Game: Inhuman Conditions
Creators: Tommy Maranges, Cory O’Brien, Mackenzie Schubert (illustrator)
Platform: website (http://interrogation.ftwinston.com/)
This is a 2-player game whereby one player is the Investigator and the other player is a Suspect who is assigned to be a robot or human. The goal of the Investigator is to figure out whether the Suspect is a robot or human. As for the suspect, their goal is to convince the investigator that they are a human, regardless of whether they are a human or robot.
For 5 minutes, the Investigator can ask the Suspect a series of questions. Those questions are computer generated based on the topic that the Investigator selects, and they can be used as starting points of conversations for the investigation.
The Suspect can answer freely if they are human, but would have to answer according to some specific constraint or pattern if they are a robot. For instance, when I played a robot, I had to “not describe yourself accomplishing a goal with fewer than three steps”:
Another time, I was human.
Considering the formal elements, this is a player vs player game. The objective is outwit, since the investigator tries to outwit the suspect and the Suspect robot tries to outwit the investigator. I thought that it was really interesting that when the Suspect is human, the objective of the human Suspect is no longer outwit but instead they have to act normal in order to convince the Investigator that they are human. That objective seemed easy at first but it is actually hard! There are some rules and procedures at the beginning of the game to determine the role of the Suspect which I thought was not too necessary. Instead, the relevant rules and procedures are largely about the constraints that are given to the Suspect. In this magic circle, players get to act either as an investigator, robot or just human, which is a very unique scenario as it feels like we are in a Turing test experiment. The game is based mostly on fantasy. One personal moment of success I had in the game is figuring out that my friend was a robot as I figured something off about the way she was responding to my questions (she seemed more arrogant than usual!).
The game is most similar to a game (I forget the name!) whereby there is one investigator and everyone in the room must always answer in a specific fashion (e.g. not use a certain word, scratch their head, etc) and the investigator has to figure out what that “fashion” is. I think that Inhuman Conditions has more game elements, dynamics and strategies to it, which makes it more fun. Comparing it with other social deception games (e.g. werewolves), I think it is perhaps slightly less fun but that is mostly because it is a two-player game and hence the ability to work together or against other friends is not possible here.
I thought the game was overall fun. As a robot, it was very fun and challenging to think about how I would satisfy the constraints when answering questions without seeming suspicious. Playing the role of investigator is also fun as you try to deduct whether your friend is being weirder than usual. One confusing part about the game is that as a robot, we would not always be sure that we were satisfying the constraints since there no formal way to verify that. Furthermore, the Suspect’s role, e.g. pop star or cult leader, didn’t add much to the overall game dynamics. If anything, the role made it more confusing while answering the questions.
If I had to redesign this game, I would try removing the role element. First, it might make it less confusing from both the Suspect and Investigator perspective by removing one layer of indirection. Second, it might help players to get to know each other better if they don’t have to pretend to to be someone else. Another thing I would change are the prompts given to the Investigator as suggestions. If I only followed the current prompts as an Investigator, it would be hard for me to find out whether the Suspect is robot or human. The trick is to ask why questions and other follow-up questions. Hence, the current prompts can be somewhat distracting instead of helpful. Finally, I would also remove the part of the initial procedures of the game which made the game pretty confusing, especially for a first time player. I was personally trying really hard to figure out why was I being asked that question (attached below) and how I should answer it, even though it didn’t seem too relevant for the main part of the game (or perhaps it was too confusing that I still didn’t figure out why I was being asked that question).