To paraphase a line from a 1990s sketch comedy series that I suspect most of readers will never have seen: this week I’ve been mostly playing FMV games.
For the uninitiated, which again is quite likely to be most of you, an FMV is a style of videogame where much or all of the plot unfolds through full motion video. That is to say proper live action TV/movie style video with actors saying lines in costume, rather than through computer generated cutscenes where actors record their lines in a little booth. It’s one of those odd quirks of technology that it actually requires much less computing power to store and render pre-recorded video segments than it does to produce graphics of an equivalent quality. And, obviously, back in the day FMV segments were extremely expensive to produce and most FMV games had to come on a million CDs. But the quality of footage you can get was still way beyond anything that you could generate in a game engine.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, they were still mostly shit, partly because most things are mostly shit (I believe it’s called Sturgeon’s Law) but also because integrating TV-style film segments with late-90s / early 2000s computer graphics is just really fucking jarring. Also, with the best will in the world, and meaning no disrespect to the many fine artists who have lent their talents to gaming over the years, the quality of the acting, production and writing could be quite variable. Well, I say variable. A lot of the time it was just uniformly poor. I don’t think it helped that, at the time, people were mostly using it to work around the graphical limitations of the medium, meaning they didn’t seem to have given much thought to what sort of gaming experience FMV best suited. The most well-known example of the genre was probably 7th Guest, which managed to combine infuriating 90s adventure game puzzles with a tacky 90s horror aesthetic all held together with incredibly shonky 90s FMVs. Thinking about it, maybe FMVs weren’t the problem. Maybe the 90s were.
Anyway. Wind things forward to 2017 and the high priests of Kickstarter have realised that you can generate pretty much limitless money by making anything that looks at all like something a 38 year old vaguely remembers from their childhood. Thus, the FMV renaissance.
Now in some ways FMV is the retro-genre that least benefits from modern technology. It is, after all, not like the information revolution has caused actors to double in efficiency every 18 months. What it has done, however, is made contacting actors, hiring actors, filming actors, converting whatever footage one winds up with into a fully realised game experience and distributing that game experience worldwide well within the reach of a modestly funded team of enthusiastic amateurs. Which is nice. (Which is also, now I think about it, another allusion to that 1990s sketch comedy show I was talking about earlier).
This week, H and Ducky and I played through two games from the recent FMV revival, those games being The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker and Contradiction. We played them in that order but I think might review in the opposite order because an actor with a fairly major role in Contradiction has a cameo in Doctor Dekker and it’ll make more sense if I’ve told you about the bigger role first. For I get onto anything else, though, I will say that I think FMV games are best enjoyed in company. This is partly because the ones I’ve played so far have quite strong puzzle (and by puzzle I often mean ‘guess what the parser wants or guess which things you have to click on’ elements) and those are way way way, way way way, way way way less frustrating if you can talk them over with somebody you can bear being around. And it’s partly because having company makes it a lot easier to convince yourself that you’re having fun, rather than slightly wasting your time watching a cast who range from very minor celebrities to somebody’s mates from university delivering dialogue that is often functional at best, while holding some very silly props and occasionally telling you that they’ve never heard of the thing you’re talking about when what you’re talking about is their own name.
I should add that the discussion of Contradiction is basically safe (the investigation does centre around a suicide but I go into no detail). The discussion of The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker alights briefly on issues relating to mental health, especially the portrayal of mental health in fiction, and rape. Also I spoil the fuck out of both games because that’s how I roll.
So let’s start with Contradiction.
Contradiction: The Clue Is In The Name
Basically my favourite things in the world are things that know exactly what they’re doing and do the thing that they’re doing in the doing-that-thingiest way they do that thing. Contradiction is a game in which you play (or at least guide the actions of) a curiously expressive detective by the name Jenks as he investigates (with distracting and seemingly inappropriate cheerfulness) the apparent suicide of a young woman. He does this against a somewhat arbitrary midnight deadline. Insert joke about Tory police cuts here. Or, for the sake balance, a joke about Diane Abbott thinking you can train a policeman or thirty quid. Actually, I’ll be honest, I think if you spent thirty quid on Inspector Jenks you’d’ have enough change for a Snickers bar.
