In 1949, when George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four was released, the world lived in a state of paranoia, fear and misinformation. I think it’s fair to say, not much has changed. What Orwell could probably not foresee was how much of our own freedom would be willingly handed over by us. Social media has revealed itself as one of the most unprecedented inventions of our time, serving as a tool for individual monitoring and data-mining that would make “Big Brother” squeal with delight and anticipation. Individuals acting out their lives on a digital platform, all laid out for everyone to see? How convenient…
Opportunistic real-world entities thrive on the convenience of a population that knowingly spreads its most personal details publicly, and yet we do this because, really, who gives their digital footprint a second thought? What Osmotic Studios has done in Orwell: Ignorance Is Strength is show how our obliviousness to consequence, this strength we have in our convictions, our opinions and the lives we lead, is really just a cash cow of information that can be easily manipulated. All for reasons we may never know about, and often, are never aware of in the first place.
Freely sharing our information online gives governments unfettered access into our lives, whether we want them to or not. Anonymous agents of freedom, as they were, can now gather data without our express consent with just a few clicks and hashtags. In Ignorance Is Strength, the sequel to 2016’s Orwell, you play just such an agent. Over the course of three episodes, your job is to investigate and utilise the information you uncover to assist in the further protection of The Nation. The pressure is on, and with each new thrilling event and character analysis, your shoulders will inevitably strain from the weight of it all and the choices you’re forced to make.
Episode one starts with your induction into the agency via an aptitude test on a simulated computer screen where the entire game will play out. Your terminal acts as your weapon in the war on terror, now fought on the battlefield of the internet. The test, a thinly-veiled analogy for the precariousness of information, ends with an insult from your boss, Ampleford, who, with a not-so-thinly-veiled sense of disdain, welcomes you to The Office. Ampleford, the “M” to your “007”, is your guide, boss and warden of protection for The Nation. She (in the form of dialogue boxes) pops up to tell you what information is needed and what you can do with it. The Office, an internal government group, acts as The Nation’s watchdog. Your job as an agent is to monitor and mine any and all data obtained via your research.
After passing your test, you listen in on a phone conversation between two men discussing the meaning of truth and technology. It ends, as all calls do in any spy thriller, abruptly and with a scream of desperation: “Truth is dead, as you soon will be.”
This ominous threat leads to your first case, the disappearance of soldier Oleg Bakay. A brief tutorial is given by Ampleford, using the transcript of the phone conversation that just transpired. She explains that knowledge of Oleg’s whereabouts is crucial not only to The Office but to The Nation’s safety as well. Oleg, a high ranking member of the Pargesian army (the neighbouring country), was threatened by the radical Raban Vhart (the other voice in the call), Editor-in-Chief of The National Beholder, an online newspaper propagating fervent anti-army and anti-war sentiments, so his threat has to be taken with the utmost seriousness. Using the latest monitoring software available, you must scour various corners of the web for information that will lead to the discovery of Oleg, lest a political uprising begin.
The program given to you is fittingly called Orwell; this cutting-edge technology allows you to compile data on persons of interest. These pieces of data are referred to as datachunks, which are collected and used through three tools: the Reader (for webpages), the Listener (personal devices), and the Influencer (a propaganda generator that does not become active until episode three). The relevance of all information is up to you to decide, as well as how you use it. Each datachunk that is uploaded consumes 10 minutes of game time, adding to the real-world consequences that could occur should you fail to process the information correctly.
The plot unfolds as you comb through sites such as Blabber and The National Beholder, uncovering a plot thicker than molasses spilled on the sidewalk on a hot summer’s day. Double agents, terrorist attacks, political protests – nothing is ever quite what it seems. Fortunately, no area is off-limits for Orwell, including internal government websites, though as you will learn, some secrets aren’t meant to be seen. Events gain further momentum as Raban Vhart uses his well-groomed manipulation tactics to instigate and control his massive online following in a political discourse. Information conflicts inevitably arise, which makes knowing who and what to believe all the more difficult. Your judgment will be what you rely on the most. Every choice made has an effect and is looked over by Ampleford (who could really do with a chill-pill in my opinion).
Each episode can have a different ending. Depending on the choices you make, and whether they’re made in time, the consequences for certain characters can be life-saving or life-ending. In this troubled world, though, there is no real “happily ever after” for anyone.
Once the Oleg Bakay case is closed, your next mission is to bring down Raban before he can further foster the tension between Parges and The Nation into an all-out civil war. Ampleford directs you to investigate Raban’s background further, as well as the people closest to him, his brother Ilya and his wife Karen. Ilya is Raban’s most devoted advocate, and Raban believes his boasts enough to make Ilya an editor at his paper, as well as his ghost-writer for most of his articles. Good call. Karen, Raban’s loving wife with the strongest I-can-fix-him mentality I’ve ever seen, strives to support Raban any way she can, including helping out his adorable puppy-dog of a younger brother.
The second episode is a more personal affair involving private records and devices (i.e. mobile phones, dating sites, social media sites). Researching someone’s life via their digital interactions is an interesting style of gameplay. Osmotic does a fantastic job of making this feel like an organic process, one that very closely mimics that of real-world activity. Much of it feels like things we all do on a daily basis, a detail I’m sure was intentional on the developer’s part. Digging through a person’s life online poses its own challenge, for as we all know, what we see isn’t necessarily what we get (anyone who has done any kind of online dating will know exactly what I’m talking about).Continued on the next page...