Use Your Psychic Powers at Applebee's

by Geoffrey Golden profile


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Terrible beer, terrible lives, great profit potential, January 6, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Does anyone really like Applebee's? It's a pretty easy target. Maybe it deserves to be. Nobody likes working there. The food isn't great. But it seems convenient enough and not as unhealthy as McDonald's. You could do better. But you could do worse. You could say Applebee's is as easy a target as airline food was. It seems like a good target for someone like the author, who's so consistent about putting out an adventure gaming newsletter, and for light-hearted humor, it does well. It also goes beyond "Applebee's, amirite?" The main thing it hits is advertising. I mean, nobody really likes advertising. Many advertisers probably don't enjoy their jobs or the ethical implications. But over the years I've found ways to be able to zone it out, and I feel that's an achievement. Probably the trickiest was blocking the ads for stuff I didn't need between songs I didn't like at the athletic club. It's the sort of thing they don't teach you in school. But of course, advertisers are always looking for another way to horn in on your life, preferably without you feeling violated enough to push back.

One they haven't gotten around to in the real world is the protagonist's main power, which is being able to see in people's minds and also plant a thought there occasionally. So, yeah, you're getting quickly into "creepily overstepping boundaries" territory. And here I originally assumed the game would be about parlor tricks where the crowd paid money if you were particularly clever! (Of course, if some people just wanted to sit and eat and didn't know you'd be there, that's invasive in its own way.) There's a certain violation of childhood dreams for me, too--mind reading seemed like something really cool, but of course powermongers will ruin it. It's treated as an asset by corporate management, and not just an asset. One you'd better use to their advantage and maximize, or the lack of initiative goes on your performance review. But -- but! The ad agency you work for has ethics. Well, sort of. You'd better not mind-read more than once, or they'd be in legal trouble, and you can't do that to a place with such an innovative business model that helps you make the most of your abilities!

This is of course bad on many levels: one, that your psychic ability is for more ambitious and "big-thinking" people than you to enjoy, and two, that the legal branch of the whole corporate empire has considered all the angles here to provide loopholes if things go wrong, and they've probably cross-communicated with the number-crunchers, and even the lawyers who would sue you for violating other people's space are probably plenty sleazy. And so forth.

This is the scary bit. Fortunately there are funny bits. First, you work for Schtupmeister beer. The world can never have too many parody beer brands--these certainly do more for me than actual alcohol. The four people whose minds you want to invade are, well, imperfect in their own way. There is a cryptocurrency trader. This was written three months before Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX went belly-up, and now that happened, I'm actually sort of disappointed more wasn't written earlier about Cryptocurrency, and, well, it's a bit too easy of a target now. Cryptocurrency, like advertising, drains resources in ways most people aren't aware, and of course, there are some smug, slick types pushing it. But dang if the story doesn't roll out another side quickly!

There's also a somewhat lonely old man, and a waitress upset with her lot in life (I couldn't help but think Schtupmeister would both fire someone for drinking on the job and for, well, not getting enough people like her to start drinking on the job, or right after their job) and a kid who turns out to be exactly the wrong sort of special. Let's just say selling alcohol to minors isn't the worst thing going on here.

You have a small number of turns to try to get each to try your special brand of syrupy beer before Applebee's closes. Do so at the wrong time, and they ignore the instincts you planted in their brain. And this right time isn't obvious for all targets until you've played through UYPPA several times and read everyone's mind. Since it's not too long of a game, this is no burden, and I'm disturbed how nosy I got and how fast.

Once Applebee's is closed for business (my not just saying "closes" may be a minor spoiler) you can catch up with your targets to see if, indeed, your psychic invasions got them to buy Schtupmeister. The indications of whether they drank your specific brand of beer are amusing. For instance, one person has Schtupmeister beer spilled on their shirt instead of what they were drinking, and this pleases you greatly. In all cases, the fallout from people drinking Schtupmeister far outweighs any profits you redirect towards Schtupmeister.

Though you the player already have a pretty good idea, the performance review at the end hammers things home, both how well you did and how awful the Schtupmeister corporate culture must be. You get a combination of rah-rah and condescension from your sales manager no matter how many people you got hooked on Schtupmeister. UYPPA combines a lot of this sort of small horror into a big one.

Criticisms would be that UYPPA hits some low-hanging fruit, though it knows not to beat said fruit into a pulp. It's low-key terrifying, too, and I'm not surprised that an author who has a newsletter of short games understands balance. UYPPA reminded me of all the times I'd been accosted by salesmen, and how hard it was to turn them down, and the effort it took to be polite, because I knew it was their job, even though I knew part of their job was leveraging guilt and hesitation. These four decidedly imperfect souls of targets? Well, for the most part, I sympathize with them. The kid, no. His mother, yes. So this was definitely a successful entry, to me.

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Lance Cirone, January 6, 2023 - Reply
Wow, there's a lot of psychological horror elements I missed on my playthrough! :P
Andrew Schultz, January 11, 2023 - Reply
Haha, of course sometimes we can read psychological horror into anything ... but I do have a special aversion to advertising after taking a couple social psychology courses in college and learning 1) there's a reasonably ethical way to persuade people and 2) ad companies, especially the big ones, seem to do the opposite, and it's bad whether or not they know 1).
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