As if you don’t have enough to worry about in your life, Trolley Problem, Inc wants you to think about ethics and morals and how terrible a person you are.
That doesn’t sound much fun, does it? But somehow, Trolley Problem, Inc manages to be completely engrossing for its 90-or-so minute runtime. Initially presented as a training material at your new job, you’ll be presented with a number of moral dilemmas. There are only ever two options to choose from – and rarely is one more right than the other.
The first dilemma you get – the titular Trolley Problem – goes something like this: a train is barrelling down the tracks, heading towards five people who can’t move out of the way. Do you do nothing, or do you pull a lever to move the train to a different track, where one person is in the way? Either way, people die. You can save five people by sacrificing just one – but that means taking action. If you don’t pull the lever, you technically haven’t killed anyone. So what do you do?
There are 55 questions in Trolley Problem, Inc altogether, and the vast majority of them are equally morbid. Do you push a fat person onto the tracks to stop the train and save five people at the end of the line, or do you let the five people die? Do you let the train barrel into five people, or do you divert it to where it’s going to kill a child? No matter what you choose, you’re going to feel terrible about it.
What is nifty, though, is that each of the scenarios that Trolley Problem, Inc presents to you are based on real philosophical papers. References are provided, and you can ‘star’ the ones you’re interested in. Back at the game’s main menu, you can view a list of all authors and papers, allowing you to look up the ones you’d like to know more about. Several of the game’s problems are all based on the same papers – rephrased and reframed into a slightly different scenario. It doesn’t make any of them any less thought-provoking.
They’re not all about trains, don’t worry. Once you’re done at the titular Trolley Problem, Inc you’ll be promoted to Trolley Health Corporation, where you’ll be presented with health-related problems. Do you vaccinate children against an endemic, even though the vaccine will make 1 in 5 children more sick than the virus itself? Do you give a heart transplant to the old man who is being prepped for surgery, or do you instead give it to the young man who has just been involved in a car crash? Or, perhaps darkest of all, do you harvest the organs of a young, vagrant traveller to save five people all waiting for transplants?
Later, your questions will revolve around artificial intelligence, and it’s here that things get a little… weird. Not everything is quite how it seems in the world of Trolley Problem, Inc, but the least said about that, the better. The focus remains on the philosophical questions, but there’s some neat narrative trickery to look forward to which adds a little more depth to the game.
The presentation throughout is simple, but effective. It looks like a PowerPoint presentation that TfL may give its new employees – but the simplicity works. Everything is narrated, to a great effect. Skip over a question before the narrator has finished reading, and she’ll give you some comment about being rude, or simply huff and puff at you. Elsewhere, an Xbox-style achievement may pop up for making a bizarre choice, or a AIM-style chat window might appear in the bottom corner. It’s quirky but effective.
It may be short, but Trolley Problem, Inc is something you’re going to keep thinking about for days after you’ve played. Yes, you’ll feel horrible about some of the choices you’ve made – but being able to see what percentage of other players agreed with you might help you feel better. Or worse, depending which way it goes. Ultimately, this is a very clever little game – if we can even call it a ‘game’ – unlike anything else you’ve played so far. If you’re up for some mental stimulation and a challenge for your morals, don’t sleep on it.
Trolley Problem, Inc Review – GameSpew’s Score