By Elias Bernstein
Doctor Dekker was a therapist. He has been murdered by one of his patients. You are his replacement. You must figure out who killed him by giving his patients therapy while trying to remain as sane as possible. Good luck.
Developed and published by D’Avekki Studios Ltd in 2017, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker is a Full Motion Video (FMV) game playable across all mainstream platforms. It features over 1600 fully acted HD videos, a random murderer every new game, and multiple endings dependent on how insane you are, calculated using the hidden “Insanity Points,”
at the conclusion of the game. There are six main patients/suspects—Marianna who suffers from blackouts, Claire who murdered and resurrected her husband, Elin who believes she can shapeshift, Jaya, your secretary who needs grief counseling, Nathan who lives in a time loop, and Bryce who has an extra hour in the day—as well as a few side patients that are optional to progress the story.
Full Motion Video
So what is an FMV game? Basically, it’s a game that uses videos shot with real actors as the visual component of the game instead of the animation that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing. FMV games were first introduced as a proof-of-concept in the early ‘80s through interactive arcade games made by Sega (Astron Belt) and Cinematronics (Dragon’s Lair) as a way to make games more immersive. However, after the releases of a few not-so-sophisticated horror games in the ‘90s, FMV games quickly fell out of the mainstream market. Recent years have seen the return of FMV to the indie market through games like Her Story (2015), The Bunker (2016), and The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker (2017). Outside of video games, other types of media are also experimenting with interactive video, the most prominent example being Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018).
FMV, with the advanced photography technology and techniques that we currently have access to, allow games to reach beyond the graphical and animation limitations that currently exist, with the downside that the resulting games are usually less interactive, after all it (currently) is impossible to make videos with real actors fully interactive. To me, this is a pretty big downside. Compared to a game like L.A. Noire (2011), famous for its then groundbreaking facial tracking, Doctor Dekker certainly adds more subtlety and realism, but definitely feels less like a “game.” Despite the recent surge in FMV titles, I personally believe that FMV games will remain in the indie world for the foreseeable future, but they can be a nice break from animated games.
The gameplay of The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker actually works very well with the FMV format. The game uses a text parser where players can type in their questions for the patients. The game then does its best to interpret the question and plays the video corresponding to the keywords used in the question. For example, asking a patient “who are you?” will play a short introduction scene. The text parser does not require a full, grammatically correct sentence to work—typing “doctor dekker” may prompt the patient to speak about their experiences with Doctor Dekker. Sometimes the text parser will interpret a question incorrectly but recognize a keyword, in which case it will play a scene related to the keyword but not the question itself, for example I asked Claire “how did you meet David?” and she replied with something akin to “are you saying I killed David?” Obviously not what I meant, but the game picked up on the keyword “David” and played a corresponding video. Obviously, this can be pretty un-immersive, but these misinterpretations still help propagate the story. Sometimes patients will ask you yes-no questions. Your responses to these questions will lower or raise your “Insanity Points” which, if you remember, are used to determine the final ending you experience, separate from discovering the murderer. There are three modes of completion per patient: red—you have not asked enough questions to progress the story—yellow—you have asked an acceptable amount of questions and can progress the story once all patients have reached yellow completion marks—and green—you have asked all questions available to this patient at this point in the story. This mechanic requires the player to be a competent conversationalist in order to progress, something I evidently am not since I found it very difficult to pick out keywords from the patients’ responses. If you, like me, are not a conversationally inclined person this game may prove to be extremely difficult. But fear not! The game developers were gracious enough to provide pre-written questions that will be sufficient to bring every patient into the yellow mode of completion. This feature was added because of the console releases of the game—it would be annoying for console players to quickly type out their questions into the text parser. If it weren’t for the console releases, it’s very likely that the game would not have pre-written questions, but there is a hint system so it wouldn’t have been unfinishable for non-therapist players. The hint system is very easy to use: you type “hint” into the text parser and it will tell you a question that you have not yet asked to the current patient. Some of these seemed impossible to pick up on without the use of the hint, for example one hint told me to ask Marianna if she saw somebody behind me, something that was not mentioned in any response up to that point.
