Given the current political climate, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to hear that George Orwell’s Animal Farm is being adapted into a video game. Imre Jele, founder of Bossa Studios, announced last month that he would be adapting the political fable into an adventure-tycoon game, working alongside an award-winning team who have worked on games from Alien: Isolation to Dear Esther.
Creating a modern political allegory is clearly at the heart of what the team hopes to achieve, as well as authenticity towards the George Orwell estate who have granted permission for the game to be produced. There is no doubt as to whether we’ll be seeing allusions to the current state of the world: the team describes Animal Farm as ‘more relevant than ever before’ and it’s clear that they want the opportunity to challenge the player with a modern crisis.
‘Orwell posed the reader many questions about power and the corrosive misuse of language. This is a chance to plant the players at the heart of these questions, luring them towards utopia or dictatorship.’
Animal Farm will be a call to arms for its players, but how the team tackles the task of adapting Orwell’s classic into a video game, and whether the transition will be successful, is going to be extremely interesting to follow over the coming months. Animal Farm is currently without a release date and is thus far only confirmed for PC, so in the mean time, I’d love to take a look at what we can expect to see from the game, and what’s involved in the process of adapting a literary masterpiece into an interactive fable.
A Narrative of Politics:
Animal Farm is a difficult story to adapt because, as others have already pointed out, it’s hardly an action-heavy plot. In fact, Orwell’s story has far more to do with inaction and perilous passivity than it does with glossy combat sequences, even with the glorified battles of Cowshed and Windmill to look forward to. With an important focus on politics, philosophy, and ethical quandaries, we might see narrative choices in the style of Telltale games, perhaps being forced to choose between witnessing a fellow animal be executed for crimes against the state, or speaking up at the risk of being declared a traitor ourselves.
The dev team have said in an interview with Polygon that “it’s particularly important for the readers and players to be able to identify with both oppressors and the oppressed”, so hopefully we can look forward to having our morals tested by complex characters, and perhaps even be drawn into the inner-workings of factions like Snowball and Napoleon, or even supporters of Moses and the Sugarcandy Mountain. We know that we’ll be playing as one of the animals’ on Manor Farm, so I’m curious to know if we’ll be given a choice between different classes of animals: ducks, sheep, pigs, horses, and whether we’ll see different story paths depending on it. Most importantly it’s going to be fascinating to see how far our actions can change the future of Animal Farm. Will we be able to create a farmyard utopia, or will the necessities of living draw us into the shadow of dictatorship? This, no doubt, is where the resource management comes into play.
Gameplay that Manages Ideals and Reality:
The Animal Farm Game has so far been described as an ‘adventure-tycoon’ game, as well as ‘a narrative-led management game’, so we’re expecting to see allocating resources being an important factor. Orwell’s book gives us lots of examples of the struggles that set in after the animals have seized control: how can animals hope to carry out the usual business of the farm? How will they be able to trade with the outside world once important goods like building tools and seeds are scarce? How do you manage work hours, food rations, and retirement ages, when your workers are made up of ducks, sheep, and horses?
Investing your resources, and choosing certain policies, are bound to be tied up in questionable political motivations, so the game could fall somewhere in the vein of This War of Mine, where resource-management and harrowing necessity made for a grim challenge to its players. With a dash of the kind of political issues and branching paths seen in games such as Democracy 3, resource-management and a tycoon-esque approach, in fact, appear to be perfect matches for Orwell’s struggles with Communist systems, and it will be interesting to see which approach comes out best for the animals. It’s always testing to deal with hypothetical political models, especially when it comes to communism vs fascism, where emotions and conflicting rationale easily bubble to the surface. How the game punishes and rewards players with different political consequences will, therefore, be a difficult line to tread, but hopefully also one which forces us to question ourselves along the way.
Art Direction for a Farmyard Fable:
Lastly, I’m genuinely excited to see what kind of art-style we’ll be getting for Animal Farm. Animating barnyard animals to full effect is pretty tricky, not least as the story features pigs milking cows with their trotters, walking upright, shooting guns, and wearing various clothing from bowler hats to Sunday dresses.
That said, it’s hard to separate Animal Farm from the animation of the 1954 propaganda film by John Halas and Joy Batchelor. If the game retains some of that 2D cartoon style it could join the ranks of brilliantly executed works such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus: an award-winning graphic novel that follows the story of Holocaust survivors depicted as mice, cats, and pigs. Retaining a cartoon style would be a bold choice, but also one which speaks to Animal Farm’s complexity as both a fairy tale, fable, and serious political commentary.
Overall, adapting Orwell is no easy task, but it seems that the team at Animal Farm game are starting down the right lines for a faithful modernization and it’ll be exciting to see how the process develops. You can follow the dev team @AnimalFarmGame on twitter, and keep tabs on their official site for game updates. It’s been a turbulent year for politics around the world, so perhaps it’s time for players to ask the question: is it not now the duty of video games, as an art-form, to confront it?