Anyway, Contradiction, right, is called Contradiction and its entire gameplay manic is spotting contradictions. The thing I like about this is that it’s all laid out in advance. The thing I dislike about it, is that it sometimes feels really, really artificial. Basically in order to the advance the plot you have to ask people about things and then uncover contradictions in what they say by highlighting details of their responses in Jenks’ notebook. There are some quite specific and quite arbitrary rules attached to this, which are as follows:
- You will have to uncover the correct contradictions to advance the plot
- Contradictions are always between two statements made by the same person
- Contradictions are always between statement made about different pieces of evidence
An example of this working well is when one of the suspects tells you that the narcotics she is randomly keeping in the restaurant section of her pub (don’t ask) are painkillers that she has been prescribed by a doctor and you are able to link that back to a previous conversation in which she had told you that she never touched drugs and never even took any medication. Examples of it working less well are when you know someone has said something that isn’t true and you have ample evidence of that thing not being true but are not able to confront the person with it because either they haven’t specifically contradicted themselves or it’s not clear which statement the game thinks is the contradictory statement.
For example, there’s a bit towards the end of the game where you need to get one of the high ranking members of the dubious and slightly cultish Randian business coaching thingy around which the investigating is based to admit that his organisation uses particular techniques. At this point you have many, many examples of those techniques definitely being used and definitely being practised—including a guy literally stabbing his own hand in the woods—but you’re only allowed to confront him with things he’s previously said, not with things you’ve personally witnessed. And I suppose, to a degree, it does make sense because if the suspect says “my sinister organisation doesn’t do x” and you say “but I’ve seen members of your sinister organising doing x” he can always come back with “well, those members weren’t acting with the knowledge of my sinister organisation.” Whereas if he says, “my sinister organisation doesn’t do x” and you say “but you said that your sinister organisation does do x” then you’ve got him pretty much bang to rights. I think what makes it frustrating is that often there are several things you could mention that incontrovertible examples of the organisation doing x but only some of which are recognised in the game as contradictions.
And, although I’ve complained about this a lot, it’s basically fine. The game frames itself in such a gamey way that you don’t really have to worry about how patently unrealistic Jenks’ investigative techniques are. Especially since a lot of the time the only way for him to make progress in the investigation is to walk down a particular road at a particular time of night, thereby witnessing a cutscene during which a vital piece of evidence will be dropped. And, just to go back to complaining for a second, I’d also mention that because of the whole “contradiction” framework the very concept of what constitutes evidence is extremely different in this game from what you’d expect it to be in anything remotely resembling a police investigation.
Basically, because advancing the plot involves specifically catching people saying contradictory things a lot of the time making progress means asking somebody about something about which they have no useful information but, in talking about which, they reveal an entirely extraneous detail that will later contradict something else they’ve said. There’s a particularly, well I would say egregious but, again, this is just how the game works and the game is so upfront about how it works that I have no problem with it, so I’ll just say illustrative example about three quarters of the way in. You pop in on one of the suspects (a man named Simon) and when you approach is door you see him drop a business card and part of a keyring. The business card does actually have a useful clue on it. But the keyring is not at all relevant to the crime. It is relevant to progressing the plot because it starts a chain of conversations that go something like this:
Jenks: Do you recognise this keyring?
Simon: Yes, it’s from my car.
Jenks: I thought you said (contradiction powers!) that your bike was the only way you had of getting to work.
Simon: Oh well I can’t actually drive because I haven’t passed my test yet. But I had an insurance pay out from the time my laptop was stolen at Atlas and decided to invest it in something sensible and long-term.
This then leads to you investigating the theft from Atlas, which leads to you getting another hint about the storeroom where the laptop was left not being very secure which allows you flag up a contradiction (contradiction powers!) in a later conversation when one of the characters tells you that he keeps his bad drugs in a store cupboard, which means that they are therefore safe.
