Developer D’Avekki Studios
Having enjoyed Her Story, where you’re a police investigator drawing out narrative with keywords and creativity, I was ripe for another mystery delivered in hundreds of disordered video chunks. The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker has you as a therapist, and you’ve inherited an unusual collection of clients from your predecessor, who has recently died. There’s the gravedigger, the rich wife, the nurse, the free spirit and the sad supermarket worker. Soon enough, they’re much more, but it will take time for their peculiarities to emerge.
Unlike with Her Story, I found myself initially progressing very slowly. This game is not for people frustrated by finicky parsers requiring precise phrases and word combinations. Luckily, however, I was on a 12-hour train journey to Melbourne, so I had time to thoroughly acquaint myself with sentence structure between Devonshire teas. One hint I was given was, “He wants to know if you can help him. I should answer yes or no.” So, I tried yes, no, I can help you, I cannot help you, I can’t help you, help, help you and so on. The correct response was, “yes/no help.”
Answering the game’s questions requires a keyword and either yes or no. Progressing the plot is more a case of repeating something important that the character has said, like active listening. Unlike in Her Story, there are few opportunities to deduce what is happening and then successfully try a keyword you’ve never heard, but which should make perfect sense to try. Instead, you’re constantly guessing how designers might expect you to phrase questions, trying to find synonyms for words like “murder” or accurately spell medications.
The unusual corollary of an underdeveloped system for player input is that the in-game hint system becomes essential to how you play, because phrasing dissonance is often revealed here; I knew I was supposed to ask about the creature, I just didn’t realise it needed extra keywords. So, basic greetings can be conducted between hint cooldowns, which I stopped thinking of as hints and started thinking of as my character musing aloud. The parser issue is not insignificant, but I was so hooked by the story that I played feverishly to the end, regardless.
Why? Firstly, I never stopped wanting to know more about these people. You can advise them in ways that have observable results, too, which can lead to some very tense moments. Exceptional acting meant that I was always thoroughly engaged with dialogue. Narrative threads weave together to create an organic understanding of what is actually happening and some aspects are simple, but the overall structure is complex. And, when you meet “side characters,” including the wonderful receptionist, you immediately understand their context.
There was one moment, however, involving sexual violence, where content crossed a line for me. The situation did make sense, in the context of the plot and characters, but it feels as if the The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker’s writers may not have thoughtfully considered the interactive setting, for player agency, as well as for the parser. But, the unfolding narrative is very much suited to this style of delivery. So yes, this is frequently difficult to play, but thoroughly compelling. I’d like to see where these developers could take the genre next.