IF Comp 2012: Murphy’s Law (Scott Hammack)

Murphy’s Law is a relatively brief parser-based slice of life puzzle game. As usual, the jump will be followed by non-spoilery comments; then if I have anything spoilery to say, there will be spoiler space. The fact that I am reviewing it at all indicates that there are beta-testers.

The protagonist of Murphy’s Law lives in an ill-kept, depressing house, with the photograph of a now-departed partner as almost its sole token of personality. The dishes are undone; the batteries for the garage door opener have run down; there are cockroaches in the kitchen, which he finds terrifying. He seems like a miserable guy, but miserable in a very generic way.

The game enforces this ruthless banality of experience on the player. And never have I seen so many turns devoted to so simple an action as paying a bill; it took me a lot longer to do in IF form than it would to accomplish the equivalent actions in real life. You can’t just write a check. You must explicitly take the pen first; must explicitly close the envelope after explicitly inserting the check; later, must explicitly lick the stamp before affixing it to its envelope. (Never mind that all the stamps I’ve gotten from the USPS in at least five years have had a sticky backing and did not require licking. Maybe Murphy’s Law is set in the past, or in a country with lickable stamps, or maybe there’s somewhere where you can still get the old-fashioned kind.)

Anyway, I think this is intended to be comic pacing, frustrating the player with minutiae and building up a sense of tense expectation as the player waits for the inevitable bad things to happen. (Heated does something kind of similar, and more overtly.)

The effect didn’t work for me, though, and I’m trying to figure out why. Possibly it’s because there is too little that is overtly funny in the writing; the protagonist seems joyless, weary, ground down by life, and his thoughts are similarly dun-colored. Had I known him a little more and liked him a little better, perhaps I would have had an investment in his fate that would have strengthened the effect of the rest of the game.

Or perhaps it’s that the game shows its contrivance too often. Just about the first thing I did the first time I played the game was to bleed to death from a paper cut: so much for observational comedy. This isn’t everything going wrong that can go wrong. Unless my character is secretly hemophiliac, this is something that can’t go wrong, happening anyway because the author was determined to cause trouble.

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