Which is fine as a puzzle in a game. But when you look at it from the point of view of a police investigation it is patently absurd. You are only capable of getting the life coach/cult leader to reveal where he keeps his morphine (something he doesn’t really have any special reason to lie to you about) if you first ask him about a completely unrelated theft that you, again, only find out about if ask Simon about the keyring he happened to drop by accident in front of his house. Again, there’s no reason for him to conceal that theft from you and there’s no reason that you couldn’t at some point during your interview with him have asked if anything suspicious had happened while he was at Atlas, at which point it would seem natural for him to volunteer the story about the theft of his laptop. Rather than his holding it back until it came up as a consequence of a purely incidental conversation about an item of key adornment that he accidentally dropped.
This is probably coming across as unfairly harsh to Contradiction. And, actually, I do agree with the choices it made. One of the things I really value in any kind of game, be it board, video or roleplaying, is making you feel like the thing you’re supposed to be. And within its own framework Contradiction does an admirable job of feeling like a detective. Now it’s true that at no point do you feel like the things you are detectiving are actual clues in a murder case, rather it feels like you are detectiving the games internal structures. But, hey, detectiving is detectiving and it’s genuinely satisfying when you work something out. We had several really cool Ah hah! moments, where we put something together and basically went “but he said this, and he also said this, and that’s … that’s … a contradiction! Which is literally the name of the game!” In a sense it’s a lot like Cluedo (of course, because I’m trendy, indie eurogaming snob I should point that Cluedo is by no means the best mystery game on the market and you should look into Mystery of the Abbey, Mystery Express or Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective if you like that sort of thing) in that Cluedo (or Clue for my American readers) makes you like a detective because you really are working something out by a process of deduction. And the fact that the thing you’re working out is “which cards are in the little envelope” rather than “who could reasonably have killed Mr Black” really makes no difference.
And, actually, there’s a lot I found really charming about Contradiction. Much as I’ve joked about the wobbly dialogue and ropey acting, the cast are all at the very least fine, and at best genuinely really good. I did find the portrayal of Jenks a little bit distracting, possibly because I’m used to detective characters being very taciturn and detached, whereas Jenks, um, kind of pulls faces and gesticulates. And I got very fond of him, but mainly I think because I kept mugging along with him as he delivered his lines. And, to be fair, he had a lot to carry because about 80% of his dialogue is “so what do you know about this piece of evidence” and he’s obviously trying to make that interesting and engaging, but possibly goes a bit too far. It’s especially difficult in the context of this quite tragic scenario. Because, basically, it’s a story about the death of a promising and talented young man, and Jenks hops around like he’s on CBeebies (for my American readers, CBeebies is the bit of the BBC aimed at very young children).
Paul Darrow is excellent as the super-objectivist, scheming and amoral Paul Rand, but then again you’d expect him to be because, dude, he’s Avon from Blake’s 7. And, actually, the whole of his dialogue and the material you see from Atlas, its students and its employees is strangely plausible. And this is partly because it’s, well, essentially very straight forward Ayn Rand bullshit (the clue is literally in the names – the organisation is named Atlas, after Atlas Shrugged, they are called Paul and Ryan, quite possibly after the notoriously Randian Speaker of the House of Representatives, and of course their surname is actually Rand) but it is well-observed, convincingly articulated and effectively delivered. And while subtlety is not a big strength of the game the relationship between Paul and Ryan, the father and son behind the Atlas organisation, has a surprising amount of nuance.
It’s also super English: everyone has slightly crooked teeth, it’s set in a tiny village that looks like every tiny village you drive through in any part of the country that ends in -shire and it’s ultimately it’s far more in the tradition of Hercule Poirot or Midsomer Murders than Sam Spade or CSI. And, yet again, I realise that I’ve written nearly three thousand words and I’ve just finished about the first of the two things I want to talk about in this post. I suck at this.
The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker: Notthulhu
The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker manages to be quite similar to Contradiction while also being absolutely nothing like it. I should also say at the beginning that because it’s self-consciously Lovecraftian and if you haven’t already worked out from the fact it is called The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker the game takes a very, very literary view of mental illness. Which is to say, a completely unrealistic one. There are some people for whom that will be a deal-breaker. There are others for whom it’s an accepted convention of the Lovecraftian genre.
