IFDB page: Human Resources Stories
Final placement: 27th place (of 27) in the 1998 Interactive Fiction Competition
I have to confess, I’m a little afraid to write this review. So let me just start out by saying Harry, I’m sure you’re a wonderful person. I’ll bet you have lots of friends, a loving family, and are kind to small animals. I’m sure you’re not violent, or if you are violent, your violence is directed only at inanimate objects. Please accept anything in this review as purely constructive criticism, and remember that reviews are about the game, not about the game’s author. If anything I say offends you, I will gladly retract it. Please don’t hurt me.
OK, that being said, here’s what I thought of Human Resources Stories: I thought it was the most unrepentantly bitter, angry, and unsettling game I’ve ever played. I started to get a hint of this in the game’s readme file, in which the author proclaims “I am not a lemming,” as though he has been accused of thoughtlessly following the crowd, and feels obliged to defend himself. He goes on to say that he will probably suffer for the small size of his game, and that he has “pointed out (much to the chagrin of a lot of people) that judges are discriminatory toward size.” OK, so far I’d seen some defensiveness, a predilection to believe that the competition judges (basically any random r*if readers who bother to send in votes) don’t judge fairly, and the suggestion that when he has pointed out this “fact”, he has been shouted down. My guard was up.
And a good thing too, because after I read the intro (which casts you as an interviewee for various high-tech companies, all of which take pride in “paying the best, brightest, most talented people in the industry sub-average salary”), I read the credits. These thank various helpers, and at the end: “other raif denizen: Except for some obviously rude, stupid people who think they are _so great_.” Um, wow. That’s some real anger there. Or at least, that’s how I took it. Gee, I hope I’m not one of those “obviously rude, stupid people.” I’d hate to be rude and stupid, much less obviously so. I wonder who these people are. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one to point out that flaming raif in the credits of your game and using a singular noun when you intend a plural isn’t exactly polite and intelligent. I don’t mean that in a hostile way, really. Just gently pointing out the irony I felt at that moment. If necessary, please reread my first paragraph. Anyway, once I got over the credits, I decided to type “XYZZY” for fun, since the readme file specifically mentions the author’s bafflement at why modern IF games still include it. That’s when I got the biggest shock yet.
The response to XYZZY is a long, long, long diatribe. It probably has more words than the rest of the game and the readme file combined. It starts out as an interview scenario, the question advanced being “How do you work?” This question becomes the jumping-off point for a highly detailed rant about how this poor programmer got the blame for every bad thing in the company, is working on weekends with no pay, has had the project timeframe reduced by 75%, meanwhile the manager is off to Hawaii, and finally this programmer, who is a good person and a fine worker (and an excellent programmer who would write outstanding code except for it’s impossible to do so under such oppressive conditions) pulls the whole thing together so that it works for the end users, only to have the whole process start over again. By the end of this, I was sitting there reading with my jaw hanging open, just in shock. Let me say that if I were interviewing someone and got this answer, not only would I never call the person back (in the game’s words, “The phone never ring.”), but I would be beefing up security and thinking about investing in a bulletproof vest, and phoning the interviewee’s current and former employers to suggest that they do the same. The level of anger and bitterness there is just incredible. By this point, I had completely forgotten the original question, so I typed “RESTART.” The game’s response? “That’s not how life works.” Same response to “QUIT”, which was my next inclination. And I thought Zarf was cruel! Certainly it’s true that you can’t do these things in real life (well, you can quit. See In The End), but disabling these basic commands made for a hell of an inconvenience when I actually did want to restart the game.
Perhaps “game” is too strong a word anyway. When I finally did get to it (by shutting down the whole interpreter then re-running it), I found that it wasn’t a game exactly. It’s advertised as a choose-your-own-adventure type of game, but beyond the initial prose there’s really no story, no advancing narrative whatsoever. Instead, HRS asks you a series of multiple choice questions, as if it were interviewing you for a programming job. At the end, you either get the brush-off (“The phone never ring.”), or you get the job with a series of letter grades for technical, teamwork, and leadership criteria, along with a salary. The best I did was an A, A+, and A+, with a salary of… $20,000. Now, I work as a programmer, for a state university no less, and I didn’t find that to be my experience of a starting salary. I have to wonder if the anger I saw in other sections of the game might be biasing its results… just a bit. To be fair, the game does not reward you for being a bootlick. If you give the typical “What you think an exploitative company would want to hear” answers, you will get “The phone never ring” pretty fast. However, the set of answers I gave for my highest score still indicated some pretty brutal expectations on behalf of the hiring company. And this, the game would like me to believe, in the face of the biggest high-tech labor scarcity in… well, ever. Aside from whether HRS reflects “real life” or not, it’s not much of a game. It’s more like a test than a game, and more like a rant than a test. I can’t really say I found it fun, though it certainly did provoke a strong reaction from me. I guess that in all honesty, I’d have to say that I really disliked being subjected to both the rant and the test. The game makes me glad I’m not looking for a job right now, but it makes me even more glad that I’m not looking for an employee. But that’s just me. Nothing personal. Please don’t hurt me.
Rating: 2.5 (I hope I’ve explained myself well enough to demonstrate that the length of HRS had very little to do with my rating. I, uh, am not a lemming.)