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Thursday, November 22, 2012

IF Comp 2012 Review - The Test is Now READY

Okay boys and goils, we're back in the realm of traditional IF! Parsers! Z-code! Blue background and white font! Ahh, the memories. And I like the title. It puts me a bit in mind of the Portal series, which despite involving some reflexes and the necessity of shooting a "gun", I deeply loved. Both for being wonderfully exciting puzzle experiences and also for being probably the funniest and most well-acted games I've played since Grim Fandango. (I love you Grim. I'll never forget!!!) Anyways, let's see what this game is all about, shall we? I have to say: love the title.

Final Verdict: Interesting experience. Not quite a game. More like an interactive narrative morality test. But definitely intriguing.

Okay. The first line of dialogue in this game is: “Run, Harry! Run, you magnificent bastard!”. To me that line, while a bit of a cliche, prepared me for a cheeky fun and fast paced adventure. Frankly a terrific way of opening up the game.

You begin as one survivor of three (shortly to be two) of a zombie apocalypse. But instead of problem solving your way out of the dank freezer that is simultaneously your haven and your cage, you're immediately presented with a more immediate dilemma. Apparently you've been bit by a zombie, and your friend Frank, who's "already saved your life three times that day" is the only one with an antidote.

Unfortunately there are only two solutions to this problem. You can either die (by way of Frank, suicide, or letting the Zombie virus have its way with you) or you can shoot Frank to take the antidote. Why you can't bargain with Frank, or why Frank wouldn't give you the vial seeing as how the both of you are sort of in this survival thing together nor even as you point a loaded and cocked gun at his head seems vaguely bewildering.

Once you make your choice, we transition to a completely unrelated scene in which you find yourself in the position of inquisitor interrogating a suspected terrorist. And thus the pattern is established. The game itself consists of five scenes (most of which are hardly interactive, forcing you along one binary path or waiting the game out), each of which presents you with a moral quandary. At the end of the game you're presented with an assessment of how you did and a little paragraph on what kind of person you'd make (apparently the entire game was a simulation for nascent A.I.s, a backstory I found frankly irrelevant and uninspired). 

There were a couple of problems I had with some of these but all my quibbled pale in comparison with the beef I have regarding the second scene. In the scene you play an interrogator attempting to find various pieces of information from a suspect. I assume that you have the option of waiting the game out and not beating him up, but sadly if you just beat him up once, the game gives you no choice but to go all the way. 

"All the way" in this case means not only beating the man to a bloody pulp but having his little boy dragged into the room and then beating the child to death in front of his father. I beat up the man, because I assumed I was playing a character and I could sort of go along with that, but when they dragged in the boy I refused. I waited and I waited and I waited. I pressed that stupid z key many many times, until I wasn't even getting increasingly urgent messages from the men behind the two way mirror to rough the boy up some more. (some more? I hadn't roughed him up to begin with!) 

Eventually, because I wanted to see the end of the game, I found myself reluctantly forced to type the words, "hit boy" over and over, while lurid descriptions of the abuse spewed forth. At the end in my assessment, the game characterized this "choice" as a preference to favor the lives of the many over the rights of the few. Allow me to be frank:

What a fucking insipid characterization.

Despite what you may see on shows such as 24 or Homeland (granted I have not seen Homeland), torture is NOT an effective way of gathering information. It is a very effective way of getting people to tell you what they think you want to hear, regardless of whether or not it is the truth. This is why people under the duress of torture have confessed to leading satanic rituals involving halving babies and drinking virgin blood, despite the fact that those things probably never ever happened. Don't believe me? Spanish Inquisition anyone?

Weren't expecting this, were you?
And don't even get me started about the utter grossness of beating the child to death, and then not even giving the player the option to opt out of it if they'd already beat up the dad. (I mean I could have turned off the game I suppose, but is that what the author really wanted me to do?)

Now, don't get me wrong. I actually think in general this game was pretty good. It was well written. Highly evocative. At the end of the day I would have to say it was less of a game, less of a narrative, than it was a highly engaging personality test. But I'm not sure that's a knock against the game itself, because it seems pretty clear that that's exactly what the author intended for this work to be. So I got worked up about the torture issue. The game and the scenarios it presents are meant to be deliberately provocative, though frankly I only had difficulty making one choice and that was the train track scenario.

So all in all I would definitely recommend the game, with "game" in quotation marks. I actually think especially for the moral scenarios that it postulates (minus the torture scenario) I'm sure The Test is Now READY would make for a much more engaging way of eliciting genuine responses from people regarding these moral quagmires than a traditional pen and paper test posing the same abstract scenarios.

All in all, good writing, interesting scenarios. But boy did that torture scene get my dander up.

1 comment:

  1. Brooks,

    Doing some ego-surfing (or actually a bit of the opposite, given where The Test is Now READY ended up in the final vote for the IFComp - not that I dispute ending up below (most) of the games above me on the list), and I came upon your review of my game.

    Normally I wouldn't argue with a review, as we have seen all too often an author doing so on the internet. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and I appreciate the time and attention you spent on my game. Also, I am really quite thankful and grateful for anyone to provide insight into where I fell short, as well as where I succeeded.

    However, I feel I must point out there is a second way to complete the torture scenario. At any point, you can leave the room (I believe the way out is "west", though it might be "east" - I forget at this point.) You have to try to do so three times before you actually do leave.

    I don't consider this your fault, that you missed how to leave without torturing the child, rather, it was mine. I wanted the game to present moral choices, and in as far as you felt you didn't have one to make at that point, it was my fault, and my failure in not cluing the other option thoroughly enough.

    For further background, I tried to write each scenario as close as possible to the original philosophical framing of the question. Thus the binary choice between killing Frank and yourself in the opening (which is meant to recall the Plank of Carneades), and the trolley scenario being almost literally a trolley scenario.

    However, the Ticking Time Bomb, which is a subset of the trolley problem of philosophy, is one which is almost impossible to write realistically. The precepts required are that correct information can potentially save lives, and that torture can produce correct information. I do not, as you do not, believe this to be the case, and a close reading of the final lines of the "torture" ending of that scenario reveal that you probably aren't receiving any "true" information during that whole scenario.

    I just found it impossible to write any other way - which I would also label a failure of the game, as I was trying to avoid pushing too hard in either direction on the moral choices. It's why the scenario opens with a Jack Bauer quote - because I was consciously trying to push the scenario back towards the "pro" torture side - as I felt I had written it too close to my own feelings.

    Thank you so much for the review, though!

    -Jim

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