For what it’s worth, my personal take is that the game is so embedded in the assumptions and conventions of gothic / Lovecraftian literature that I barely see any connection between the real life concept of mental illness and the purely literary construct that the game calls “madness” or “insanity.” Which makes it mostly fairly easy for me to accept the game on its own terms. The only bits I found genuinely problematic were the ones in which its mythologised notion of insanity brushed up against real world issues about culpability and credibility. Several of your patients have been quite specifically referred to you because they want you to declare them insane so they can be found not guilty of particular crimes which, I think, genuinely reinforces some quite unhelpful stereotypes about both criminality and mental illness. And, thinking about it, the central premise of the game, which is that a psychiatrist has been murdered, almost certainly by one of his patients, and all of them are suspects because crazy people be crazy and be killing people, is kind of not okay either.
There’s also, as I mentioned in the trigger warnings at the start, a really difficult sequence in which one of your patients essentially tells you (in quite a lot of detail) that you are raping her. And the game is quite ambiguous about whether this is all in her head or not. It’s especially uncomfortable because the protagonist in Doctor Dekker is much more “you” than the Detective in Contradiction. And there’s sort of no way of interpreting that sequence that isn’t horrible, and not in a challenging or creepy way. Just in a probably the wrong artistic choice way. Either the person is question is right, in which case, dude, you’ve suddenly (and, ironically, non-consensually) turned my character into a rapist. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to that. Or she’s delusional in which case that brushes way too close to “abuse claims are usually false” (which is a real and harmful myth). Or, worst of all, she’s deliberately lying in order to blackmail you which is whole different level of real and harmful myth.
Anyway. The premise of The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker is that Dr Dekker was a psychiatrist (in gothic Lovecraftian sense of unpredictable, occult-obsessed mercurial tyrant) who was recently murdered and you are his replacement, but also (for reasons that aren’t entirely clear) trying to work out who killed him. Because apparently that’s your job now. Presumably the police are too busy pulling silly faces at objectivists. Unlike Contradiction, which his strictly point and click, Doctor Dekker is parser-based. A parser, for the uninitiated, being a means of interacting with a game (or, I suppose, another piece of software) by typing words into a box. Basically, it’s a text adventure with pictures and actors. Over the course of the game, you will converse with and ultimately come to know several of Dr Dekker’s patients, and gradually discover that all of them have, or believe themselves to have, some manner of supernatural ability. As well as tracking your progress through the plot, the game also keeps track of your character’s state of mind. The more you talk to the patients about and especially validate or indulge their supernatural ideas the more you lose your grip on reality and the more explicitly weird stuff you’ll perceive and encounter.
There’s an awful lot I like about Doctor Dekker. The characters are all meticulously well-articulated, from how they speak, to what they wear, to the way they move in the dream-like resting animations, in which they fade into and out of view on your sofa while you’re deciding what to say to them next. Bryce the gravedigger, who believes that for him time stops for an hour at midnight, allowing him go about the world and do as he wishes (with all that entails) has a twitchy manic intensity, leaning forward and staring directly at you, then glancing away and hiding his face when he doesn’t feel you’re understanding him. Claire, the socialite who murdered, and it later transpires re-animated her husband, remains uniformly cold and imperious, except for one brief resting animation in which it looks just for a second it looks like she’s coming towards you with a knife (yes, I lost my shit).
Then there’s Marianna, difficult, difficult Marianna, who is basically a siren, or possibly a deep one. Pretty much the first thing she says to you is that she keeps waking up on the beach … naked, and she expresses it in a very breathy, very femme-fataley way that’s a really confusing mess of enticing and exploitative. I honestly couldn’t tell at the time if I found it uncomfortable in a good way or a bad way, although on reflection (given the really awful rape stuff) I’ve come down on bad. Anyway, leaving aside the problematic sex stuff, it becomes increasingly clear that Marianna has this profound and super-Cthulhuey connection to the sea and that she’s almost certainly luring people to their deaths siren-stylee. And everything about the way she moves and dresses and stands and speaks has this indefinable wateriness to it that is intensely compelling. Which, again, gets really really troubling (and, I think, not in a challenging way) when she starts talking about how you’re raping her. And I should probably say that the actress, who goes by the fabulous name of Aislinn De’ath, does a fantastic job in the role. It’s just that the role intersects with some concepts that need to be handled with more sensitivity than the game manages.