Skill vs. Labor
In Jesper Juul’s essay “The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games,” he describes three paths to success in video games: skill, chance, and labor. A game of skill is exactly what it sounds like: you need to be good at the game to beat it (think Call of Duty/CS:GO). In games of chance, players must rely heavily on luck in order to win (think casinos/gambling games). Games of labor require some sort of “grind” in order to “beat” the game. Many games of labor do not have a real end, instead the player becomes more and more rich/powerful the more hours they spend playing the game (think World of Warcraft/Farmville). I firmly believe that if you are observant and you are able to pick up on keywords, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker can be one-hundred-percented (completing all patients with green marks) without using hints or pre-written questions. I do believe that there are people who would find that this game is more of a game of skill. That being said, the vast majority of players may find playing the game without the pre-written questions and hints an impossible task. The hints have a 90 second cooldown after each use, meaning if you are intent on “going green” with each patient, it may take a very long time if you are reliant on hints (it took me 30 minutes to “go green” on Nathan!). Energy is to Farmville as hints are to Doctor Dekker, and reliance on these hints truly makes the game more of a “grind.” For this reason, I am tempted to label Doctor Dekker as a game of labor. Thankfully, the labor portion of the game can be avoided if you use the pre-written questions or if you’re a genius. The only chance element found in the game is the random murderer selected at the very beginning, so the game is not one of chance.
As an FMV game, Doctor Dekker requires a lot of database elements in order to work well. A database is basically a set of data organized for quick retrieval of information; think Wikipedia, where you can type in a search and a corresponding article will be displayed. There are a few different types of databases, but I will focus on three: database as a database (retrieval of information for the sake of information), database as a branching tree (choices change the course of the database à la Bandersnatch), and database as a simulation which is what Doctor Dekker is a good example of. Doctor Dekker has elements of database as a database—you can access replays of patient responses as well as a couple other videos and pictures unlocked by progressing the story at any time—as well as branching tree elements—the yes-no questions that patients ask you resemble a branching tree since your responses to these questions will change the end of the game. Doctor Dekker ultimately combines both of these types of databases to form a simulation: a therapist who needs to discover the murderer of his/her predecesor. The databases in the game serve to help the player to progress the story. Without the ability to replay responses, zeroing in on keywords would be much more difficult, as one missed detail could be the difference between knowing the best follow-up question and spamming “hint” into the text parser.
A unique story with a unique storytelling medium, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker makes great use of databases to complement text parser gameplay, simulating (with decent immersion) a conversation between a therapist and his/her patients. However, the game is not without its flaws. First off, the text parser is not perfect. It is not uncommon for the text parser to misinterpret a question; this will usually be beneficial to the player and propagate the story, but it can be pretty un-immersive. I also found the game to be extremely, forgive the pun, maddening at times: I would spend a non-trivial amount of time re-watching responses only to be unable to find the next keyword to progress the story. I was very thankful for the pre-written questions and hints, but they also made it feel like I wasn’t even playing the game—it might as well have been a movie.
If you can put up with everything above, or you’re just looking to complete the story as quickly as possible using the pre-written questions, then by all means pick up the game. I think that the game can be a very rewarding experience when played by the right people. However, if you are more like me, somebody who likes to complete games using their own ability, you may wish to avoid this particular title. It’s not bad by any means, in fact I found the story to be quite compelling and the acting was very good. It just isn’t for everyone.
Boo, Bernard. “Black Mirror, Her Story, and the Return of FMV Games.” Den of Geek, September 25, 2019. https://www.denofgeek.com/games/black-mirror-fmv-games/.
The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker. D’Avekki Studios Ltd. Accessed February 12, 2022. http://www.doctordekker.com/.
Juul, Jesper. The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000.