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The Trolley Problem Problem

by Damon L. Wakes profile


(based on 2 ratings)
3 reviews

About the Story

Created for Single Choice Jam.

I actually had the idea for The Trolley Problem Problem several years ago - apparently in 2019 - and even got as far as writing the first two passages (though not a single word of those appears in this jam game). The trolley problem - and especially the variants that get into "What if you could push someone else in front of the tram to stop it?"- has always struck me as kind of a weird question to put to people because in practice you would never be able to think through that kind of choice under those circumstances. I mean, even if I were 100% okay with throwing one person under a tram to save five others in principle, I'd never actually do it because I couldn't possibly know with any degree of certainty that it would work in the first place. You just don't know what will happen.

So there you have it. That's pretty much the idea behind this single-choice game!

Game Details


Entrant - Single Choice Jam


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Number of Reviews: 3
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Single Choice Jam: The Trolley Problem Problem, August 20, 2023
by kaemi
Related reviews: Single Choice Jam

The Trolley Problem Problem satirizes, you'll be surprised to hear, The Trolley Problem. Just as airily as the thought experiment is always invoked, the first screen sketches the setup that offers us the ethical choice: "There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two (and only two) options". Which ethical imperative do you follow and why? Is there a justified utilitarian value in minimizing suffering, or is actively choosing the death of a person an act of instantiating harm that condemns you as a conduit of mortal misery? What makes a choice ethical? In a world of double binds, is morality applicable to the grays we must sift?

Our author mocks this pompous grandioisty of the thought experiment to ridicule the assumption of the double bind which forces us into a binary action. Because, ultimately, the trolley problem is a fantasy of control, in which you can analytically evaluate the suffering you, in the fullness of your Weltanschauung engagement, elect to perpetuate. Instead, we are reminded that you don't have perfect information from which to philosophize an answer, that actions perpetuate consequences in complex interactions that don't conform to your agentic intentions, that aleatory indeterminacies compound any choice beyond the scope of your miniscule, irrelevant existence.

Thus, the idea that you might, in the blessed infinities of your wisdom, refuse to act, styling yourself up in inviolable principles more beautiful than the people they destroy, is eyerollingly dismissed: "You do nothing. The runaway trolley careens into the five people tied up on the tracks, killing them in an incredibly gruesome fashion. It hurtles on into a trolley station, which - though you hadn't noticed during your initial assessment of this terrible situation - also happens to be the end of this particular line. The trolley slams into the stopblock at the end of the tracks, throwing passengers violently through the glass windows. / Seeing this, the one person on the side-track immediately suffers a heart attack and dies." Your noble decision not to cause the death of the person on the sidetrack causes their death anyway, and oh by the way more people died than you bothered to perceive would.

If you elect the different moral path, choosing to spare as many lives as possible, accepting the inevitable ethical compromises of a broken world while still adhering to the underlying purpose of a moral code, then the result is a cartoonishly escalating Rube Goldberg machine of violence, in which the trolley careens into more people, which causes a car crash, which yadda yadda yadda enrages the mole people from the depths... the unintended consequences of your act erases any utilitarian value you thought you could wrest from the circumstance.

Barraged by this sneering uncertainty, the idea of a Moral Agent Making a Choice, the core conceit of the trolley problem, seems puerile, wilting the weightiness of its central choice. The Trolley Problem Problem punctures the epistemological bubble of the thought experiment, dissipating its imaginary power into the chaos of the real world.

Faced with this dissipation, how are we to choose? Never fear, I can rescue you from the vicissitudes of uncertainty with an ironclad Objective Answer! Here's the Of Course Correct Obvious solution to the trolley problem. First, you pull the lever to divert the trolley towards the single victim. Watch as their eyes grow wide in horror, recognizing their condemnation confirmed, that the salvation they had been imagining, a life of pious survivor's guilt, has suddenly been ripped from them, they are now the victims they would have so many times at funerals and gatherings and late at night wished was them, and suddenly all their principles surge through them useless, the entirety of their existence sealed prematurely into a vacuum more total than any feeling that drove them, all possibilities annihilated to blank their humanity to mere object, a set of tissues and muscles and bone without claim upon cosmic continuity, and in that instant aware of the immaculately unique preciousness of life, of the beauty of the contingencies that have characterized their lives into such profusions of color, of the fragile wonder that the inuring of cycling days had suppressed beneath their shock and loving awe, they begin to cry at the most mortal levels of their being, weeping for days lost and for days lost. At the last possible moment, as they sink into transcendent nihil grasping melancholy at the earth, flip the switch back. Watch their lungspunch bellowgasps as they witness their life rematerialize, as they watch, as if in slow motion, as if one by one, the quelling of five lives opposite, each one having undergone the reverse spiritual journey, having achieved at last lifewish when they're whiplashed back to destruction without the time to process the loss, snuffed still starryeyed with beautiful lives reunfurling, a snowglobe moment of sincerity into which the void simply, painlessly, overwrites. The absolute agony of the survivor as they bloodsoaked recoil from your monstrousness, as they realize that you chose for them to live and for the others to not, that you specifically intervened such that your sparing of them would not be a contingency you allowed to happen but an irreversibly chosen act, that their suffering survival is your specific violence, that they know, just know, that you will await in their thousands of nightmares coming, bleakstaring straight into them, yes, I am the author of your anguish, of your living, all that you undergo is my blessing unto you, and in that sweating sleepless terror they will finally know God. Which means, of course, that it is the morally correct choice.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Actually, there might be a right answer…, August 26, 2023
by manonamora
Related reviews: singlechoice

The trolley problem is as old as… well the invention of the trolley. And has plagued everyone with its ethical conundrum: do you act and change its trajectory, or will your inaction act for you? There have been hundreds and maybe thousands of iteration of this problem, with different amount of people on the tracks, the kinds of person on the tracks, animation instead of humans, close family members specifically… The possibility is essentially endless.

However, this might be the first time I’ve seen someone looking at what happens after the lever is pulled. What does your conscience say about this act/inaction? Are there consequences? Is pulling the lever actually the path of least destruction? Should we actually all pull the lever?

TTPP tries to answer these questions in a humourous manner, linking unlikely accidents to an already unlikely event. (I mean who has to handle trolley courses like this…). The consequences are so dire, you may have had triggered WWIII… Think about what you’ve done!

Though, one could argue the game is simply mocking this moral disagreement (why are we forced to choose between a utilitarian answer to save the many or refusing to participate in an already morally wrong situation? who are we to decide how worthy a human life is?).

Having played this author’s Neo Twiny entry, I was really looking forward to reviewing this one. And it was as expected: humourous, kind of campy, and a bit of a fun time.

One downside for me: after the choice, the text appeared a bit too fast, and the colour changed quite abruptly between screens, not a comfortable experience.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An exaggerated version of the classic trolley problem, January 13, 2024
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game is an entrant in the Single Choice Jam, and makes that Single Choice one of the most famous ethical dilemmas: the trolley problem.

Taking this basic premise, it pushes both choices to their logical (or rather illogical) conclusions, imagining all sorts of after effects.

The writing is amusing, but it goes by quick; it only lasts a few seconds while sounds play before moving on, with no option to pause or adjust speed, which I found detrimental.

Short and pretty funny.

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