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Video Game / Orwell

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"Thank you for ensuring the safety of The Nation's people."

Congratulations! You've been accepted into the Orwell program, a data collection network allowing us to gain an edge on tracking down suspected criminals through every online outlet necessary. Social media? News sites? Blog posts? Bank transactions? They're all fair game. And it's up to you to use the information you can find to keep the authorities informed on potential threats to the security of The Nation.

Orwell is a series of episodic point-and-click games by German developer Osmotic Studios and published by Surprise Attack. The player must find leads and related documents through uploading "datachunks" (pieces of presumably important information) to the titular surveillance database.

The first season, Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You, was released in five weekly instalments in 2016. The story starts off with the player being tasked to investigate someone who was found at the scene of a bombing in Bonton, the capital of The Nation. However, just as you feel like you've gathered enough incriminating evidence and that the beta test of Orwell will go smoothly, it becomes more and more apparent that there's a lot more to the bombing than just this one suspect...

The second season, Orwell: Ignorance is Strength, was announced in August 2017 and released in three installments over six weeks beginning February 22, 2018. Moving away from the explicit focus on surveillance, this season focused on media and the "fake news" phenomenon. In Ignorance is Strength the player is assigned to The Office, a top-secret intelligence agency within The Nation's government, where they are given a more sophisticated version of Orwell and tasked with locating a Pargesian military officer who received a threatening phone call before he mysteriously disappeared. Again, all is not what it seems...

The game contains examples of:

    open/close all folders 

    All seasons 
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: The game's interface and visual and aural styling most of the time, which contrasts with how sinister the plot becomes as the game progresses.
  • All There in the Manual: The characters depicted in the player icons do actually have names, revealed in the game's Steam trading cards.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: Orwell indicates any page that has been updated or contains new information and also indicates pages with remaining datachunks.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The core premise of the game.
  • Big Brother Is Employing You: The player is an investigator for a pervasive national surveillance system.
  • Bland-Name Product: Most of the in-game websites count as this.
    • Timelines for Facebook.
    • Lookup for Google.
    • The Grey Shadows movie franchise mentioned in several TNB articles is an obvious nod to Fifty Shades of Grey.
    • Singular stands in for any number of dating sites.
    • Blabber for Twitter.
    • PercoLeaks for WikiLeaks.
    • Hologram for Instagram
  • Eye Motifs: Orwell's logo, which is used in-universe, is of an eye.
  • Heroic Mime: Reconstruction. In the first game, Symes (one of the few people who speaks directly to you) mentions that his communication channel only goes one way, meaning that you really have no means of speaking to any of the characters in the game. Also mentioned in the planning files for Orwell as a way to ensure the only influence the investigator can take is through forwarded evidence.
  • Hero of Another Story: Your character in the second game is working at the same time as the one in the first game over the same days.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each season of Orwell names its episodes in a particular theme.
    • The first season used quotes or terms from Nineteen Eighty-Four: "The Clocks Were Striking Thirteen", "A Place Where There Is No Darkness", "Unperson", "Memory Hole", "Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree",
    • The second season uses the triad of Hegelian dialectic: "Thesis", "Antithesis", "Synthesis"
  • Like Reality, Unless Noted: While the game takes place in a fictional country (The Nation) which is surrounded by fictional countries (Parges, Ustavakia, etc.), real countries such as Germany and South Africa are mentioned.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Despite the English names of its inhabitants, the country involved in the game's plot, as well the countries in its borders, are completely fictional as mentioned above.
  • Plotline Crossover: As an Old Save Bonus, the Bonton bombings case and the Raban Vhart case may intersect on April 14th. If Raban's wife goes to The Circle Mall to see Nina, she will either be hurt by the explosion there or be arrested by the law enforcement agents Symes sent to the mall in order to deactivate the bomb.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The city of Bonton is only letter off from Boston, and is subject to a series of bombings and a citywide manhunt.
  • Scare Chord: A slight percussion cue is used at the moment of striking plot revelations, along with a change of tune.
  • Shout-Out: To George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four all over the place, starting with the title of the game. George Orwell and Nineteen Eighty-Four are even established to exist within this universe.
  • String Theory: Orwell's interface is a digital version of this, starting with a single target you are instructed to identify, then spreading out as known associates and new targets are identified.
  • Suspend Save: The game only saves automatically, with one save for each profile.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Depending on the datachunks you send Orwell, you can make things very uncomfortable for the people you're monitoring. They can range from innocuous things like freezing their credit card to getting them arrested or even killed. Ignorance Is Strength takes this up to eleven with the Influencer.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Your assigned Advisor, Symes in the first game and Ampleford in the second game, speaks to you from a remote facility through a one-way connection.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: While you can uncover a map of The Nation and its neighboring countries, it only extends out so far into a white mass.

