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New Video Game Rides the “1984” Zeitgeist

Russian developers release Beholder, an Orwellian single-player game.

Filming of “1984”(1955). Photo via AKG-Images/East News

U.S. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway’s use of the term “alternative facts” to defend false statements made by the Trump administration has drawn comparisons to George Orwell’s concepts of “newspeak” and “doublethink.” Consequently, his dystopian drama “1984” has surged on the Amazon bestseller list. Such interest is timely for Russian game developer Alawar, whose recently released totalitarian video game Beholder also strongly references “1984.” 

Against the backdrop of the dozens of casual online games previously released by Alawar, Beholder appears surprisingly ghastly. Players of this game act as Carl, the landlord of a tenant house who pries into the lives of his tenants. Blackmail, surveillance and spying are abetted by the government in this virtual world. 

Beholder allows users to play the role of an informant who profiles his tenants, steals their personal belongings, and places surveillance devices throughout their apartments while they are out. Alternatively, players can use their status to protect residents from plots and intrigues. Regardless, players remain powerless within the grand scheme of the game – little more than a replaceable cog. Maintaining a balance is a drudgery and not always a lucrative strategy.

While Beholder doesn’t promote violence, the game’s popularity seems to reflect a worldwide level of anxiety and demonstrates that Orwellian fiction has more in common with reality than previously believed.