The other thing I like (or think I liked, since I’ve only played it once so far) is the way the game seems to re-interpret itself according to your playstyle. We played very cautiously, partly out of impatience to progress the plot, partly out of frustration with the sometimes opaque parser, and partly out a genuine desire not to fuck these imaginary people all the way up. As a result, my viewpoint character was essentially a very straight forward psychiatrist whose primary goal was to help his patients and not reinforce their belief in supernatural powers. By the end of the game, it seemed fairly clear that my patients did indeed not have supernatural abilities and that several of them, in fact, did not even believe themselves to have supernatural abilities but were feigning madness to avoid murder charges (once again this is not unproblematic). For what I’ve seen of other people’s endings, if I’d embraced the spooky stuff more strongly, or been less nervous of dicking with my patients’ heads) I could have turned out to be possessed by the spirit of Dr Dekker, been murdered myself or, if I’d gone full Lovecraft protagonist, ultimately been revealed to be patient myself, with all of the other patients to whom I’d been speaking merely facets of my own fractured personality.
I genuinely think that this is one of the biggest strengths of interactive media. So often when I read a book or watch a TV show I will get to the end and be disappointed because the book I thought I was reading or show I thought I was watching is not, in fact, the book or show I was reading or watching. (I had pretty much this experience a couple of weeks ago with 13 Reasons Why). The capacity of well-constructed interactive fiction to become the story you believe it to be is endlessly fascinating. And, yes, you could argue that this makes it harder for the story to surprise you but if the surprise that I’m being denied is that of discovering that the thing I thought was good is actually not good is a surprise I’m well willing to do without. And, obviously, there are limitations and parameters. Doctor Dekker is never going to be a love story or an action movie but, within its genre, you can make it into pretty much anything you might want that sort of story to deliver. You can be the rational sceptic who, like the Scooby gang from Scooby Doo, reveal that the ghost is just a man in a mask. You can be the stalwart investigator who, like the Scooby gang from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, confronts evil and overcomes it. You can be the doomed altruist who is drawn into events far beyond his control and ultimately utterly corrupted by them. You can be the victim of the story you’re already telling. Or the villain of it.
Before I wrap up with the things that bugged me about the game, I do want to quickly how much I liked the way it handled its Cthulhu elements. A lot of Lovecraftian media, particularly gaming media, relies on name-dropping particular elements of Lovecraft’s mythos. So you will specifically have Deep Ones or Shub Niggurath or Nyarlathotep, but the story itself won’t necessarily feel like a Lovecraft story. Doctor Dekker very explicitly goes in the other direction. The supernatural phenomena that the patients describe owe more to science fiction, classical mythology and, in one case, Groundhog Day than they do any given Lovecraft story. But in this blending of quasi-scientific, quasi-mythological and just plain weird inspirations the story the game tells winds up being far closer in spirit to Lovecraftian writing than most things that get a Cthulhu label. To go briefly back to Marianna, in some ways her story is the most explicitly Cthulhoid in that she believes she is feeding people to a monster under the sea (and she has a necklace with an actual tentacle monster on it) but all of the imagery she uses is very un-Cthulhu. She describes the monster a being of light. She herself is a lot more like a mermaid than a Deep One. The way the monster eats people isn’t anything like Cthulhu snatches 1D6 investigators a round into his flabby claws. And the creature’s undersea lair is nothing like R’yleh. But it creates that same primal, haunting sense of otherness that makes the bits of Lovecraft that work, well, work. Basically, it’s the kind of thing I wish I saw more of in Lovecraft games.
Oh, also I should mention that as well the central patients there are a few optional one-offs, one of whom is played by the same actor who plays Ryan in Contradiction. Ryan is gloriously scenery chewing in that game. And the actor does not disappoint in the role of weird quantum physicist in The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker. Also, again I’d like to give a shout out to the writers for including a quantum physics story because the weird science element of Lovecraftian fiction often gets overlooked in favour of the most straightforwardly occult elements.
