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About the Story
WARNING - Contains some violent, disturbing, and sexual content
68th Place - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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When I read this game's competition blurb, I thought: it makes it sound as if the game is a mix of trolley-style ethical problems and Kurt Vonnegutís Slaughterhouse 5. To my not inconsiderable surprise, that is exactly what Dilemma is. You are faced with a terrible accident about to happen, and you have either one or, depending on what you do, just a few moves to come up with a solution. Shades of Rematch, certainly, but instead of trying to find the right solution, you are exploring an extremely wide possibility space, so it ends up feeling more like Aisle.
Let me stress that the possibility space is really wide. You start out by thinking of clever ways to save an old man from being run over by a bus, but you can easily end up deciding whether living people should be used as life support for important artists, or whether to hand over the Earth to a race of benevolent aliens. The central enjoyment offered by the game is the exploration of this zany universe, where everything weird seems to be happening at once.
But this very zaniness sits somewhat uneasily with the gameís claim of serving up moral dilemmas Ė a claim that even determines the title of the piece. Most of the piece is just not about dilemmas. Sometimes this is because you know nothing about the consequences: the question of whether or not to shoot the front left tire of the bus is not a moral dilemma, since you donít know what will happen. But often it is because of how bizarre the choices are. Should I surrender the world to paternalistic aliens, or should I embrace an anti-communist quote by C. S. Lewis? Of course, itís a great and important moral principle to never embrace anything by Lewis, but... letís just say that this choice is a bit too Ďout thereí to really count as a thought experiment in moral philosophy. It doesnít help that the game regularly gives ethical interpretations of your choices that have nothing to do with what you were thinking when you made the choice, nor that the game actively encourages you to find every ending, which means that you end up not making choices, but just exploring all the possibilities.
All in all, it was enjoyable for a while, and made me laugh at some of its weirder twists. But there wasnít enough substance to keep me motivated to find all the endings. I experienced about a third and then called it quits.
During IFComp 2018 Dilemma advertised itself as being parser-based and an hour and a half long, but both of those are misleading. First, the game is made with Unity, not a parser language like TADS or Inform. You do type in commands, but the game doesn't really parse them; instead, it appears to recognize particular keywords. These keywords are put in all caps in the text, so that you can't miss them. (The game occasionally recognizes other commands like LOOK, but I don't think there are very many such commands.)
Also, each playthrough is about 5-10 minutes. I suppose if you're persistent you can uncover all the endings in an hour and a half, and presumably that's what the author meant. The game does tell you how many endings there are, and it keeps track of how many different ones you've achieved. I think this is a good design choice; it certainly kept me playing several times to find different endings.
As far as what's going on in Dilemma, you're first faced with a trolley-type problem: An old man is crossing the street. A bus full of school children is headed toward the crosswalk, but the driver doesn't see the old man. What do you do?
Well, at first the three examples of actions suggested by the game seem like all you can do. But that's not the case. If you LOOK as your first option you're given a lot more possibilities of actions to try. In fact, you can completely ignore what's happening with the old man and the school bus if you want. But many (all?) of the actions eventually lead to some sort of situation where the consequences of your choice(s) are great yet it's unclear what the best (i.e., most moral) action is. Hence the game's name: Dilemma. Then, if you don't like what the consequences of your actions are, you are allowed to go back to the beginning of the game and choose different options. Because of this, after a while the game began to remind me of Aisle.
However, it seemed to me that many of the choices that I could make were unrelated. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show)getting on the city bus seemed to be unrelated to going into the food mart, which seemed to be unrelated to chasing the mysterious stranger. So I think each of the options are there primarily to give additional opportunities for the game to present moral dilemmas to the player - and not so much to increase the game's narrative possibilities.
Unlike games with heavy replay like Aisle, though, there are multiple steps required to restart, which slowed down gameplay for me.
You win Dilemma by (Spoiler - click to show)being satisfied with the consequences of your actions. The game doesn't attempt to say that any one ending is better than any other. This feels like the right way to win this kind of game.
One critique I have is that many of the consequences of your actions don't seem to be directly related to the choices you make. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)if you try to save the old man all the kids on the school bus end up dying, and a truck driver does as well. I don't see why that has to be the case, although I guess it fits the game's theme of presenting you with morally ambiguous situations. On the other hand, if a game presents you with a collection of ethical dilemmas, it seems to me the consequences of your actions ought to follow naturally from the choices that you make.
Dilemma had a little trouble keeping me engaged as a single player, but I can see it working well in the right kind of group (maybe even in a class on ethics), where the moral dilemmas in it can be used to generate interesting discussion.
This game is a custom web parser built from UnityGl. It seems to work based on searching for one or more keywords in your text, ignoring extra words.
It's built around the trolley dilemma, which is an ethics puzzle: if you know someone is about to die (due to, say, a trolley crash) and you could stop it by having other people die, what would you do?
In this game, your choice on one trolley puzzle may lead to another and another and another. You have 51 possible outcomes to search for.
It was interesting, but hard to interact with.