I played A Chinese Room, by @MiloM, as a 2-player game with a friend, and after we played through it the first time we talked about it and realized that the two characters had completely different stories, so we switched places and played through it again, and it’s been bouncing around in my brain a lot afterwards. I’m interested in multiplayer IF/multiplayer narrative games, which was what put it on the list for me, and honestly I didn’t think of using the form in the way that A Chinese Room does. I’m not sure how well it succeeded globally but it succeeded for me, I think - but maybe not in the way the author intended?
So, I’d be super interested in hearing what other people who played it (or the author, if he’s willing to talk) have to think about it.
Anyways, spoilers, obviously. This thread assumes anybody who’s reading it has played through the game or doesn’t care about spoilers.
Did making it multiplayer add to the experience? How does it use the interaction between players, or fail to use it?
For me, the multiplayer aspect added a lot, but it was only insofar as having somebody else playing through with me meant that there was somebody right there for a post-game discussion, and having to describe what was going on in the story to my partner after we reconvened meant that the resulting comparisons were really interesting in a way that I wouldn’t have had if I played through them in sequence and pieced it together myself. I played the interrogator first, and she the tour guide, so, when we were like “What happened in yours?” we could sort of readily fill each other in, and it turned into a sort of cooperative reading, which was fun - but anything’s fun when you’re doing it with friends.
I don’t know how the multiplayer form really was supposed to work. There’s essentially no actual multiplayer decision-making involved which requires you to model the other person - the interactions are reduced down very deliberately to a “press button when given color” and, due to the whole premise of it being kind of a frame job, there’s no meaningful communication to be had unless you talk to the other player outside of your character’s frame - and we just naturally didn’t do that. So, I don’t think it’d even feel different to play through as a single-player game, and to a degree that seems clearly intentional, what with the allusion to the thought experiment, and also the lawyer at the end explicitly calling out that asserting active agency in Caroline’s actions is absurd. So, like, what’s added by having the second player over an AI? Simply having a friend? I mean, sure; but if you play Catan with friends instead of an AI, part of the funniness might come when one friend gets insulted by the other friend parking the robber on them and then going all scorched earth on them. Since the multiplayer here was essentially devoid of meaningful interaction (which is I think part of the point) what do you gain by having two people?
Also, as far as I can tell, there’s no branching in each story that’s dependent on the other player’s actions - is that statement true? The first time we played through Caroline got arrested for Doing A War Crime; the second time through, we released all the prisoners, and Caroline still got arrested for Doing A War Crime, and had the same options.
What’s the deal with the Torture Chair?
Okay so my reading of the Torture Chair was that in fact there was literally zero AI involved and that everybody was lying about the whole thing, and the purpose of telling people that there was AI involved was so that they could pull a fast one and people would feel better about doing tortures.
This is mostly because having an autonomous interrogator is absurd in the context of how doggedly the game has placed itself in an exact contemporary time frame, and also that the main thing that seems to happen in the end is that the authorities just sort of shrug and give up on the entire project once they’ve used it to frame Caroline (and presumably a large other number of internal opponents). While the game sort of positions the ethics of autonomous machines as a thing that might come up, it’s treated more as a spurious legal defense and a laughable fig leaf used to push the real power dynamics - Caroline is an internal political enemy and therefore the absurd must be accepted - than an actual thing the game has opinions on. Does that read seem right or was there a whole missed branch we didn’t hit where, in fact, the Torture Chair was real?
What, if anything, is the thesis here?
I feel like the thesis might be something like “In Russia, laws aren’t real,” which, I mean, okay, sure, that’s a thesis you can have. Still it feels overstuffed for that; I mean, literally yesterday I read that Anatoly Karpov, a former chess grandmaster and antiwar politician is in the hospital “mysterious fall.” You don’t need to introduce a convoluted setup where a lady presses a button that goes to a Torture Chair or anything for that, right?
Maybe there’s opinions about autonomous weapons in there, since it’s pretty heavily centered, but it turns out that when challenged in court there’s a lot of vague discussion but really everybody knows it’s absurd and if Caroline stays she gets locked up no matter what (as far as I can tell) which, again, goes back to indicating the thesis is that “In Russia, laws aren’t real.” It feels like a misdirection?
Yo is this an alternate reality?
Okay so this is obviously supposed to be about Russia and Ukraine, down to arguing over who was responsible for the churches splitting up, which apparently happened in 2019. Except that, as far as current events go, Ukraine seems to be - well if they’re not winning the war, they certainly aren’t losing. So are all these people you’re interrogating from the DPR or is it speculative fiction and in this universe Russia won and conquered all of Ukraine?
I guess it must be; there are mentions that the sanctions have been lifted, I think. I guess I answered my own question?
I found it interesting because it’s not really a straightforward text, being concerned primarily with misdirection in almost all aspects of the work. So, you know, points to the author for that. Anyways, if anybody has thoughts, please feel free to discuss them here.