    Season 1: Keeping an Eye on You (2016) 
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The story takes place on April 2017, less than a year after the first season's release.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Cassandra and Josef are ages apart. She was born on the same year as his college graduation.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Goldfels. Admittedly, the guy on the fishing website that accuses him of being gay is a complete tool who lacks any credibility, but Goldfels does comment to Juliet about how hard it was for him to live in a small town where he had to pretend to be something he wasn't, and he did abandon his wife and daughter when he immigrated, which could be interpreted as him being unhappy in a hetero relationship. Ultimately it isn't clear, and is just another of the many mysteries of Goldfels' life.
  • Big Bad: Catherine Delacroix, or Juliet depending on your point of view. Maybe both.
  • Book Ends: Regardless of the ending, the final scene before the credits show someone a week later uploading information on the character you played in the game.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: After Juliet reveals she was behind the whole plan and already knew about Orwell, she starts talking directly to the investigator (You) making a case for that person to turn against Orwell. Initiate also gives his idea, which is to expose Catharine Delacroix. The player's choice on what to do determines the ending they will see.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: When investigating Nina in Chapter 3, you come across her profile she did on a dating website. The bottom of the page are profile pics of visitors who viewed her page. The Black and Nerdy guy with glasses on the far left, is later revealed to be the hacker, Initiate, during the last Chapter of the game.
  • The Chessmaster: Juliet.
  • The Cracker: Harrison, Initiate, and Juliet who proves to be better at it than anyone, including the investigator and all of Orwell.
  • Dead All Along: Goldfels's impact on the bombing plot is made apparent rather soon in the game, and it's not until the fourth day when you find out he died months ago from cancer. And someone else, namely Juliet Kerrington, pretends to be him on the fifth day to try and gather Thought one last time.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: You find out in Day 4 that Abraham Goldfels, the founder of the activist group Thought, has been dead for four months already, but he apparently sent an email to Nina Maternova the day before. This was actually Juliet Kerrington using his computer to send the mail. And this is not the first time she posed as Goldfels when communicating to a fellow member of Thought; Juliet had also been in contact with Nina weeks earlier to convince her to make and place bombs across Bonton, with the added authority of the group's (deceased) leader.
  • Developer's Foresight:
    • Uploading Nina's medical file on her leg injury will lead to the police shooting to disable, allowing them to take her alive.
    • Uploading evidence that correctly implicates Juliet as the mastermind will lead to Initiate complimenting you on your sleuthing skills.
  • Family Theme Naming: Juliet's older sisters are named April, May, and June, in that order.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • There are signs that point to Juliet before the reveal. All the other members in Thought mentioned how she insisted on organizing the protest where the bombings happened. Harrison claimed Juliet was Goldfels' favorite student. Nina points out how Juliet is a great organizer. Juliet's opinions against the government are no different than Goldfels. Juliet insists on working during the weekend, which surprises even her mother and older sister, June. On her timeline, she has one cryptic message from a few months ago complaining about how nobody noticed or cared about something terrible that happened, foreshadowing Goldfels' death and her particularly close relationship to him.
    • Goldfels has not been logged into Thought since December, the month when he died.
  • Frame-Up: Juliet steals Harrison's cell phone on Day 4 and sends a message signing as Goldfels. Because she knows Orwell's investigator (the player) would eventually spy on Harrison's phone, she thinks she can get scot-free by making him look like the impersonator instead of her.
  • Given Name Reveal: A major twist in Episode 4 is that Abraham Goldfels is actually a pseudonym created when he immigrated to The Nation from Germany and his real name is Gunther Aarons. Harrison also doxxes Symes at the end of the episode revealing his real name as Benjamin Costigan. In Episode 5 the player gets access to Initiate's computer and uncovers that his real name is Themba Van Biljon.
