Orwell (Video Game)
Orwell is an episodic series of video games developed by German indie developer Osmotic Studios which released its first episode on October 20, 2016. In Orwell, the player assumes the role of a state operative whose job is to monitor surveillance sources in order to find security threats. The player must take this information and make decisions regarding the relevancy of the information in order to recommend actions to the authorities. The game is based off of— and often references— George Orwell’s distopian novel, 1984.
Keeping an Eye on You
The videogame takes place in the Nation, a country that is led by an authoritarian government known as The Party. The operator (or player) is not a citizen of the Nation but teams up with a handler from the country. Together they must solve who organized the recent terrorist bombing of the Freedom Plaza.
In order to solve the crime, the operator and handler monitor the Orwell surveillance system for security threats. The system is able to create and store profiles of persons of interest and builds these profiles by collecting information about them online. The Orwell system is also able to tap into online message chats as well as phone calls to collect information on targets. It also has the ability to access computers and phones in order to collect information gathered from the files on these devices.
As the operator of the Orwell system, it is the player's job to piece together the information and figure out what segments of their information to upload to the system for the handler to assess. The handler is unable to access any of the information the player retrieves and is only able to see what the player uploads to the system. This makes it essential for the player, alone, to make the crucial decision on whether the information is relevant or trivial to the case being investigated.
Following the recent bombing of the Freedom Plaza in the city Bonton, the player is introduced to their handler, Symes, who instructs the player on the new job asks to investigate Cassandra Watergate, a person with known anti-government sentiments and previously arrested for assault of police at the location of bombing. In investigating Watergate, the player finds that she was aquitted of her charges under lack of evidence, her relationship to her defence lawyer Josef Langley, and her association with an activist group called Thought. It is later found that during a private conversation with her friend, Juliet Kerrington, that the assault was intentional, and this information is used to arrest Watergate again. However, the end of the episode reveals another bomb going off at Stelligan University and Watergate is ruled out as the bomber.
The player learns about the activist group called Thought, led by Abraham Goldfels who is a lecturer at Stelligan University, with much of his following consisting of his students, notably Harrison O'Donnell, a national newspaper columnist, and Juliet Kerrington, the PR Assistant at Rhosen Tech. The group is then hacked by someone identifying themselves as "Initiate". The player soon finds another member of Thought going under the name of "Nina" and also learns that Though had protested at Freedom Plaza, Stelligan University, and a third unnamed location. Further investigation reveals that there are two locations in which bombs could have been planted. Symes goes onto further interrogate Watergate and the player must use the information to choose which locations will be bombed. If the player chooses Circle Mall as the third location, the bomb is diffused, but failure to do so results in the bomb detonating and killing many.
The player is tasked with finding out more about Nina in this episode as a suspect of the bombing. It is soon learned that this suspect is Sergeant Nina Maternova, an ex-combat engineer in the Nation's Army, and that she was dishonorably discharged following her late husband's death in combat. During the investigation, the hacker Initiate asks Nina about the bombing, which she denies, and additionally attempts to hack the government (The Party) website. The player is given a choice of either warning the government or allowing Initiate's breach to occur.
Consequently, Nina notices that the player has tampered with her computer and escapes the Nation. Depending on how much information the player has uploaded to Syme, Nina either escapes, gets arrested, or is killed. The end of this episode reveals that Abraham and Nina are tied as Abraham exchanges an email detailing the bombing plan.
Given the information that is revealed in Episode 3, Symes tasks the player with tracking the location of Goldfels in order to bring him in for questioning. O'Donnell and Kerrington of the Thought group seek help from Josef, Nina's previous defence lawyer, and Josef concurrently received an anonymous request to release Cassandra from custory in exchange for information about the activist group. The player can later discover a money transfer from his bank account, which they can deem as charitable or suspicious.
O'Donnell later contacts Initiate, and learns that the hacker is actually a member of Thought. Here, Initiate tells O'Donnell about the existence of Orwell. Soon after, Orwell leaks its investigation into thought to the National Beholder newspaper, causing Orwell to lose his job and inciting hate towards the activist group. Following the leak, O'Donnell and Kerrington contact Josef again and, depending on the player's actions, Josef is arrested or Josef goes on to incriminate O'Donnell as a person of interest. In addition, while the player investigates Kerrington's computer, the player experiences a strange disconnection from Orwell's servers.
The player goes on to find more details on Thought's leader, Abraham Goldfels, revealing that he is actually dead. This leads the player to believe that the bomb suspect is hiding under Goldfel's identity. It is also revealed that the disconnection from Orwell's server is an attack by Initiate. At the end of the episode, O'Donnell reveals on Thought's blog the personal information of Symes, including his home address.
At the beginning of the episode, the player is assigned to a new handler, Minister Delacroix, and depending on whether the player's previous choices led to Nina's arrest, death, or escape, Symes is either declared to be dead or in hiding.
"Goldfel" returns and organizes a meeting with all Thought members, with different members reacting differently (notablely Initiate believing it is a trap). Cassandra is released by authorities. During this, Initiate attacks Orwell and takes over the interface which the player is using and acquires the information which the player has accrued. Depending on how much information the player has, O'Donnell is arrested.
