App review by Marianne Rogowski, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2021
Orwell's Animal Farm
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Orwell's Animal Farm

Classic novel-based game lets readers reimagine outcomes but could confuse

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Grades
9–12
Subjects & Skills
English Language Arts, Social Studies, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Interactive multimedia elements help bring the story to life and provide helpful visual representations.

Cons: The end goal is not entirely clear; the game lacks the nuances and detail of the novel and may lead some kids to misunderstand characters or events.

Bottom Line: Game-based novel supplement immerses students and provides a baseline for thoughtful analysis but could use more clarity.

As a pre-reading activity, students can play Orwell's Animal Farm to familiarize themselves with the characters and plot. Having some idea of what happens before reading the novel can help students with vocabulary, characterization, and context. As a companion game, students can play the game as they read the book in order to reinforce their comprehension of events. The opportunity to compare the novel with the choices they are making and see how the outcomes differ is sure to spark discussion among classmates. 

For struggling readers, the game may be exceptionally helpful in obtaining background knowledge and being able to listen to and visualize the events described in the book. Although the game covers only the basics, it can be an excellent way to help readers take a more active role in class discussions and recognize events as they occur. Depending on how the students play, they may not hit on all of the characters or outcomes, so teachers should warn students that it's no substitute for reading the book. Obviously, the full text is much more nuanced and contains vocabulary and symbolism that the game doesn't have. However, the app is a solid companion that may encourage students to get immersed in Orwell's classic novel. And, with current use of propaganda and "fake news," Orwell's work can help students recognize that propaganda is a useful tool to control the masses and that an informed and literate society is of vital importance.

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As the title suggests, Orwell's Animal Farm is an animated interactive game based on George Orwell's classic novel. At the outset, students can choose from several languages for narration and text. The game sets the scene with the opening events and then lets players make decisions about what the animals should do in certain situations. For example, do they work, doubt, celebrate, question, run away, or do something else? Those decisions come in the form of a magnifying glass icon that the player drags to a character. With each decision, gameplay takes a turn that may or may not match what happens in the book. However, the main events remain the same in that the animals overthrow their oppressor, adopt Animalism as their philosophy of governance, and cede power to the pigs. 

The story progresses through yearly cycles as the animals go from season to season completing the same tasks. Players can check stats along the way in the Handbook to see which characters they have encountered and which of several outcomes they've achieved. The game can end in a variety of ways, depending on the user's choices. Then it's possible to reset the game and play again, making different selections along the way. 

Orwell's Animal Farm has strengths that lie in its ability to help students visualize the story, hear the narrator, and see the outcomes of their decisions. Having to make frequent decisions encourages players to think critically and analyze outcomes, while narration, pictures, and interactive elements help engage students in the plot. Teachers can pose questions about the consequences of the animals' decisions to accept their leaders' edicts without questioning their motives. This may help them contribute to a rich discussion as they fill in the gaps with details from the book, bringing digital age excitement to a classic that is both timeless and timely. 

That said, the game experience itself can be confusing. There are no instructions that begin the game, so the mechanics and consequences of each choice are totally opaque. Even if a student has read the novel, the act of dragging the magnifying glass icon to a character  -- who expresses a certain reaction to events -- isn't at all clear at first. Game achievements and progress come in the form of stamps in the Handbook, though it's not clear if the goal is to get all of those stamps and meet all of the characters, or not. Finally, the yearly cycle can get monotonous as it has the same narrations and animations. Students will likely groan when a new year begins and they encounter the same choices. With more initial guidance, some supporting materials for teachers, and less repetition, this game could reap more of what it sows.

Overall Rating

Engagement

Turning a 75-year-old classic into a game is a novel idea, and students who enjoy gaming and reading graphic novels will appreciate the simulation and artistic angle.

Pedagogy

Although the game could use a bit more in terms of collaborative opportunities and clarity of purpose, it provides helpful context for the book's plot and works great as a pre-reading or comparison tool.

Support

Text is broken into smaller chunks with optional narration to support struggling readers, and it's available in multiple languages, but more explanation and guidance would be helpful.


Common Sense reviewer
Marianne Rogowski Instructional Technology Facilitator

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