  • Guide Dang It!: Saving Nina's life while bringing her in requires some seriously out-of-the-box thinking. Among other things? Not telling the cops that she's armed and dangerous.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Harrison says down with the establishment, fight the power! Until the government offers him a job writing op-eds, upon which he immediately leaves his punk band, deletes all of his recent anti-government posts, and distances himself from Thought.
    • Juliet was clearly very close to Goldfels, agreed with him that violence is not the answer, and was entrusted with his backup data on Orwell, which he asked her to delete as he was dying. After he died, her attitude took a 180 - she refused to delete the data, and impersonated Goldfels to convince Nina to carry out the bombings, completely ignoring everything Goldfels wanted. Naturally, she refuses to acknowledge the disparity between her actions and his intentions, though she at least admits that she probably deserves punishment.
  • Interface Screw: Anything that's hacked appears in total gibberish. Taken to a logical extreme when Orwell itself gets hacked in episode 4, forcing the player to either log out of the game or wait out the short break.
  • It Amused Me: This is the Initiate's motivation for going after members of Thought and those associated with them - to simply mock the situation of them being suspected for the bombings. His Timeline page has him bragging about different successful trolls he accomplished and bringing entertainment to the internet. However, on the very end of Day 5 you discover that Initiate was one of Abraham Goldfels' students, and did what he did to find out the truth about his mentor.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: On Day 5, Juliet tells Harrison that they should NOT hide in a place they've been in the last 24 hours, lest the government catches them. Since she knows they're being eavesdropped by the government, she's deliberately lying to mislead the player and make them dismiss her actual hiding location, which IS someplace she's been at in the last 24 hours.
  • Logical Weakness: One of the potential endings involves the player uploading incriminating information about their own activities into Orwell. Since investigation and prosecution of anything uploaded was made a mandatory feature, this leads to Orwell and its abuse being exposed to the public.
  • Meaningful Name: The first suspect you follow is Cassandra Watergate. Depending on what you select on a conflicting info choice, you can suggest her parents are part of a cover-up. If you do, the next day will have an article about another Watergate scandal.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: The only real lead the investigators have to start with is CCTV spotting a woman who had been arrested for assaulted an officer at a protest boarding a bus moments before the bomb went off. Although she is later found to not be the bomber, she turns out to be linked to an even greater conspiracy.
  • Multiple Endings: There are four endings, each one with a different fate befalling the Orwell program, the people in charge of it, the members of Thought, and the player themselves:
    • Ending 1: Incrimination of Thought. You completely follow orders and take down Thought. You find a message chain on the Initiate's phone between him and Goldfels, which contains an out-of-context statement suggesting Thought was intended to become a guerilla-terrorist cell. Orwell is praised and the program is expanded worldwide. Any remaining members of Thought are arrested. And you get promoted to a powerful position within the Party.
    • Ending 2: A Half-Hearted Attempt. Results from submitting the message from Ending 1, but with you also digging into Delacroix's profile in any way. Orwell is still continued and expanded, although to much less fanfare. However, rather than being promoted, you are instead wanted for arrest by the Nation (presumably at the behest of Delacroix, due to your initial attempt to betray her orders.)
    • Ending 3: Delacroix's Demise: You decide to follow the Initiate's plea and incriminate Delacroix. You eventually gain access to her phone, which contains messages either showing her regarding the bombings as a positive event due to justifying Orwell, or admitting to leaking Thought being allegedly behind the bombings to TNB. Delacroix is forced to resign, and Orwell is taken down. However, you become a wanted criminal by the Nation due to your complicity as an Orwell investigator.
