I’ve written a review here: blog.templaro.com/review-unit-32 … biguation/
Not a review but a tangential thought:
I was getting a frisson over thinking about this game today, reading about Russian propaganda efforts and also about some system a videogame company had patented (but not used, they claim) to manipulate the matches players get so as to get them to buy things in-game… and thinking, isn’t this kind of a form of using our computers to issue us commands that work in some lizard part of our brains?
Presented as a Wikipedia-style disambiguation page, this is a sneaky little gather-the-evidence experience with a terrific idea at its core. (I also really like the title that goes with it!) A little patience may be required because, unless you are riveted by conspiracy-theorist-type Strange Events, there are only two real plot developments: seeing your first coded message, and seeing what happens when you’ve seen all of them. Don’t worry, though–no message-decoding is actually required.
Writing encyclopedic-style might be hard to pull off, especially when you must limit length and the number of cross-references. Here it is done fairly well, although you can feel the author striving for that Official tone some of the time instead of it feeling natural. E.g., there is a reference to “Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)”, but the stated abbreviation does not occur in the rest of the text. NASA being rendered as “Nasa” is another thing I remember. Little errors here and there. Nothing that should deter a playthrough.
Does it all hold together? I’m interested in your opinion. For my analysis, join me under the spoiler hood (major spoilers):
[spoiler]First, I’m not 100% sure, but it seems clear enough that the messages were not meant to be decoded and don’t actually have any associated text. They’re a plot device. It turns out that YOU have been receiving these codes that instruct you to carry out the Unit 322 Murder. That’s a great plot twist and narrative payoff!
The victim of the Murder is Dr. Stefan Reichardt, who was in charge of the original effort (by Germany in WWII) to condition folks to be susceptible to mind-control via subliminal, coded messages. The sender of the messages (in the game) is Reichardt’s (adopted?) son, who became an expert in this particular technology and who has been working to extinguish the practice by any means necessary.
But, perhaps fittingly, questions remain.
The codes are received after (or, interpretively, during) correspondence-type documents in a fixed-width font that makes them look like either typed letters or mysterious official reports that have been filed away somewhere. It’s not clear to me whether these documents are meant to be inline-referenced sources of the Wikipedia-style entries, and that’s most of the confusion. Wikipedia uses superscript numbers in square brackets, but these are in parens.
If they are citations that everyone can see, it suggests that anyone merely reading this disambiguation page could be the murderer, which makes the player feel more connected to the game. But in that case, how was this person conditioned to react to the codes?
On the other hand, if the codes are received only by a certain individual by private correspondence, then what do these documents have to do with the Wikipedia entries?
There are problems either way, which blunted the effectiveness of the game’s payoff for me.
Another question is whether the entries on the disambiguation page were supposed to be related to this whole affair only by coincidence, or by subliminal suggestion. If the latter, then why would the name of the original project need to appear in any of the conditioning or instructions?[/spoiler]
I myself like decoding puzzles and dutifully copied all the “codes” into a text file to analyze them later. And then the game ended.
I guess they are just random symbols; kind of disappointing.
I believe (with no artistic license this time) that there’s a more direct motive, but it’s not explicitly spelled out in one place, so you have to infer it. Dr. Reichardt orchestrated the murders committed by Tommy Gibson in 1972. The victims were two troublesome co-scientists (Drs. Lee and Bloom) and one recovering drug addict, Eleanor Jones. The latter was murdered with her newborn baby in the next room. In one of the typewritten documents, we learn that Bloom knows that Reichardt impregnated one of his research subjects (“her name is, uh, Jones or something”). That document ends with Bloom going to open the door for Gibson (it’s heavily suggested, and the date of the murder matches the date of the document). Hence, Dr. Reichardt’s son is the baby in the other room, who grows up and learns of the research, figures out that his father was responsible for the gruesome murder of his mother, and orchestrates an identical murder to avenge her.
lft’s reading seems entirely right to me, though there’s one tiny detail:
[spoiler]The child is a daughter, not a son. See the end of the footnote off the Unit article:
“I’d recommend that we increase security around the baby. After what happened to her mother there’s no guarantee she’s safe just yet.”[/spoiler]
Ah, of course! Thanks for pointing it out.
I feel embarrassed having assumed that the perpetrator was male.