Critical Play: Inhuman Conditions

For the first time, I played Inhuman Conditions, a five-minute, two-player game of surreal interrogation and conversational judo that seemed to mimic the plot of Blade Runner. The game was played over web and mobile and the target audience is 12+. The game requires deductive reasoning, incorporates moral and philosophical elements aimed at identifying artificial intelligence and robots from humans, and seems to be aimed at players who enjoy science fiction games, particularly fans of Blade Runner. One player plays the role of interrogator and the other plays the role of suspect — the interrogator and suspect are given different directions and the interrogator must guess if the suspect is a robot after a series of questions. The interrogator gets to choose the line of questioning, with different lines of questioning ranging in difficulty, and rounds are paced to the discretion of the interrogator.

Two surprising elements to the game — the two player nature of the game and the choose-your-own-adventure nature of the game. The game has two players, a surprising decision given that most social deception games include multiple players. The two player element makes the game intimate, and the questions are intimate as well, as compared to larger social deception multiplayer game like Among Us and Mafia. Or, at least, myself and my friend who played the game with me found the questions to be intimate and answered personally, until we realized that we needed to answer the questions in our respective roles. Also surprising, was the range of directions the game could take, depending on the line of questioning that the interrogator chooses to pursue, and depending on the suspect’s role. The suspect could be a patient robot, who wants to be guessed as a human to win, or a violent robot, who wants to pursue obsessive desires to deprogram itself to kill the investigator to win.

The game was not enjoyable for us. The instructions were incredibly confusing, and we were unclear about what information we could and could not reveal to the other person. There was no visual hierarchy to the instructions and they were too text-heavy, imposing a huge cognitive load on the players. As an interrogator, I didn’t know how to formulate questions, what to look for, and there wasn’t a huge set up or visual introduction to the game to induct us into the game. As a suspect, my friend didn’t know that he was to play the role of the robot, and instead answered questions personally rather than within his roles, telling a story about the time his kitchen had actually caught on fire in response to an ethical dilemma posed, rather than answering the question from the perspective of his role. Game improvements to make on the interrogator side: an outline of the possible roles that the suspect could fulfill and displaying a single question at a time they might ask the suspect. Game improvements to make on the suspect side: clarity that they are to answer the questions within their role, clarity on information they are allowed and not allowed to reveal, and clarity on what the penalties mean. Overall, there needed to be greater coordination on the suspect and interrogator sides to understand what they did and didn’t know, rather than a gradual piecing together of the game rules.

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