Name of Game: Robot Interrogation (Inhuman Conditions)
Creators: Tommy Maranges and Cory O’Brien
For my critical play this week, I played Robot Interrogation over Zoom with my mom. We played 4 rounds – each of us played the Investigator and the Suspect twice. Although it took about 3 rounds for us to fully understand the game since there was a steep learning curve for us. This game is for exactly two players. One player takes on the role of the investigator and the other is the Suspect. The Investigator gets to determine what kind of interrogation prompts they ask the Suspect within a 5 minute period and have to determine whether the Suspect is a human or a robot. The other player is the Suspect. The Suspect can either be a Human or some variation of a Robot. If they are a human, they want to answer questions in a way that signals to the Investigator that they are human and have nothing to hide. If they are a Robot they have to answer the questions as best they can under their specific behavior restrictions to try to convince the Investigator that they are not a robot.
Rounds in this game always went the same way, after determining your roles, the Investigator chooses one of 3 given penalties to discard and the Suspect chooses a penalty from the remaining 2 penalties. Then the Investigator has the interviewer perform the penalty 3 times ( I did not understand the importance of this step). Next the Investigator chooses the Interview Packet and administers the inducer by asking questions about a sequence of letters that the Suspect either views as a maze or a simple sequence. If the Suspect answers correctly they get to choose their background, if not their background is automatically assigned to them ( I also did not understand the importance of this step).
Finally the investigation begins and a 5 minute timer is set. The Investigator asks a series of questions based on the interview packet to try to figure out if the Suspect is a Robot. The Investigator can choose that the Suspect is a Robot at any time but can only select they are a Human after the 5 minutes have passed.
While I couldn’t find specific documentation of a target audience for a game, it seemed to be designed for young adults and older. Particularly since some of the questions and backgrounds required a level of world and emotional intelligence that I don’t expect young kids to have. An example I can think of was one of the Interview Packets was “Grief”.
As seen in these screenshots, the questions surrounded loss and overcoming difficult experiences, which could be heavy for a young kid to answer. I particularly found that the backgrounds made this a more mature game. The two backgrounds I had to take on when I was the suspect were someone who was “Dishonorably Discharged from the Military” and a “Mayoral Candidate”. It was particularly difficult for me to take on the role of the military person when answering the questions because I feel very disconnected from that experience. Also that “background” does not completely define someone’s identity, so when I was answering questions about Imagination I didn’t know how much of my responses to frame around the military background. Generally, since role playing is such a large part of the game, I think this game is mainly targeted towards people who enjoy that. Role playing is generally not my or my mom’s cup of tea, so we struggled with this game.
This game reminds me of games like Werewolf and Secret Hitler where certain players are trying to determine the true identity and deception plays a key tole. Similar to these games, Inhuman Conditions also has “normal players” with no special powers like the townspeople in Werewolf or the fascists in Secret Hitler. In this game the normal player is the human Suspect. I liked that the game was only two players since it’s much easier to find just two people to play with. However, I think this game was much worse than Werewolf and Secret Hitler because of its two player model. In those games there is always a player with something to hide, however in Inhuman Conditions the Suspect is not always a Robot. I feel like the fun of the Inhuman Conditions comes from Robots having to answer difficult questions within a set of restrictions, however in our 4 rounds of play the Suspect was only a Robot once. It was honestly pretty boring when the Suspect was a Human, especially for the investigator, since all they are doing is asking questions and hearing the Suspect answer truthfully. Also I could tell pretty quickly sometimes that my mom was a Human, but I had to go through all 5 minutes of questioning before I could select she was a human which was a frustrating delay to the game.
Overall, I would not describe this game as fun. It had too much of a learning curve and way too much going on. There were parts of the game that felt completely useless to the investigation like the penalty and the inducer. We only began to find it fun around the 3rd round when we started choosing more fun interview Packets. The interview packet we found most fun was Creative Problem Solving since the prompts were really out of the box which made it fun watching my mom struggle to figure out how to answer the questions or come up with ridiculous answers.
Overall there were a lot more moments of failure than success when we played. We had a hard time remembering to role play as our assigned background characters and I noticed my mom slipping out of a character a lot. In one round, my mom thought I was a robot just because I was having a hard time answering the questions as a “mayoral candidate”- my assigned role. There was also a round where my mom was so confused by the restrictions of being a robot that she accidentally read out the description to me and revealed her identity. Lastly, since neither of us had ever played the game before neither of us could tell what was going on on the other person’s screen which lead to many areas of confusion.
Some changes I would make for the game are to add more step by step instructions for the online version. In the current version theyjust linked out to an instruction book for the analog version of the game which was difficult to translate to the online version. I think the game should become a multiplayer game with one investigator and multiple suspects, that way there can always be a Robot and there is always some sort of deception happening. Also I think Suspects should be able to select categories of backgrounds before actually choosing their backgrounds like “Pop Culture” “Athletics” “Business” “Politics”, this way they can ensure they take on an identity they actually know how to play the role of. Also, a main point of feedback for my mom was the the concept of Humans and Robots made no sense to her. As someone from an older generation, she had a hard time visualizing robots that could be mistaken as humans and that affected her behavior when she was supposed to be a “Robot”. I think they should either change the concept or provide more of a backstory so that players understand this is in a futuristic world where humans have advanced past our current understanding of Robots.