Dystopian Games That Draw Inspiration From George Orwell’s 1984

Dystopian Games That Draw Inspiration From George Orwell’s 1984
Image Credit: BossLevelGamer

Dystopian games are more relevant than ever in a day and age when the world seems to be getting progressively bleaker with each passing year. But dystopian fiction, in general, isn’t trying to make us depressed by showing us how much worse things could get. Rather, the point is (usually) to serve as a cautionary tale, and there’s perhaps no tale more cautionary than George Orwell’s 1984.

1984 inspired a lot of media, including quite a few video games. Although there are no actual video game adaptations of the seminal novel, there are quite a few titles that explore themes found within it. Namely, nationalism, surveillance, oppressive governments, censorship, and totalitarianism, among other things. Ironically, certain aspects of modern gaming are starting to feel a bit Orwellian, especially in places like China, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Today’s topic, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, is dystopian games inspired by Orwell’s work. 1984, in particular. Now, these types of games come in all shapes and sizes and it would be very difficult to make a definitive list of them. This list will likely expand over time but we already have ten titles just to get the ball rolling. Naturally, some of these are more Orwellian than others. But they are all reminiscent in one way or another of 1984 and/or Animal Farm.

There’s often overlap in media between dystopian, cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic themes, but we won’t talk too much about those last two categories because we’re going for something very specific here. Besides, we already have lists of both cyberpunk games and post-apocalyptic games. We won’t cover those titles again unless they have that very distinctive 1984 vibe.

With that out of the way, and in no particular order, let’s jump right into it.


dystopian games orwell
Image Credit: Osmotic Studios

This first one is pretty obvious. The game is set in modern times but takes place in a world where a governmental security AI program known as Orwell gives operators the power to tap into the private lives of ordinary citizens. We’re talking emails, phone calls, text messages, you name it. The program is basically Big Brother and you’re the one controlling it.

The irony of a Big Brother program dubbed Orwell is certainly not lost on the game or its characters, some of whom point out that this is the exact opposite of what the author stood for.

Fortunately, this is one of those games where choices matter. It will be ultimately up to you to decide whether to use Orwell strictly to uncover and thwart potential threats to The Nation or to invade people’s private lives and destroy some of them in the process.

Once you’re done with Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You, I recommend also checking out the second season, Orwell: Ignorance is Strength. This one is more about fake news and “truth” fabrication but plays the same as Keeping an Eye on You. ‘Ignorance is Strength’ is one of the Party’s three slogans in 1984 so this is another obvious nod to the novel.

Beholder Series

dystopian video games
Image Credit: Warm Lamp Games

Beholder is a series of dystopian games that draws heavy inspiration from 1984, to the point where the first entry even takes place in the titular year. Everything from the setting to the art style and even the gameplay is designed to present a grim look at a totalitarian state where privacy is non-existent and where government control is absolute.

Just like in Orwell, your job in Beholder is working for Big Brother. However, here you’ll need to use more traditional means of spying on people. We’re talking peeking through keyholes, rummaging through people’s belongings, eavesdropping on conversations, planting hidden cameras, that sort of thing. All in the name of rooting out dissidents and keeping the glorious nation safe, of course.

At least that’s what you’ll primarily be doing in the original game, which is the smallest in terms of scale but also arguably the best of the bunch. The sequel has you working within the Prime Ministry and deals more with bureaucracy and government corruption. Meanwhile, the third entry is a combination of the first two, both in terms of themes and settings.

While Beholder 3 was a bit of a letdown, the series as a whole is fantastic and worth looking into. Make sure to also check out the Beholder short film on YouTube while you’re at it.

Papers, Please

papers please dystopian worlds
Image Credit: Lucas Pope

Papers, Please is one of the most popular dystopian games out there. I’m sure some of you are already very familiar with this one. The game features a very iconic art style reminiscent of the 80s, which is when Papers, Please takes place. The retro aesthetic won’t be to everyone’s liking, but if you’re willing to give it a chance in spite of it, I guarantee you’ll find a lot to love here.

In Papers, Please you play as an immigration inspector at one of the borders of the communist state of Arstotzka. Your job essentially involves choosing who enters the country, who gets turned away, and who gets arrested. As a Ministry of Admission employee, you have the power not just to request various documents but also to search, fingerprint, and inspect immigrants in any way you see fit.

Despite taking place in a fictional setting, the state of Arstotzka is clearly based on the Soviet Union. Even the October labor lottery mentioned in the game is likely a nod to the October Revolution.

If you want to immerse yourself even more in the Soviet-era atmosphere, we recommend checking the Papers, Please short film. The film is in Russian (with English subtitles) and can be watched for free on Steam and YouTube.

