Justice Playthrough #170: Dr. Trolley’s Problem

So, it’s exactly what it says on the tin. Don’t know why I expected it to be anything else. I kinda did anyway, but I don’t know why.

Page 56, Game 16: Dr. Trolley’s Problem by WeroCreative

Ah, the good old Trolley Problem, everybody’s favorite Kobayashi Maru scenario (except, of course, for the Kobayashi Maru). A trolley is about to crush some fools, and the only thing you can do about it is decide which set of fools shall become splattery sacrifices to the Whatifficus, the cruel god of freshman philosophy hypotheticals. Who lives? Who dies? And who are you to decide?

Fellow fans of The Good Place doubtless remember the episode where Michael literalized the thought exercise as a way of torturing Chidi, to glorious effect. A dry abstraction became a grisly reality, to our heroes’ horror and our delight. It was a marvelous bit of dark comedy, and thinking about it got my hopes up for what places a game with this title might take it.

Would there be a misanthrope mode, where I could go for high score? Perhaps some clever puzzles, where some sneaky third option would allow me to kill either nobody or everybody as my heart desires? Or perhaps a Trolley Problem Editor, where I could take my Trolley Problem Toolkit and create my own variations on all of the above?

Instead … nah. It’s just the trolley problem. The straight-up trolley problem. Here’s a situation, here’s your choices, choose who lives and who dies. That’s it. Over and over and over and over again.

Ah, yes, the classic Jock v. Nerd conundrum, and described by Kant

The game just goes through scenario after scenario, with minor variations. Do you switch the train off the track that will kill five people so that it only kills one instead? What if the five people are trolley workers who should probably know better that to fuck around on the track and the one is a hapless civilian? What if the five are normal plebes and the one is a great person somehow?

I’m gonna need to see just what’s so great about that guy, cuz he kinda looks like a tool to me

I wanted there to be … more, somehow. More options, more engagement, more wit, more … something. The funniest variation was what the game introduced as the NWA Problem:

I believe “Fuck The Police” is a Socrates quote

Of course, as you can see from the above screenshot, the actual level completely chickens out of its own gag. To really sell it, you need cops on one track and the members of NWA on the other, not just some random punk rock dude. I mean, look at that guy. I doubt he listens to hip-hop at all.

The one moment where the game truly grabbed me could have been an accident — though it’s been updated since The Disease Apocalypse kicked into gear, so who knows, maybe it was deliberately topical.


Look, I don’t like wearing masks either, but we fucking well NEED them, particularly if you know good and goddamn well that you are, in fact, sick. So if you’re infected and contagious and unmasked, I honestly feel like a face full of trolley is exactly what you have coming.

I wanna go to a theater again sometime, dammit. Or a restaurant. Or maybe a sex club. Whatever. They’re all equally reckless right now.

Anyway. This game is all about taking something very familiar and keeping it that way, playing the scenario as straight as humanly possible. I sincerely thought it was some sort of psych grad student’s data collection tool, but nah, the game’s page says the creator is just a trolley enthusiast.

Fine for what it is, I suppose, but it lacks the creative spark I was hoping for. I really wanted it to be something more like Death and Taxes, which took this exact question of who lives and who dies and constructed a very compelling story around it. Surely there’s more to play around with here. Recommended only if the trolley problem is your absolute favorite way of torturing mortals.

Will the next game bring back fond memories of indecisive professors being covered in gore?

Page 53, Game 19: Draw Nine by Damon L. Wakes

“A journey not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you use them.”

Unless the “you” using the cards happens to be an extremely pissed-off Gambit, I’m guessing not.