Critical Play: Competitive Analysis
A Look at “Inhuman Conditions”
For a competitive analysis, I decided to look into “Inhuman Conditions”. According to its website, the game is a “five-minute, two-player game of surreal interrogation and conversational judo.” Clearly, the game creators are aiming for the game to be a fun test of social intelligence between two people.
The two player game consists of an interrogator and a suspect. The job of the interrogator is to correctly determine whether the suspect is a human or robot. The suspect is supposed to always convince the interrogator that they are a human, even though the suspect can be a human OR a robot.
Sources of fun
The interrogator tries to determine whether the suspect is a robot through questioning. Questions can come from a “packet”.
Each packet contains a different types of questions. For example, for creative problem solving, some questions to ask would be:
Having predefined packets and predefined questions is helpful. By providing predefined packets, the interrogator can choose what they feel comfortable with or what they think the suspect might give funny answers to.
By having predefined questions, the interrogator does not need to waste time and mental effort conjuring questions on the fly, which would invariably make the game less fun. Instead, the interrogator can enjoy and focus on the answering gestures of the suspect.
During the interrogation, the suspect gets to choose from a predefined set of roles to act as. For example, suppose someone chose the role of popstar, this person would need to act as a popstar during the interrogation. Roles I encountered while playing included: very old, royalty, popstar, motivational speaker, amateur wrestler, body builder, mayoral candidate, world’s second richest person, and former investigator. As one can see, the roles are diverse and interesting. By having diverse roles, the suspect can typically look forward to adopting a new persona that they have not played before. By having interesting roles, the suspect can think of fun and creative expressions that they otherwise never would have done. Moreover, with predefined roles, the suspect does not need to conceive one themself.
A suspect’s identity in the game can be either human or robot. There are two types of robots. One is patient robot, and the other is violent robot. A patient robot is given a restriction on speech and has to perform a penalty if the restriction is broken. A violent robot has “objectives” that it has to complete during the interrogation.
For example, Fig. 1 describes the restriction a patient robot. Suppose the penalty for the patient robot is to apologize, then the patient robot has to apologize every time they violate the restriction.
For the violent robot, Fig. 2 describes the “objectives” the violent robot has to fulfill.
The patient robot and the violent robot are inverses of each other. The patient robot has speech restricted while the violent robot is forced to speak more. Thus, the ideal strategy for a suspect is to speak just the right amount. Speak too much and the suspect becomes suspicious of being a violent robot. Speak too little and the suspect becomes suspicious of being a patient robot. By having this interplay for the suspect, the suspect needs to thread the social needle during the interrogation. Moreover, the interrogator needs to be able to interpret the conversation just right and not look too into things. This push-and-pull dynamic created makes it fun for the interrogator and suspect to try to communicate in their personalized ways as well as possible for their ends, all in real-time.
Handling Game Abuse
Since the game is conversational, there is no real guardrails for unintended play. For example, if a suspect gets human five times in a row, the suspect may grow tired of being human and start acting like a robot to get a different experience in the game. Moreover, if a suspect is a more anarchic player, the suspect may try to deceive the interrogator into choosing the wrong identity, just to make the interrogator look silly.
Mechanics and Story
The mechanics of fit perfectly into the narrative of the game. The game’s narrative is an investigator attempting to determine whether a suspect is a human or a robot. The packets provide the investigator realistic questions that would help someone discern between a human and a robot in real-life if this situation were to actually arise. Additionally, the restrictions on the robots make sense since robots are incomplete and do not emulate the human brain (yet).
Look and Feel
Since I played the game over the web, it was very minimalistic and clearly built for functionality. The web version was black and white, and full of text. There is a physical version however and this version does look more lively and engaging.
The only time I felt like the functionality broke down was when the suspects did not receive the violent robot identity for many, many rounds. This was disheartening since we had heard that the role was fun. We almost quit playing the game, until the web miraculously granted the suspect the identity. If the web version could fix this, that would help.
Since the web version is free and there’s no ads, it seems like the web version was built out love. Or perhaps the web version was built to induce interest in purchasing the physical version.
For the physical version, there was a kickstarter campaign to get the game started. Also, on Amazon, it’s worth $40 with 23 ratings that average to four and a half stars. The business model for the physical version then was to get the initial funding to create the game, and then to sell the game for profit.