictions based on their own intuition or confirmation bias.

Big Brother is watching, and he may just be a civil servant who is just trying to do his job to the best of his ability. But once he reports his findings to his superiors, his good intentions mean nothing. There is no putting the lid back on Pandora’s box. When your private conversations and written thoughts can be held against you, It is all the more important to protect our privacy. And if in today’s world, hypothetically, millions of people were texting each other about how best to resist a hypothetical despot, would you really want said despot to have potential access to each and every conversation going on about him right now? Are you okay with the thought that a huge overreaching spy network now answers to him?

Orwell was published by Osmotic Studios and published by Surprise Attack. It is available on Steam for $9.99. The first episode, “The Clocks Were Striking Thirteen,” is available as a demo on the Steam store front or from the official site.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.