Orwell: Ignorance Is Strength
released to not much fanfare in the spring of 2018. By the end, when we’re supposed to be praising the games of the year, I didn’t see much mention of it at all. To be fair, it didn’t make my own list, but when I think back to how much I enjoyed it over its predecessor, I have to tell you that it is worth your reconsideration as an interesting, rewarding game from 2018.
Ignorance Is Strength is the second season of a thriller, but not the kind where you really need to know what happened in the first season. In fact, it might be better if you skipped it, since Ignorance Is Strength is, to my mind, a much stronger experience. The game puts you in the interface of someone who is trying to ferret out a domestic terrorist, a repeated scenario from the first game, and where the first game failed to take many social factors into account, Ignorance Is Strength is all about the social.
This, I think, is why the game needs to be reconsidered, especially for people in the United States who are barreling toward a brutal (and almost certainly demoralizing for everyone in different ways) election cycle. In Ignorance Is Strength, you-as-government-surveillor are trying to dig through information about people in your region to determine whether they are, in fact, the people who might be bombing and threatening your fictional company.
And, of course, this is all leverage on top of a discussion of surveillance, although it is one that I don’t find particularly interesting or compelling. Rather, what I like so much about the game is that it is about looking at information about people, their wants, desires, actions, photographs, statements, and then making some inferences about what they’ve done. This is a process that we’re doing all the time, and the horror of algorithmic management in our lives is the reality that private corporations and governments are also both doing this, in a fumbling manner, all the time.
So the game turns you into a kind of administration-and-algorithm, a winnowing tool, someone who is doing all of the work to make the final judgment call over whether someone should be freed or imprisoned, hunted or let run. Even better, the game stages the ethics of this, and allows you to make some form of choice about how you want to engage with this system or whether it should exist at all.
Ignorance Is Strength wants you to reconsider the shape of the world that you want to live in. Importantly, you find the world that you’re rejecting and the one you’re yearning for in the details. It is a game that presents us with big ideas like surveillance or xenophobia, but shows that those are not abstract values. They instantiate themselves in small relationships, in micro moments, and the way that a person carries themselves and represents themselves in the world. The game wants us to pay attention to those small things so that we can draw big conclusions from them, and it argues that this can be oppressive or it can be liberatory.
In either case, though, it defends a method of extrapolating from the details, of thinking from the specific to the general, that I think we could do with a lot more of. And that’s why you should be playing Orwell: Ignorance Is Strength.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, is available on Steam.