Skip to main content

After Cambridge Analytica, this game about government surveillance feels quaint

After Cambridge Analytica, this game about government surveillance feels quaint

/

Corporations can be Big Brother too

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Surprise Attack Games/Osmotic Studios

It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.

What if the government could dig up information on you, and use that information to discredit you? Not because you broke any laws, but because they just didn’t like what you were saying. This is the central conceit of Orwell: Ignorance is Strength. It’s a sequel to 2016’s Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You, a game about how much you’re willing to invade someone’s privacy on behalf of the government in the name of security. The sequel diverges slightly, having you again invade someone’s privacy on behalf of the government, but in order to discredit them on social media.

Both games play out through the interface of a fictional research and surveillance program called Orwell, run by a country called The Nation. The software is powerful, but somewhat limiting, letting the user only dig through information that it deems as being relevant to the case at hand. This data is then put into a dossier which is shared with an adviser who is allowed to draw conclusions about the data and act on it. Data added to the dossier also opens up new documents and websites to sift through as the program deems them as being related. In the world’s fiction, Orwell is constructed this way to be the best case scenario ethically for invading people’s privacy. On a more practical level, it also serves as a way to keep the player from being overwhelmed.

The events of the two games actually take place concurrently. In Ignorance is Strength, you can pull in your saved data from the first game so that the events and choices you made in the original happen the same way in the sequel. This not only helps to make the world of these games feel more well-realized, but it also has seemingly huge consequences on some of the later plot points of Ignorance is Strength. I had a character die who might not have if I had stopped an attack from happening in Keeping an Eye on You.

The points of divergence for these games are in their stakes and tone, as well as a new mechanic introduced in Ignorance is Strength’s last episode. Keeping an Eye on You has you constantly questioning what you are actually okay with when it comes to invading the privacy of people in order to have security and potentially save lives, as you get swept up in using this incredibly powerful and invasive tool to try to stop terrorists. Ignorance is Strength lacks this same level of ethical quandary. Instead, you’re basically helping a very shadowy government department abuse the system in order to suppress someone they don’t like.

You do this in the last episode of the game using a new system this secret group has added onto Orwell called Influencer. The system allows you to construct essentially a tweet to counter, or attack, statements the blogger makes. These tweets then get disseminated through the Influencer system which somehow boosts their signal to get the tweets in front of more people. It’s not clear exactly if it does this with bots, actual people with lots of followers who are working for them, or if they just have a way to manipulate the site’s algorithm to get its information in front of more people. However they work, the point is to discredit and embarrass the blogger to the point that they lose all their followers.

When I first sat down to write this review, everyone else in the Verge newsroom was watching Mark Zuckerberg testify before Congress. He was attempting to explain what Facebook is, and how something like Cambridge Analytica could so easily obtain so much private data. In the shadow of this, Ignorance is Strength feels weirdly quaint. Because, like Keeping an Eye on You, it’s built on the conceit that we need to be worried about the government violating our privacy to collect data, and then in Ignorance is Strength, using that information to manipulate social media to turn people against you.

This feels like far less of a concern when in the real world we’re watching people knowingly give away their information to corporations to receive better targeted ads and social media posts, while other groups use that data to try to nefariously manipulate people through social media. Though it’s hard to fault Ignorance is Strength too much for not addressing these things, as each of its three episodes was released two weeks apart starting February 22nd. The final episode released six days after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke and a day after Mark Zuckerberg apologized for Facebook’s failings on CNN — not exactly enough time to make allusions to it in the game.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth playing. The style of narrative gameplay pioneered in the first Orwell is still really interesting and engaging, as is its attempt to raise concerns about how governments could potentially silence voices that are contrary to their agenda. At a different time, or if I lived in a different country, I could see its message being more apt. But for someone living in the US in 2018, the game’s take on privacy and social media influence feels ripe for further exploration.


Orwell: Ignorance is Strength was created by Osmotic Studios. You can get it on Steam, Humble Store, and GOG for $9.99 on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. It takes about three or four hours to finish.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 23 10 minutes in the clouds

J
Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


A
External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
A
External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.


E
TikTok
Spain’s Transports Urbans de Sabadell has La Bussí.

Once again, the US has fallen behind in transportation — call it the Bussí gap. A hole in our infrastructure, if you will.


J
External Link
Jay PetersSep 23
Doing more with less (extravagant holiday parties).

Sundar Pichai addressed employees’ questions about Google’s spending changes at an all-hands this week, according to CNBC.

“Maybe you were planning on hiring six more people but maybe you are going to have to do with four and how are you going to make that happen?” Pichai sent a memo to workers in July about a hiring slowdown.

In the all-hands, Google’s head of finance also asked staff to try not to go “over the top” for holiday parties.


E
External Link
Insiders made the most money off of Helium’s “People’s Network.”

Remember Helium, which was touted by The New York Times in an article entitled “Maybe There’s a Use for Crypto After All?” Not only was the company misleading people about who used it — Salesforce and Lime weren’t using it, despite what Helium said on its site — Helium disproportionately enriched insiders, Forbes reports.


J
Youtube
James VincentSep 23
Nvidia’s latest AI model generates endless 3D models.

Need to fill your video game, VR world, or project render with 3D chaff? Nvidia’s latest AI model could help. Trained on 2D images, it can churn out customizable 3D objects ready to import and tweak.

The model seems rudimentary (the renders aren’t amazing quality and seem limited in their variety), but generative AI models like this are only going to improve, speeding up work for all sorts of creative types.


R
Richard LawlerSep 23
Green light.

This week Friday brings the debut of Apple’s other new hardware. We’ve reviewed both the new AirPods Pro and this chonky Apple Watch Ultra, and now you’ll decide if you’re picking them up, or not.

Otherwise, we’re preparing for Netflix’s Tudum event this weekend and slapping Dynamic Island onto Android phones.


The Apple Watch Ultra on a woman’s wrist
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
J
External Link
Jess WeatherbedSep 23
Japan will fully reopen to tourists in October following two and a half years of travel restrictions.

Good news for folks who have been waiting to book their dream Tokyo vacation: Japan will finally relax Covid border control measures for visa-free travel and individual travelers on October 11th.

Tourists will still need to be vaccinated three times or submit a negative COVID-19 test result ahead of their trip, but can take advantage of the weak yen and a ‘national travel discount’ launching on the same date. Sugoi!


T
External Link
Thomas RickerSep 23
Sony starts selling the Xperia 1 IV with continuous zoom lens.

What does it cost to buy a smartphone that does something no smartphone from Apple, Google, Samsung can? $1,599.99 is Sony’s answer: for a camera lens that can shift its focal length anywhere between 85mm and 125mm.

Here’s Allison’s take on Sony’s continuous-zoom lens when she tested a prototype Xperia 1 IV back in May: 

Sony put a good point-and-shoot zoom in a smartphone. That’s an impressive feat. In practical use, it’s a bit less impressive. It’s essentially two lenses that serve the same function: portrait photography. The fact that there’s optical zoom connecting them doesn’t make them much more versatile.

Still, it is a Sony, and like.no.other.


C
External Link
Corin FaifeSep 23
If God sees everything, so do these apps.

Some Churches are asking congregants to install so-called “accountability apps” to prevent sinful behavior. A Wired investigation found that they monitor almost everything a user does on their phone, including taking regular screenshots and flagging LGBT search terms.