I did have some have problem with the game, most of which are, I discovered afterwards, fixable. Because of the game is parser based about half the things you type will get no reaction but there are little characterful clips in which the patience to whom you’re currently tells you that they don’t have a reaction to the thing you just said. These help immersion for about the first 80 seconds and then become at best intrusive and at worst actively distracting. Because the patients are often evasive in their answers it can sometimes be a little bit difficult to tell when you’re getting a canned “I don’t know about that” response and when they’re starting a legitimate answer with “I don’t know but.” And, obviously, it was partly my own fault for clicking through too fast but once you’ve heard “I don’t know anything about that” forty times it’s comprehensively lost its charm.
It’s particularly tricky because there are some topics that characters will stonewall you on early in the game and be forthcoming about later. But their early stonewalling responses sound so much like the “I don’t know about that” default that it’s easy to think that those topics are just a red herring. There are also times when it’s just immersion, like when you ask them about something they’ve literally just mentioned but you haven’t phrased it quite right. Which means you can conversations where the patient says “It’s like I have my very own midnight hour” and you say “What happens at midnight?” (or just “midnight” if you’ve got lazy) and they say “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
In any case, I got to the end of the game and then I realised you could turn them off. And I really wish I had done.
The other thing you can turn of is the hint cooldown. The game has a built-in hint system whereby you type hint and it gives you a hint (it’s not rocket science). By default hints are on a medium length cool down – I’m not exactly sure how long it is but it feels like a couple of minutes. Now I understand why the cool down is there because just mashing hint every time you get stuck does take a lot of the challenge and interest out of the game. It also sometimes pushes you into choices you wouldn’t necessarily want to make – one of the first hints I got when talking to *sigh* Marianna was “Is she flirting with me?” And because I was stuck, I asked if she was flirting with me, and immediately wished I hadn’t. But the thing is, one of the major functions of a hint system in this kind of game is to stop you getting caught up on fiddly issues of syntax. To go back to the previous example, the reason that Bryce blanks you if you ask him about midnight is that, for technical reason, the parser is only set up to respond to the phrase “midnight hour”. And it genuinely did not occur to me that “midnight hour” would work if “midnight” didn’t. So I got stuck not because I’d run out of lines of enquiry but because I didn’t know how to make my in-game avatar ask the question I wanted to ask. Which is the unfun kind of detectiving.
Again, at the end of the game I discovered there was an option to turn the hint cooldown off almost completely. And I absolutely would have taken it. Because while I might have over-used it without the cooldown, I honestly don’t think I would have. And it was annoying to have to sit there twiddling your thumbs for 40 seconds so you could work what precise combination of words would let you ask somebody about Dr Dekker’s drinking habits (mini-rant here: this problem was particularly annoying because some characters specifically respond to “did you see Dr Dekker drink” and not “was Dr Dekker an alcoholic” whereas specifically respond to “was Dr Dekker an alcoholic” and not “did you see Dr Dekker drink”).
For what it’s worth, I would say that if you do want to play The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker or, indeed, any game based around a text parser one of the most important to know going in is that however much it feels like you’re having a conversation with a person (and, when the game really works, it does genuinely feel like that—which is super exciting) you do have to remember that you’re ultimately dealing with a machine. Navigating the intricacies of the parser is part of the challenge of this game of kind and you have to accept it on its own terms. There were moment’s playing the game when I caught myself getting frustrated that the patients weren’t responding to me like a real person would and I had to take a step back and recognise that, no, actually this is a text adventure with voice acting and the puzzle I’m solving isn’t really “how do I find out who murdered Dr Dekker” it’s “how do I unlock the next piece of the narrative by understanding the expectations of the game.”
