The Life (and Deaths) of Doctor M

by Michael D. Hilborn profile


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Love or hate your protagonist, there's a lot in here, January 27, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

LDDM was, strictly speaking, too long for IFComp. But I'm glad it was in there. It was immensely demanding and rewarding, and it gave me much more to think about than the average work that assures you it is Making You Think. It managed to both place high and win the Golden Banana. Sixth is the highest place for an IFComp Banana winner, though A Paradox Between World achieved a higher percentile in 2021, being #10 of 71, versus #6 of 39.

LDDM deals with the concept of assisted suicide. You, Doctor M, are a purveyor of it, to the famous and anonymous, to the rich and poor. But the question is: are you a good person or a bad one? Throughout LDDM, you see evidence for and against it. There are awful people you please and annoy and good people you please and annoy. People argue it's done for fame, and others argue it was not. Some of your patients seemed to give full consent, and some didn't, and in some cases it may not have been so humane. Then there is the mystery of your death. I felt like LDDM did a good job of keeping things neutral while still being exciting to play through. It reminded me of the one chapter in Julian Barnes's Flaubert's Parrot where the narrator alternately blocked out events from Flaubert's life so as to make a work like Madame Bovary seem inevitable or impossible. Flaubert had all the privilege in the world, or he had all the bad luck. And, less universally, we've all had times where we felt we were obviously hard done by, but others assured us we weren't, or we've seen people balanced on the knife-edge.

So what must you, as the spirit of the recently deceased Dr. M., do? In a surreal afterlife, you need to look for closure in your own life. It's a long way off. You wind up revisiting the scene of your first euthanasia, your most famous one, and your last appointment. Along the way you meet an angel and devil. Each suggests you need to go with them. They're at a bar, and you need to fix the taps, so they each get a drink. Then there's a library, which amused me greatly--you've forgotten your own life, and in some cases, you need to look up information on people who died after you, because apparently you spent a lot of time sleeping in the afterlife. I wound up searching these people after climbing up and down a ladder to access their biographies, and the end result was a puddle of books on the floor.

This all feels like research, meaningful research, especially when paired with how you have to ask NPCs about all sorts of things, and while I hate full-blown amnesia games, the act of recovering your mortal past was quite fulfilling. I think this was also my first real exposure to abbreviated parser commands, where you could A (SUBJECT) instead of ASK ABOUT. As the years went by, I think I felt smarter and smarter that I'd figured it for myself. Oops!

When I finally visited my former patients, I actually messed up a few times. One has dementia, and I found the randomness of their response (you had to gain assent) favorably unsettling. I don't want to spoil the final one beyond saying it seems both tragic and logical, and once fame is part of the social calculus, it really sinks its teeth in and clouds moral clarity.

This isn't to say LDDM is a big long sermon. I love the surreal world it's in, with a door leading different places when unlocked with a different key. There are certain rules you find out in the afterlife, too. And there are swift dabs of humor, such as repeatedly ringing a bell to summon Death when Death's there. I love the denouements as a reward, too. It's not hard at all to figure the good, bad or neutral endings, which are effective. And in an odd way, it mirrors Cana According to Micah in that both can let you decide how good a person you feel you were.

LDDM is a long game, and I don't blame you if you pull out a walkthrough. When I replayed it, I went straight through and still slipped up, which led to some interesting sidelines. I can't even begin to discuss the morality of euthanasia, but I enjoyed the shades of grey this anything-but-grey game elicited, both when I played it in 2011 and now, when I revisited it. It was my favorite game I could vote on in IFComp 2011 (I tested Six) and I think its length may have turned some people off. But it gave a lot to think about, not just about life and death, but all those times you hoped you were doing things for the right reasons, or you wondered if someone else was, whether you liked or disliked them.

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