    • Ending 4: Self-Sacrifice. You decide to follow Juliet's plea and incriminate yourself using a PC left by Goldfels. Orwell gets exposed and shut down because of nationwide protest, and Delacroix is removed from office in disgrace. Thought becomes a major political party, and you are made an honorary member, both as a reward for helping bring down Orwell and Delacroix, and also to pardon you from your technically committing crimes against the state as an Orwell investigator.
  • Mundane Solution: Juliet uses her work phone or chat to communicate with family and friends and you never find her cellphone number posted on the internet. As such, she never becomes a direct subject of the investigation, which goes a long way to concealing her true nature as the true mastermind.
  • Not Quite the Right Thing: The game - including not only Thought, but your own handler - judges you harshly if you kill Nina.
  • Odd Name Out: Juliet is the only daughter of the Kerringtons that doesn't have a month for a name, though it's still similar to July.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Initiate only goes by his Online Alias, until the player hacks into his computer and finds out his real identity, at the end of the game.
  • Pet the Dog: Harrison is pretty obnoxious, but he does show genuine concern for the other members of Thought, especially Juliet, as things start collapsing around them. The final chapter also reveals that he lives with his ailing mother and takes care of her, which possibly explains why he's so determined to hold on to his government job even though he's morally opposed to them.
  • Playful Hacker: Initiate, although he becomes much more serious in the final chapter when it becomes clear what's at stake.
  • Poor Communication Kills: This is a possible fate for Nina when she gets paranoid and tries to run for it, after she gets aware that someone is hacking her computer, even if the investigator clears her of wrongdoing. If the investigator uploads any of Nina's highlighted lines during her conversation with Juliet about fleeing to Orwell, she will get cutoff by the police and die in a failed shootout.
  • Saved for the Sequel: The game gives a lot of background information about The Nation's involvement in peacekeeping and rebuilding the neighboring country of Parges, which has little to do with this season's story but is central to the plot of Ignorance is Strength.
  • Sell-Out: Harrison, whose writing became less critical of the government after he was hired by a major news site, is accused of being this by his friends and online followers.
  • Shout-Out: Seventh song on "A Riot"* is called Nation Army
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Harrison. He talks a big game on the blogs about how much he hates the government and how he plans to fight them. But once he is offered a good paying job as a writer for the news, he quits his rebellious punk band, he deletes his Timeline posts that are anti-government, and he writes articles praising the actions of the government. The only harm he does is expose Symes. But the serious acts of terrorism and violence against authority are committed by Cassandra, Nina, and Juliet.
  • Timed Mission: The final episode, where the player can only upload 20 datachunks before the climactic meeting between the main characters.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: It was Initiate's trolling of Nina that causes her to get paranoid and make a run for it. Depending on the player's choices of what to upload, this could lead to her getting killed.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Juliet intentionally manipulated the members of Thought by pretending to be Goldfels long after he died, and planned the terrorist bombings, to prove the flaw in Orwell and government surveillance by showing how innocent people can be suspected and arrested for crimes they didn't commit based purely on speculation, which makes it dangerous, and to prove how Orwell can even turn on their own people, which it does.
  • Wham Line: Usually accompanied by a percussive Musical Sting:
    • Cassandra and Juliet revealing that Cassie did in fact hurt the police officer whose assault she was exonerated from.
    • Initiate revealing that he is aware of Orwell.
    • Symes getting doxxed by Harrison and Initiate.
    • Logging in to Orwell and being greeted by Catherine Delacroix instead of Symes.
    • Juliet's confession that she organized the entire bombing campaign.
    • The revelation that even the player is being watched by Orwell.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: A major subject matter in the game's narrative, particularly regarding the Thought group, who wants to take freedom of speech and privacy back from the government.

