Critical Play – Inhuman Conditions

I played Robot Interrogation, an online version of Inhuman Conditions, a game created by Tommy Maranges and Cory O’Brien. The game was played via this website.

Based on the user interface and procedures of the game, I believe the target audience is an adult audience. There are little to no visuals–the game relies on text to describe (somewhat complex) instructions and carry out the operations of the game. Additionally, there is a player called a “Violent Robot” whose objective is to kill the other player, so I do not think this is an appropriate game for kids.

The game involves two main players, namely the interviewer and the suspect. While the interviewer and the suspect are engaged in the same interrogation, there are different actions that both kinds of players take. The interviewer conducts the interrogation; actions include asking interrogation questions and clicking on a button to end the interrogation and declare the suspect a robot. The suspect answers the interviewer’s questions, performs the penalties as necessary, and (if the suspect is a violent robot) potentially click on a button to kill the interviewer. Each interrogation (which are 5 minutes max) is a round; rounds are separate ie. after a round ends, the game restarts entirely. The game indeed displays formal elements. For example, there is the boundary of time for each round, which places time pressure for the interviewer to figure out if the suspect is a robot or not. Additionally, the game makes use of the objective for a robot to outwit the interviewer; if the robot is able to outwit the interviewer and successfully disguise itself as a human, then the robot wins.

This game reminds me of other games that incorporate fantasy as the primary form of fun, such as Mafia. One distinction Robot Interrogation has against Mafia is the boundaries of 2 primary players and a time limit. That shaped the premise to be more focused and one-on-one. I think this made it worse; in a game that involves more people such as Mafia, there is more uncertainty and suspense.

The game was not particularly fun. The instructions were overly complex in my opinion, so there was a slow start. It was also too easy to identify if the suspect was a robot or not based on their usage (or lack thereof) of the penalties, which were quite obvious (eg. name how many fingers your left hand is holding up). Additionally, if the suspect is a human, the game becomes a standard conversation for 5 minutes, which loses the purpose of the game because there’s no stakes involved.

A moment of a particular fail was when I was playing suspect and assigned to be a human and accidentally used the penalty (which was “repeat the question in your own words”, a more subtle penalty) two times. Therefore, my interviewer rightfully suspected I was a robot and called it out, even though I did not intentionally try to reveal anything suspicious because I had no incentive to.

To make the game better, I would rethink how to make the scenario in which the suspect is a human more risky. I found being a robot fun, and being a violent robot even more fun, because there were high stakes involved. With the human, the instructions even state “there is nothing to fear” so the round becomes rather dry. Perhaps the human could also try to manipulate the interviewer somehow and, if successful, gain benefits from it.

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