IFComp 2012: Body Bargain

Spoilers follow the break.

Here’s a grisly little story about illegal surgery. The subtitle is “A Tale of Transhumanism”, but I think any actual self-proclaimed transhumanists will object to this; this is more like a tale of extreme body modification gone horribly wrong. The plot: the protagonist is a young woman who wants a perfect body the easy way, but can’t afford it, so she’s arranged to pay in service, as a surgical assistant. In the course of assisting, she sees just how terrible the doctor is, deliberately killing one patient and operating on another without anaesthetic because he disapproves of them. (And understand that “operate” here means “remove perfectly good limbs and stuff for cybernetic replacement”.) Furthermore, the last patient — the one he wants to chop up while she’s still conscious — is the protagonist’s own sister. So, you can do something about that, escape with her, even kill the doctor on the way out if you want, although he’s difficult to kill due to his own enhancements. Or you can just obey orders and accept your place at the doctor’s side. This is a game that’s broader than it is long, giving considerable control over how the story plays out, but taking about fifteen minutes to play from beginning to end regardless of your decisions. As such, it invites replay.

Now, on my first playthrough, I did everything the doctor asked, no matter how abominable, simply because he was providing more guidance about what to do than the rest of the game was. After all, I didn’t yet know at that point that the game was going to end so soon, and with so much of the facility left unused and underexplored. I was just trying to cooperate with the story, and the ironic result is that probably I wasn’t interacting with it the way the author intended — not putting myself in the PC’s shoes enough to act on her horror and revulsion. After that first play-through, however, things were clearer. I’m left wondering how typical this experience is. I know that there are other players out there who are less willing than I am to just go where the story leads — I recall someone, I don’t remember who, posting about quitting Hunter: in Darkness on realizing that the wumpus, which the player character seemed to be hunting simply for sport, was displaying signs of intelligence. For my part, if I were only willing to play characters doing things I’d be willing to do in real life, I’d be able to play a lot fewer games.

Now, there’s one area where I think the game’s presentation of choices to the player is flawed. There’s a fairly complicated set of possibilities involving the drugs in the supply closet — in particular, you can get anaesthetics for your sister there. And this is something it’s reasonable to expect the player to think of, at least if the player is me. But the game wouldn’t let me access drugs without knowing exactly what I was looking for, and I gave up trying, thinking that this was simply beyond what the author had allowed for. Only by reading the walkthrough afterward did I learn that there was a catalog hanging from the back of the closet door, where it’s only mentioned if you examine the door. Few players other than beta testers will think of doing this, and that cuts off our options pointlessly.

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