Black the Fall

dystopian regimes in games
Image Credit: Sand Sailor Studio

Still sticking with Eastern Europe, next up we have Black The Fall, a puzzle platformer set in an alternate history version of Communist Romania. The game is pretty similar to the likes of Limbo and Inside both in terms of visuals and gameplay. It also features the same gloomy and oppressive atmosphere you would expect from a dystopian game like this.

But simply calling Black The Fall a Limbo copycat would be doing it a great disservice because the game has a very unique style and setting. The game is also quite a bit more difficult, perhaps to the point of frustration for some players. But if you can overlook some of the questionable puzzle designs, you’ll find a lot to love here. Especially if you’re from an Eastern European country or have an interest in the region’s history.

In Black The Fall you play as a machinist trying to escape from the oppressive Communist regime. Society is heavily mechanized and technologically advanced in some ways, but the world outside the massive brutalist structures is dreary and decrepit.

The game offers an exaggerated representation of what Communist Romania looked like, but an accurate representation of what it felt like. And how badly free-thinking people wanted to escape the regime. They eventually did, both in reality and in the game, but not without paying a heavy price for their freedom.

Not for Broadcast

dystopian games propaganda
Image Credit: NotGames

Not For Broadcast is one of the newest dystopian games on this list. The game launched in January of this year and received a lot of praise for its portrayal of state-owned media. This is a dark comedy game that doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously at first glance. If you look under the surface, however, you’ll find a very thought-provoking title that doesn’t shy away from criticizing things like propaganda and censorship.

Not For Broadcast is a dystopian FMV where you get to run a news network. You have full control over what gets aired and have to keep things entertaining regardless of how unsettling and bizarre the news gets. Even as the world around you descends into upheaval and chaos you have to keep those cameras rolling because there’s nothing more important than distracting… erm, I mean informing and entertaining the masses.

Not For Broadcast is British satire in its purest form and feels like watching a strange mix of Black Mirror and Monty Python. Except you’re not just watching. You’re the one in charge of the brainwashing, which makes the game’s message that much more powerful.

Despite the fact that it’s meant as a parody of television culture, in general, and nightly news culture, in particular, Not For Broadcast depicts a scarily accurate look at state media and the power it has over regular citizens.

Orwell’s Animal Farm

dystopian games animal farm
Image Credit: Nerial

1984 doesn’t have a proper video game adaptation just yet but you can find one for George Orwell’s other well-known book, Animal Farm. While 1984 presents a totalitarian dystopia in the most brutal way possible, Animal Farm is a satirical interpretation of the aforementioned October Revolution and the events leading up to it. Most of the characters in the novella are anthropomorphic animals, some of which represent key historical figures like Stalin and Trotsky.

Orwell’s Animal Farm is a faithful adaptation of the book; perhaps a bit too faithful. Despite being marketed as a choice-driven game, it never strays too far from the source material. That can be either a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. If you haven’t read the book and want to experience the story in video game format, this is definitely the way to do it. Mind you, you’ll still need to do a lot of reading but there’s also nice artwork and some interactivity to go along with it.

If you’re already familiar with Animal Farm, this game is a bit more difficult to recommend. Orwell’s Animal Farm was clearly designed as an educational tool, but its educational value is diminished if you already know the story.

At the end of the day, though, this is still a pretty good game with a powerful message and you should look into it regardless of whether you know the story or not. But especially if you don’t.

Mind Scanners

dystopian mind scanners
Image Credit: The Outer Zone

Mind Scanners is one of several dystopian games on this list that fell under the radar at launch. Which is a real shame because the game is quite interesting and reminiscent of Papers, Please in some ways. However, instead of playing a border inspector in a Soviet Union-inspired dystopia, you’re playing as a titular mind scanner in a retro-futuristic megacity known simply as The Structure.

So what exactly is a mind scanner? In essence, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. The game describes itself as a psychiatry simulator where your job is to diagnose and treat patients. Of course, this is a dystopian game so expect your patients to be all sorts of outlandish characters, some much more in need of treatment than others.

As far as the treatment is concerned, it involves not just literal mind scanning, but also various strange devices and archaic techniques that are likely to do more harm than good to a person’s mind. The concept behind Mind Scanners sounds a bit like a mix between 1984’s Room 101 and A Clockwork Orange’s reeducation program. However, in both of those cases, the mind-altering was being done by morally bankrupt people. Here, it’s being done by you. That adds another dimension to the process.

Will you choose to be humane and actually try to treat your patients or will you leave all morals aside and do as Big Brother commands? Sounds like an easy choice until you realize that the government is holding your daughter hostage and won’t let you see her unless you obey their directives.