    Season 2: Ignorance is Strength (2018) 
  • Call-Back: Since this is a P.O.V. Sequel that takes place during the same timeframe as the first game, they abound.
    • Throughout the game, the player can read the same articles on TNB as in the first game, including the Bonton bombings.
    • In Chapter 2, some investigation will reveal that Karen is helping to counsel a woman named Molly aka Nina Maternova from the first game.
    • Some more digging in Chapter 2 also reveals that in addition to working on The People's Voice, Ilya has a day job at Watergate Pharmaceuticals. Incriminating Cassandra's parents will have agents raid the company.
    • If you decide to focus on apprehending Karen in Chapter 2 she will go to the Circle Mall to see Nina. Depending on your actions in the previous game she will either be injured in the bombing (did not identify the Circle Mall as the next target) or will be arrested when the bomb squad arrives (identified the target and stopped the bombing). In both cases, Ampleford informs you that someone wants to speak to the both of you: it's Symes.
    • Accessing Ilya's text messages in Chapter 3 reveals that he was friends with Cassandra, having bonded over their mutual dislike of working at Watergate Pharma. He was the one who encouraged her to become an artist.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: One ending involves the player uploading details of Operation War is Peace to PercoLeaks.
  • Camera Fiend: Karen Vhart takes a lot of pictures and posts them to her Hologram account. Most are flagged as private.
  • Chekhov's Gun: You get access to the Upload feature of Percoleaks early on in Day 1, but it's unused until the tail end of Day 3 when you can leak the information about Operation War Is Peace, The Office's top secret mission that Ampleford won't let you share via the Influencer.
  • Darker and Edgier: The game's darker color scheme is a clue. While the themes of terrorism and surveillance in the first game weren't exactly "light", the second series' plot focuses on international crises, the aftermath of a violent and destructive civil war, and more insidious forms of control like media manipulation.
  • Did You Actually Believe...?: When the player uploads information about Operation War is Peace, Ampleford taunts you by asking if you actually believed she would let you use the Influencer to reveal it to the public.
  • Downer Ending: In all but one of the endings Raban dies, either by shooting himself or being shot by someone else. In the only ending where Raban lives the player exposes Operation War is Peace but is now presumably on The Office's hit list.
  • Dystopia Justifies the Means: Operation War is Peace was created to purposely lock the Parges into a cycle of riots and civil war to prevent it from economically overtaking The Nation.
  • A Family Affair: Raban Vhart's wife is having an affair with his brother. Uploading evidence of it is one way to stop Vhart from publishing his article in the second episode.
  • Given Name Reveal: Ampleford's real name is Melissa Obrian, the person that Oleg Bakay was expecting to talk to in the phone call from the beginning of the game.
  • Government Conspiracy: A regular theme on The People's Voice, including claims that the Pargesian president is a puppet of The Nation's government.
    Ampleford: "President puppet". I've seen the memes before.
  • In-Universe Game Clock: In contrast to the first game, 10 minutes of time in-game now passes every time the player uploads a datachunk into Orwell. Events will occur and documents appear and disappear as time passes. In Chapter 3 the Influencer is unlocked, with the player deploying "antitheses" (harmful or discrediting information) to a massive social media army to counter whatever Raban writes on The People's Voice. Each use of it takes 1 hour of in-game time, though.
  • Intrepid Reporter: How Raban Vhart and his blog The People's Voice present themselves.
  • New Media Are Evil: At least The Nation's government thinks so, since they blame Vhart for instigating protests in Parges.
  • Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist: Ampleford... and The Office in general.
  • Old Save Bonus: If you pair up with another agent (the one from the first game), some of the news articles in TNB will reflect the choices made by the previous character.
    • If you managed to stop the Circle Mall bombing, and decide to frame Karen for misusing funds, she will be arrested at the Circle Mall as a suspect in the bombing case.
    • If you suspected Cassandra's parents of underhanded deeds in the first game, Ilya will send an e-mail to his brother about Watergate Pharmaceuticals getting raided.
    • In Episode 3, if you chose to expose the affair in the previous episode and if Nina was killed, then Karen will leave Bonton together with Ilya.
  • P.O.V. Sequel: While the first game focuses on the Bonton bombings from April 13th to 17th, this game focuses on international affairs occurring from April 13th to 15th. You control a different character with a different version of Orwell. There are several references to the previous game, from the national newspaper showing the details of the bombing events to new characters being in contact with older characters.
  • Properly Paranoid: Raban Vhart fears that the government is watching his every move, and is out to get him. He's right, but he shouldn't know that since Orwell is still a secret at this point.
  • Red Herring: Many datachunks are irrelevant to the progression of the game and will only waste your in-game time. Examples include new photos for people you already have a picture for, birth dates, or the fact that Ilya is described as "athletic" on Singular.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: When you track down Bakay at the end of day one, Ampleford might decide to order the team going in after him to shoot on sight if you upload evidence Orwell interprets to make it look like he betrayed The Nation to Parges.
  • Shout-Out:
    • A Blabber account used to contact Raban is named Tyler Durden.
    • Ilya seems to be a fan of Star Trek: Voyager, using "captain of USS Voyager" as his profession on Timelines, calling himself Captain Ilya Janeway on the Save Parges Initiative website, and having a picture of himself making the Vulcan salute.
  • Suddenly Voiced: The first season was entirely quiet outside of the music. In this season, listening to wire taps will have the characters actually speak along with a printed transcript. As a consequence, you can't upload any datachunks from a call until it is finished.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Both Raban Vhart and the player are being manipulated by The Office.
  • Verbal Tic: Ampleford likes to punctuate her speech with "Mhm."
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: As mentioned above, the Influencer takes this up to eleven. It uses the datachunks you enter into Orwell to create a narrative on social media that is designed to completely destroy Raban's credibility and personal life. Depending on your actions, you could convince Raban to kill himself.
  • Wham Line: With stakes this high, there are some big ones
    • Ampleford ordering Oleg Bakay's death if you uploaded information making him look disloyal to The Office.
    • The reveal of Karen and Ilya's affair: "No one has to know that I'm Mary P."
    • Discovering Ampleford's file and the details of Operation War is Peace. Raban was an unwitting pawn of The Office, unknowingly helping them with their agenda to spread disruption and chaos in Parges. On top of that, you were also a pawn and being subtly manipulated by Ampleford the whole time to upload a version of the truth she wanted to Orwell.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Raban to Ilya in one of the endings. He's wrong.