Critical Play #1: Inhuman Conditions – Selaine Rodriguez

My first critical play was on the game Robot Interrogation. Robot Interrogation is an online version of the game Inhuman Conditions, which was created by Tommy Maranges and Cory O’Brien in 2018.

The game is designed to be played by two people, where one player will act as the investigator and the other player will act as a suspect.  During a five-minute investigation round, the investigator will try to determine if the suspect is human or robot. Each player has a set of rules and specifics for their role that they use to navigate the situation.

My friend and I played Robot Interrogation, rather than Inhuman Conditions, so I will now be talking about this version specifically. This version of the game was relatively short and was fairly simple given that the only real “props” were the role specifics provided (either digitally or in the card).  Based on the online version of the game, I thought the target audience was teenagers and older. This is because the game relies on critical analysis of the other player’s social actions and had rules that were very specific and detailed. Specifically, the rules varied for each role and were specific to each individual person which would require the ability to understand and analyze what is happening / how you speak / your spot in the game. The website we used was also very plain, which meant it appealed more to people who were relying on the fun coming from the other players, rather than how younger children enjoy fun coming from the game’s visual elements. In fact, the only elements designed in color to catch our attention were the timer, “Kill the Interviewer” button, and hyperlinks that explained the game more.

Here are some of the details for the more specific formal elements of the game:

  • Players: This game is for two players, with a player vs. player format.
  • Objective / Goal: The goal of this game is different for each plater. Player 1 / Investigator wants to correctly decide if the opponent is a robot or human. Player 2 wants to convince the other player that they’re a human (whether they are a human or a robot).
  • Outcome: This game results in a non-zero sum game. This is because of their being situations where both lose, rather than one always winning. In the situation where the Investigator successfully guesses Robot or Investigator doesn’t guess Robot correctly, we will see one winner. However, if Investigator guesses Robot and the other player was actually human, both will lose. This puts a twist on how people would expect the player vs. player format to usually end (zero sum).
  • Movement: The main changes in this game occurred through the interview questions and responses that led the conversation.
  • Story: The players create the story as they expand on the conversation packet and started background provided.
  • Conflict: The main conflict between players occurs through the fact that one of the players will most likely be lying in order to prove their point. There is also conflict in the penalties that one player can receive.
  • Rules: The rules are dictated by the specific background and prompt provided to the Robot/Human and the interview packet chosen by the Interviewer. In general, it is assumed that players will follow these rules given to them (or respect the penalties if they mess up). The game will end when the interviewer makes a guess (or the five minutes is up). Otherwise, there are not many rules besides keeping the conversation going throughout the interview.
  • Boundaries: The game finished after the five minute slot, and the space where the game exists is either physical or digital but focused on verbal communication. The space only exists during the time boundary though.
  • Actions: Ask interview questions, answer questions, make final decision.
  • Rounds: One five-minute round.

The most interesting part of this game was how people’s social cues can be thrown off so quickly just by implementing some roles and specific conversation boundaries. There was a weird and awkward social dynamic created by making humans act like robots, which was interesting to navigate. Another interesting component was the many different options available for robot challenges, penalties, and interview packets, which allowed us to switch up the game if we liked.

In comparison to other games in the genre, I thought this game relied significantly less on gathering information about others, and more about being aware of the rules. From the list provided to us, I have only played Mafia and Among Us, which relied more on seeing how people reacted to each other or phrases their questions. Since this game was only two people, that social context was extremely limited, which I feel made the game worse. The game wanted you to be more aware of the penalties and roles rather than how the other person was speaking.

I personally didn’t like the game much. The lying and being suspicious aspect of the social interactions was fun, however I felt that the game was over-analytical and is something you would use to pass time, rather than play at a party to have fun. As the interviewer, I appreciated the different interview packets provided, but felt that the questions ran out too quickly and I wasn’t always able to come up with questions that fit within the theme and helped me probe the other player more (especially when the suspect is answering in very short replies). I imagine that as the Robot/Human, you have more freedom to guide the conversation whichever way you want, but it’s unfortunate that only one person in the game can really have that type of narrative-filled fun. I also felt the learning curve was relatively high, so it took us one round to really get the gist of how the game was supposed to be played. This is unfortunate since the five minutes of not understanding can feel like an eternity.

In order to make the game better, I would propose these changes:

  • They should include a tutorial or a short video on the online version to help with the learning curve. I understood the game a lot better after seeing both sides of the game, or seeing both perspectives in different browser windows. If I had been able to see that first, I think I would’ve understood quicker.
  • They should expand the game to optionally be played with more people. Being able to interview more than one person may help us understand if someone is a Robot/Human more quickly.
  • They should decrease the time frame if you think the person is a Human, since you can only hit a button to end the game early if you think they are a Robot.
  • They should decrease the time frame in general. I think that a rapid fire / lightning round version of this game would be more fun as you have to be quick on your feet to think and reply, rather than slower.
  • They should make new information on the page obvious by including an arrow, a color change, or by just making a new pages. Often, new info or buttons popped up on the bottom half of the page with no other indicator, so it took me a second to realize where that information had come from.

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