We Happy Few

dystopian games we happy few
Image Credit: Compulsion Games

We Happy Few is one of the most controversial dystopian games out there but not for the reasons you might suspect. The game struck a never with a lot of people after launching in a less than ideal state, though these days it’s pretty good all things considered. That said, you’ll want to play it for the atmosphere and setting more than anything else.

We Happy Few takes place in an alternative retro-futuristic 1960s England where pretty much everyone is hooked on a drug called Joy. Just as its name suggests, this drug gives the inhabitants of the city a constant sense of happiness and euphoria. Taking Joy is mandatory and anybody who doesn’t conform will be punished to the full extent of the law. You play the role of three different characters throughout the game, each of whom is trying to escape the city and its delusional inhabitants.

We Happy Few’s central theme is conformity but it also touches on other classic dystopian themes like surveillance, censorship, and totalitarianism. Despite its joyful façade, the city of Wellington Wells houses a society on the brink of collapse; a society ruled with an iron fist by the omnipresent Uncle Jack.

Uncle Jack is most likely a reference to Uncle Joe, a somewhat affectionate nickname given to Joseph Stalin by certain segments of the western media during WW2.

Remember Me

remember me neo paris
Image Credit: DONTNOD Entertainment

It’s no secret that Remember Me has lots of problems but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it features a very interesting premise. Regardless of what you think about the combat and some of the unique design decisions, I think we can all agree that, at the very least, developer DONTNOD Entertainment did a good job with the setting. And the story isn’t too bad either.

Remember Me takes place in Neo-Paris in the year 2084, a pretty obvious nod to 1984. While Neo-Paris isn’t nearly as decrepit and depressing as Airstrip One, the two settings do share a couple of things in common. Most notably, Remember Me takes place in a world where memories can be digitized, altered, stolen, and traded by the mega-corporation known as Memorize. You play as Nilin, a former memory hunter who possesses the power to break into people’s minds. Ironically, Nilin is trying to recover her own memories.

Neo-Paris is effectively a surveillance state where people have given up their privacy (mostly) willingly in exchange for the comforts provided by advanced technology. This is a theme we see pretty often in dystopian games and, to some extent, we’re seeing it in our real world too.

Another big theme here is, of course, thought control, which is also one of the main themes of 1984. The difference is that in Remember Me the protagonist also has the power to alter people’s minds. It’s up to you to decide how that power should be used.

Xcom 2

best dystopian games aliens
Image Credit: Firaxis

I realize that this may seem like a strange entry. Sure, XCOM games are pretty dystopic but they’re not exactly Orwellian, right? Well, yes, for the most part, but XCOM 2 is a bit of an exception. It’s easy to forget this as you’re running around the globe blasting aliens in the face, but the XCOM organization is a bit of an anomaly in this setting. XCOM is merely a resistance movement trying to fight a tyrannical regime. Meanwhile, most of humanity has already been either enslaved or brainwashed.

XCOM 2 takes place in a world where Earth has been conquered by advanced alien beings who harvest and experiment on people for their own nefarious purposes. We get the best look at the state of society at the very start of the game and things are looking pretty grim. To put it mildly.

Humanity is living in a totalitarian police state where mass surveillance, checkpoints, and state-run propaganda are commonplace. We later learn that the alien overlords may or may not be literally turning some people into burgers. Did I mention that some of the aliens can make you go insane or take control of your mind using their psionic powers?

The game doesn’t delve too deep into the lives of common people, but it’s pretty clear that the alien regime has very little regard for humanity and rules over it with an iron fist. Rebellious humans are often pacified through violent means while a complex propaganda machine has convinced a lot of people to let themselves be experimented on willingly. XCOM 2 might actually be one of the scariest dystopian games out there if you really stop to think about its setting.

Check back for more

As mentioned in the intro, this list will expand over time so check back later as we’ll add more entries in the near future. If you have any suggestions, don’t hesitate to tell us all about them in the comments section below. In the meantime, check out some of our other lists:


  • Jason Moth

    I'm a classic jack-of-all-trades author who loves to write about most topics, though gaming has always been my strong suit. That said, I definitely won’t turn down the chance to cover some juicy news involving superhero movies, Stephen King novels, or space travel. Or robots. Or space-traveling superhero robots disguised as Stephen King.

Written by Jason Moth

I'm a classic jack-of-all-trades author who loves to write about most topics, though gaming has always been my strong suit. That said, I definitely won’t turn down the chance to cover some juicy news involving superhero movies, Stephen King novels, or space travel. Or robots. Or space-traveling superhero robots disguised as Stephen King.

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