Kerrington comes out to reveal that she is "Goldfel" and is responsible for manipulating Nina, as well as Watergate getting re-arrested. She also goes onto reveal that Thought failed in its efforts towards peaceful protest and that everything was meant to convince the player of Orwell's failings. Kerrington states that the player seems to understand Orwell's flaws and could bring it down by highlighting themselves as a target person. In response to that, Initiate suggests the player incriminate Delacroix. Each member of Thought either decides to support the player or not.
Here the player is met with several decisions with varying results:
Incrimination of Thought: Delacroix provides the player access to Initiate's computer, which has out-of-context information suggesting that Thought was created with the intent to commit terrorism. This choice results in the arrest of all members of Thought and Orwell is applauded by the public. The player is promoted to the position of a handler and is invited to immigrate to the Nation.
Delacroix's Demise: Initiate provides player access to Delacroix's computer, Delacroix intercepts this before the player gains any information. Regardless, the player gains access to her phone and discovers messages in support of the bombing incidents, as well as messages implying Delacroix is the one behind leaking Thought to the National Beholder. Following this, Delacroix resigns, Orwell is brought down, and the player is hunted by the Nation for their involvement in Orwell.
Self-Sacrifice: The player discovers a PC belonging to the real Goldfel and discovers his connection to Orwell, as well as his history with Kerrington and Initiate. The player discovers, in accordance to Kerrington's allegations, that Orwell kept an eye on the investigators despite them being non-Nation-citizens. Consequently, this causes a public outcry leading to the termination of Orwell and the rise of Thought as a political party. The player becomes an honorary member of Thought and attempts to pardon members of Thought from their crimes.
A Half-Hearted Attempt: The player attempts to incriminate Delacroix, but fails to gain access to her phone. So the player, in turn, turns in members of Thought using the transcript of Initiate and the real Goldfel as evidence. As a result, all members of Thought, excluding Initiate, are arrested and Orwell is received by the public neither positively, nor negatively. Delacroix is untouched and the player becomes a wanted person. The game ends with the player uploading a datachunk into their character profile.
In no connection to any of the endings, the player uploads a chunk from the news onto their own profile, hinting that Orwell is not completely dead.
Orwell falls into the genre known as simulation video games, which are designed to simulate real-world activities and situations. Metrics for games in this category led Orwell to receive mostly positive reviews, including a 9/10 on the popular video game platform Steam. Many of the reviews lauded Orwell's developer, Osmotic Studios, for the game's relevance to contemporary privacy issues and its take on the seemingly ubiquitous idea of "Big Brother". PC Gamer gave the game a score of 78%, GameSpot awarded it an 8/10, and Metacritic's approved critics gave it an aggregated score of 74%. Polygon commended the indie game's emphasis on issues of free speech.
Online privacy is a topic closely related to the premise of the game. As the operator of the Orwell system, your job is to intrude on the online privacy of persons of interest. Privacy is having control over your personal information and losing this control is a violation. Our identities are the combination of our information, this is especially true in this game where we never physically meet any of the characters, the characters are literally the information we gathered on them and if conflicting information exists then we as an outside party is creating an identity without consent.
Computer surveillance is an ability of the Orwell surveillance system that gets used to find private information in the game. If the player is able to find the MAC address of a device, they are then able to hack into that device and start going through the files stored on the device. After the revelations of Edward Snowden and the practices of the NSA many companies have pursued better encryption technology to protect its users from these backdoor attacks.Some countries are against this and believe that having backdoors are necessary in order for the necessary parties to get the information they need to stop disasters from happening.  The situation is complicated and while there are perceived benefits to making sure technology isn't hindering justice, there are also concerns about invasions of privacy to consider as well.
The ending of the third episode where Symes gets doxed is a very real issue that happens with modern internet culture. In 2014 after the Boston Marathon tragedy, certain groups in Reddit became convinced that Sunil Tripathi was one of the Boston Bombers. This turned out to be false after further investigations by legal authorities but it was already too late as the damage was already done and Tripathi was found to have committed suicide after having his reputation ruined by the internet.. This act of vigilante doxing directly led to the death of an innocent person. Another case of when doxing led to the death of an innocent person was in the 2017 Wichita swatting incident. Swatting is the harassment tactic when someone calls local law enforcement claiming that there is a situation which requires immediate police action often at the house of the person of a doxed person. In the 2017 Wichita swatting incident, two players were playing an online game which escalated to where one of the players calling a domestic violence at the home of what he thought was the home of the other player. When police arrived they assumed the suspect was violent and shot on sight which led to the fatal shot of Andrew Finch. 
As the operator of Orwell, we act as voyeurs to private correspondence on many occasions. We spy on the characters and their online usage habits as well as their conversations with each other. Orwell is designed to give the operator perfect voyeurism.  However as we see in the game when perfect voyeurism goes wrong there are grave consequences such as when Nina tries to run from the authorities. The system itself is flawed and even though it aims for perfect voyeurism it fails as one of the characters finds out someone is spying on him as his bank informs him of a suspicious login after we as the player had just looked at his bank account. Perfect voyeurism is unethical because of the disaster that can happen when the voyeur gets caught.
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