Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You

App review by
Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media
Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You App Poster Image
Dynamic thriller with themes of privacy, security, freedom.

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The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Ease of Play

Players simply scroll to read, tap to select, and drag and drop items of interest to upload them.

Violence

Players will encounter text descriptions and news-style still images of violence, including a terrorist bombing in which several people die and are injured, according to a post-event report.

Sex
Language

Strong language -- including the words "f--k" and "s--t" -- appears in text conversations.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Text contains references to drinking, wine, "party pills," and "mood-elevating" medicine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You is an interactive storytelling experience for iOS devices. Taking on the role of a government agent assigned to investigate the online activities of suspected terrorists, players spend their time reading news stories, snooping on private citizens' conversations, and piecing together bits of information to determine involvement with terrorist events, such as a bombing. Violence is described in text and shown in occasional news-style still images showing, for instance, a body lying on the ground amid smoke. The point of the experience is to make players think about concepts such as privacy, security, authority, and power. Which of these are most important to you? Which have the potential to be abused? Is the risk of abuse a fair tradeoff for enhanced public safety? The game offers no explicit answers, but instead only the consequences of your actions. Put the pieces together wrong, and innocent people could suffer. Parents should be aware that the text conversations upon which the protagonist eavesdrops contains strong language -- including the F-word -- as well as references to alcohol and drugs.

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What's it about?

ORWELL: KEEPING AN EYE ON YOU takes place in a mirror world in which the government has broad authority to monitor and surveil its citizens' activities both in the physical and digital realms. It's an interactive novel/story in which players take on the role of a government agent tasked to monitor the online doings of potential terrorists by tapping into their text conversations and social media activities, then cross-referencing what they find with information found in news stories and other sites on the web. Selecting which bits of information are relevant and uploading them into the system where they can be linked together and acted upon by your superiors can have serious repercussions for the people we investigate, which means you need to be both thoughtful and judicious about what you choose to make part of suspects' permanent government profiles and records. It's not a game so much as it's a suspenseful mystery in which the player takes an active role.

Is it any good?

This is a game where your goal isn't to win so much as it is to think seriously about what it is you're doing. Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You makes players weigh the pros and cons of increased security and decreased privacy. Acting as a government agent with the means of tapping into conversations of private citizens gives you the ability to learn more about suspects, then use that information to nip potential terrorist threats in the bud. But what happens if we misinterpret what we see and hear? The lives of innocent people may be destroyed. As the investigator, players have a surprising amount of power in deciding what is and isn't important by, say, choosing to note that a suspect is using a prescription medication for a mental health issue. Even an agent dedicated to doing good can unintentionally ruin a citizen's life. But can you live with the accidental destruction of one person if, in the end, a much greater tragedy is thwarted? These are the timely questions Orwell wants us to think about, without coddling the player with clear and ready answers.

The social commentary is compelling, but how does it play? The writing's sharp and authentic. News stories and web site articles are just long enough to feel informative and useful. Text conversations and social media posts feel authentic, complete with typos and private talk, often making the player feel icky for listening in. But where Orwell runs into problems is putting everything together. Players will feel like proper investigators as they make decisions and follow leads, but there are times when figuring out how it all works, knowing what to do next, and connecting the dots doesn't feel intuitive. Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You is a seductive treat for thoughtful players looking for something meaty to sink their teeth into, but getting the most out of it requires a shift away from the traditional focus on winning towards something a little more cerebral.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about social media. Online communication plays a major role in Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You, but has it made you think a little more about what you post online and who might see it?

  • How much of your freedom are you willing to give up in order to feel more secure?

App details

  • Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
  • Price: $4.99
  • Pricing structure: Paid
  • Release date: March 31, 2020
  • Category: Adventure Games
  • Size: 221.80 MB
  • Publisher: Fellow Traveller
  • Version: 1.0.2
  • Minimum software requirements: iOS 12 or later
  • Last updated: April 9, 2020

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