Released in 2016, Orwell was one of the of the best political games of the last few years. It gave players access to government surveillance and propaganda powers, exposing the many weapons the state uses to spy on its own citizens.
As well as raging against the system, the episodic game also managed to pose tricky ethical and moral questions, as the player sought to uncover the source of terrorist attacks.
A three-episode sequel is due out, starting Feb 22, called Orwell: Ignorance is Strength. The title refers to the Party’s slogan in George Orwell’s novel 1984: War is Peace / Freedom is Slavery / Ignorance is Strength.
So it’s no surprise that the new game’s theme is disinformation and fake news, in which the population is fed propaganda that is sometimes the polar opposite of reality.
“To us, it was a logical next step to make media manipulation a theme,” said Mel Taylor, one of the founders of developer Osmotic Studio. “It’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of big data collection and the potential power of information. We decided on this pretty early last year as we started development. Of course, current events inspired and influenced this a lot, but we were actually a bit shocked how close this got to what is actually happening.”
Players of the original will find that the new game expands their investigative powers, as they hack into the phone records, movements, social media account and emails of suspects. Events can be manipulated by leaking information to the media and to social media.
“Players can now take data from the profile tool and reuse this,” Taylor said. “For example, they can insert it into search slots or unlocking encrypted documents and thus find further content. Instead of only choosing which data to pass on to the government, the player also chooses which data to use in order to ruin people’s reputation through social media.
“It also feels more active in general as opposed to only being the observer, because the player gets more pushback from the characters. In terms of detective work and finding things out about the characters, it is definitely more challenging than the first season.”
As the protagonist, players join “The Office”, a secret branch of a fictional government’s Orwell surveillance program. They are tasked with investigating an editor of an activist media outlet in a neighboring country.
Taylor said that the game is unlikely to provide much relief to people who are worn down by real world government lies and propaganda. “The tone is generally darker than the first season, and it gears more towards exposing problems than finding solutions,” she said. Further episodes of Orwell: Ignorance is Strength — available for Linux, Mac and Windows — are out on March 8 and March 22.