Bureaucracy (video game)
Release 86: February 12, 1987Release 116: June 2, 1987
The player is challenged to confront a long and complicated series of bureaucratic hurdles resulting from a recent change of address. Mail isn't being delivered, bank accounts are inaccessible, and nothing is as it should be. The game includes a measure of simulated blood pressure which rises when "frustrating" events happen and lowers after a period of no annoying events. Once a certain blood pressure level is reached, the player suffers an aneurysm and the game ends.
While undertaking the seemingly simple task of retrieving misdirected mail, the player encounters a number of bizarre characters, including an antisocial hacker, a paranoid weapons enthusiast, and a tribe of Zalagasan cannibals. At the same time, they must deal with impersonal corporations, counterintuitive airport logic, and a hungry llama.
Among the extra items, which Infocom called feelies, in the Bureaucracy game package are:
- A pamphlet entitled You're ready to move! from the fictional bank Fillmore Fiduciary Trust
- A flier advertising the fictional magazine Popular Paranoia
- A welcome letter from the player's new employer, Happitec Corporation
- A Fillmore "Better Beezer" credit card application form (each sheet of the triplicate carbon copy form had different instructions and questions)
- A very skinny pencil (similar to those provided at banks)
According to Adams, the premise of the game was inspired by a real-life experience. Before moving from one address to another in London, Adams filled out several change-of-address forms, including one he submitted in person at his bank. Shortly after settling into his new home, he found that his credit card no longer worked. The bank had invalidated his current card and sent a new one to his old address. Adams spent weeks trying to get the bank to correct its mistake, filling out several new forms and talking to several bank officials. The bank finally sent a letter apologising for the inconvenience; naturally, it was sent to his old address.
Although Bureaucracy showed the unmistakable signs of Adams' humor, the game didn't sell nearly as well as his other collaboration with Infocom, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This may be, at least in part, because Infocom was facing grave financial difficulties in 1987. The recent failure of its relational database product Cornerstone was one reason for these difficulties. Advertising budgets were being slashed and personnel from all departments of the company were facing layoffs.
In a somewhat surprising move given the author's popularity, Adams' name appears only in small print near the bottom of the box's cover, where a blurb reads "by Douglas Adams and the Staff of Infocom." Adams was somewhat dilatory in delivering the game (a habit for which Adams was well-known), and other writers including Michael Bywater were asked to help on an uncredited basis. (Bywater wrote about this at the time in his then-regular column in Punch.)
Infocom rated Bureaucracy as "Advanced" in its difficulty rating system. It was also part of the Infocom Plus range, which required a machine with a minimum of 128K of memory.
In a realistic touch, the game begins with a short online "software registration form" displayed on the screen. After the form has been completed, the game uses the given information after appropriately mangling it. (For example, the game will persistently address the player as the wrong gender, and whatever the player enters as "least favourite colour" will appear in numerous descriptions.)
The game has 50 locations.
Game reviewers Hartley and Patricia Lesser complimented the game in their "The Role of Computers" column in Dragon #124 (1987), calling it "an outrageous journey through red tape that puts you directly in the middle of a bureaucratic muddle so convoluted that you can’t help but laugh." Jerry Pournelle named Bureaucracy as his game of the month for October 1987, stating that he and Larry Niven became "engrossed". The game sold 40,000 copies.
Everything goes wrong in this hilarious battle with the powers that be!
- Infocom Fact Sheet, Section VI, Game Statistics
- Lesser, Hartley and Patricia (August 1987). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (124): 92–96.
- Pournelle, Jerry (October 1987). "New Life for Lucy". BYTE. p. 251. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
- Simpson, M. J. (2003). Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams. Boston: Justin, Charles & Co. pp. 224–226. ISBN 1932112359.
- Bureaucracy at MobyGames
- Bureaucracy overview and information (archived)
- Bureaucracy information from the Infocom Gallery with photos of the entire contents of the game (manual, feelies, etc.)
- Bureaucracy at Interactive Fiction Database
- Bureaucracy information from Infocom-if.org
- The Infocom Bugs List entry for Bureaucracy