I’d also add that one of the clever things about Doctor Dekker is that it does, like Contradiction, make a virtue of its limitations (at least to some extent). Because the game is supposed to be a Lovecraftian descent into madness and because the deeper you get into the game the harder it becomes to manage the different pieces of information you’re getting from your different patients you do find yourself having these quite garbled, almost dreamlike conversations where you will sometimes flit between patients as one of them makes a comment that you feel another can elaborate on. And it’s only when your assistant Jaya calls you out on this that you realise how much like a Lovecraftian psychoanalyst descending slowly into insanity your in-game behaviour has become. When I first started playing the game, I would sit down with each other patient, and work through their problems until I thought I’d done everything I could do to help. By the end, I was switching patients mid-session, asking arbitrary non-sequiturs about death threats and where bodies were buried. In one session I saw a flame appear in a patient’ s hand spent a good couple of minutes trying desperately to articulate this to him only to be met with utter confusion. In another, I came to believe that a patient had been programmed with a trigger word by Dr Dekker and decided to immediately test all of my other patients by randomly shouting the names of planets at them and then leaving immediately. Epic psychiatry fail.
The final thing I should say about Doctor Dekker, especially as compared to Contradiction, is that it’s actually a mystery. In Contradiction, Jenks solves the crime if you finish the game. I did, as it happens, work out who the killer was about midway through but the experience of playing the game was much like the experience of reading a detective novel. Jenks was always going to get the right person, even if it came as a complete surprise to me. By contrast, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker actually makes you pick your own suspect at the end. And, to be fair, you do get multiple guesses (I’m not sure to what extent guessing wrong impacts your insanity score or to what extent guessing correctly could endanger you) but you are invited to actually try to solve the mystery yourself. It’s also worth pointing out that, while Contradiction has one story with one killer, Doctor Dekker selects its killer randomly at the start of every new game. So just because it was Elin in my game, doesn’t mean it won’t be Bryce in yours. This, along with the insanity mechanic, gives the game a lot more replayability – not that I’ve actually replayed it yet.
The final final thing I should say about Doctor Dekker is that a lot of the things that are strong about it rely very heavily on its framing device. This is a segue but bear with me. Every couple of years, there’ll be big news in the media about a computer programme passing the Turing Test, which—for those of you who aren’t aware—is the test that Alan Turing proposed for determining whether you had achieve “real” artificial intelligence (the way he phrased it was, for showing a computer could think). The Turing Test is basically for a human user to have two conversations with two partners, one of whom is a real human being and the other of whom is chatbot. The Turing Test is deemed to have been passed if the user cannot distinguish the computer from the human. What’s interesting is that people have been claiming that bots have passed the Turing Test for pretty much decades now. The reason this is pertinent to The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker is that the first computer programme ever to claim that it passed the Turing Test was called Parry and was specifically designed to simulate the speech of people suffering from clinical paranoia. It did this well enough that most people, even experts, couldn’t tell the difference between things actual paranoid people have said and things Parry had said in imitation of things actual paranoid had said. Which is to say that a certain sort of very stylised “madness” covers a lot of the limitations of AI, chatbots and parser-based, non-linear gaming.
While it is cool that The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker has multiple endings, one of the reasons that the multiple endings are sustainable is that since all bar one of the suspects is a depiction of gothic, Lovecraftian “insanity” it is completely expected that they will occasionally do very random or out of character things, and (and, again, this is problematic) it is ultimately always plausible for any of them to be a murderer. I did work out who the killer was in my play through but I did also see what I’m pretty sure were holdovers from other potential plotlines in which the killer was somebody else. And I think I’d have been less forgiving of those if the framing device hadn’t led me to expect, well, the unexpected.
It says a lot about my writing style that I’m looking at word count and going “oh, it’s only six thousand words, that’s much better than usual.” I genuinely think that both Contradiction and The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker are well-constructed, enjoyable games and worth looking at. I slightly preferred Doctor Dekker, in that I found it genuinely quite haunting and affecting in a way that Contradiction wasn’t (although, to be fair, also didn’t intend to be). I would say that if you are all bothered by problematic portrayals of mental illness and/or the dubious rape stuff you should probably stay clear.
I’m not completely sure that FMV games are something worth getting into big time but if you have six to eight pounds and five to seven hours spend, and you have someone to play them with, you could do a lot worse. But I’d recommend making generous use of the hint systems in both games.