The trolley problem is a fun philosophical debate that I dove into following an episode of The Good Place (great show by the way). The idea is that you can intervene a grizzly fate of some humans but through your own actions, cause another grizzly fate to occur at your own hands. Trolley Problem Inc places you in awful situations and gives you two binary choices – neither of which are nice. Which do you pick?
This sounds like a stressful game and in some ways it is. Each scenario is delivered to you with 40 seconds to decide. Kill 5 people through fate or 1 person through your own hands? What if that person was a child who’d go on to be a doctor? What if your self driving cars needed to be programmed on whose lives were more important? When does the weight of lives tip the balance to switch your decision? The game gives you batches of 5 questions around jobs, be they AI, government, law, tribalism and sacrifice. There is no “right” answer but you are left to chew the fat before plumping for your decision. You can extend the timer in the options (along with a few other accessibility options) but I recommend for single player mode keeping things tight. If playing with others, extend it if you like a debate!
All this unfurls with an excellent narrator who gives you professional corporate sass. Her delivery is on point but no matter what you pick, she won’t be happy. What I liked most about this is that as the time counts down, you see your trolley hitting a decision marker on screen. As it gets closer, the narrator offers up counter arguments for whatever it is you are currently committed to. Sometimes this makes you second guess your decision and other times it may affirm it, but its a nice touch for split second backtracking. After each question you’ll see what percentage of gamers opted for what and how the developer voted. You’ll also have the ability to find out what philosopher or work is being referenced for each question for further reading.
My main issue with Trolley Problem Inc is that its over too soon. I completed the experience in 90 minutes and whilst there’s the ability to play through and choose other options to see what the narrator says and unlock some bonus artefacts, the story remains the same regardless. Choice is an illusion which somehow feels rather meta for this game. To bring replayability though, co-op allows you to play with friends and have individual controllers to vote separately or argue for a collective vote. Streamer mode connects to Twitch to allow viewers to vote too which would make for a very entertaining stream. There are also some moments where the game starts to go full Stanley Parable on you. It emulates VHS tape chewing, computer shutdowns and the devil. It also berates you constantly for killing a dog early on, even though you can’t save it no matter how you try. This all plays into its satirical dry humour that worked nicely for me. Those that don’t want politics in their games won’t like this.
Great as a single experience to see where you stack up against the world, Trolley Problem Inc shines best when playing with others. The social integration gives this thinking game a unique dynamic and whilst its short, it is most definitely sweet. It’s just all your answers will be bitter!
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